Review: NiGHTS into DREAMS (Sony PlayStation 3)

NiGHTS into DREAMS
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega
Genre: Platforming
Release Date: 10/05/2012

Honesty time. I’ve never played a Sega Saturn.

Already, I can see some readers speaking tales of sacrilege that someone who could say that should be reviewing one of the system’s true classics. Let me say this. If the game is as good as you remember, it should hold up quite well. True classics do that. I remember when I played through Sonic Adventure a couple of years back. That game did not hold up in the slightest. However, I was very hopeful for NiGHTS. After all, it was a new franchise when it was released, which meant it didn’t have to live up to any predecessors. It also didn’t venture into 3D, where Sonic has yet to make a meaningful impact over a decade later. NiGHTS appeared to keep things simple, which I like.

This re-release is part of a series of three Sega classics being released on PSN, the other two being Dreamcast titles Sonic Adventure 2 and Jet Set Radio. NiGHTS is the only Saturn release of the bunch, making it that much more appealing to someone like me who missed out on many years of Sega games. My house was either Nintendo or Sony. There was no room for a third party.

So, does this classic have what it takes to stand out fifteen years later?

Story/Modes

There is a plot to this game, but you’re not going to have the slightest clue what’s going on unless you read the in-game manual. It turns out that there’s this dream world where an evil force is using dream power stolen from humans to conquer the realm. Meanwhile, a couple of young people face disappointments in their lives that make them believe they are failures. They soon find themselves in the dream world, assisted by the androgynous jester named NiGHTS. Together, the trio works to save the dream world, and the kids earn some major self confidence.

The story isn’t particularly interesting. It’s very light-hearted, and almost overly childish. The only thing I found interesting was that the cut scenes included no spoken dialogue or written words. This leaves the stellar animation and music alone to convey the tone. They do so quite well. Even if you’re not quite sure what’s going on, you can at least follow the emotions of the main characters.

For modes, the game at first seems to have a full suite, but it’s mostly a facade. Three of the modes are simply hubs to the game’s ten levels. You can play either the Saturn version of the game or the 2008 PS2 version released only in Japan. These contain eight levels to play through. Thankfully, your top scores and progress carry over between the two, which is a god send. The third game mode is the two levels from Christmas NiGHTS, a holiday bonus that was included with many magazines back in the day. There’s a story here about finding the star for the tree or something, but the real joy is racing along to an awesome version of Jingle Bells.

There’s another mode where you interact with a bunch of small creatures and try to keep them happy. This mode is a precursor to the Chaos in Sonic Adventure. It’s completely unrelated the main game, and not interesting in any way. It’s filler content.

There’s a gallery to view videos, a sound test, and lastly a leaderboard. The leaderboard is online this time around, allowing you to compare you scores with players around the world. That’s pretty sweet, especially for this game.

There are some nice touches here, such as the different playable versions, but there really isn’t a whole lot to do in the game. I can think of a number of interesting twists that could create alternate game modes worth playing, but none of them are included. A two player race mode would have been very enticing at least.

Graphics

Now this is a really hard area to judge, seeing as the game uses two different styles. Suffice it to say, at least for the technical side of things, that the game runs well and looks generally good. The Saturn version has some blocky models, but that is to be expected.

When you’re talking about NiGHTS, you’re really talking about two things. Firstly, there’s the beautiful levels chock full of brightly colored backdrops and interesting set pieces. Environments are full of detail, and the whole game feels like a constant stream of fireworks. Secondly, there’s the sense of speed, which is the best I’ve seen outside of the original Sonic games. You move through levels at a quick pace, and yet none of the beauty is lost. There’s an awesome sense of freedom from playing this game, thanks mostly to the art style.

Things do get shaky when you lose control of Nights. Occasionally, you’ll control one of the kids. In this case, the textures are muddy and the worlds not fun to look at. It really pushes you to get back into the sky.

Audio

Holy hell. Where has this music been all my life? I can honestly say I was not prepared for how awesome all of the songs were. The light tunes help create that sense of freedom, while the more heavy handed stuff makes everything seem that much more epic. Even the Christmas levels blew me away with perhaps my new favorite version of Jingle Bells ever! I’m definitely going to start making it a habit to queue these tunes up when I’m in the mood for good video game music.

The audio effects are from another era all right. The chimes, bells, and whistles feel like something out of the 32 bit age. That works, however, as the game is meant to keep that kind of aesthetic. More realistic sounds would have just been out of place.

Aurally, the game holds up quite well.

Gameplay

NiGHTS is unlike pretty much every other platformer out there. For starters, there is almost no jumping in the game at all. If you’re playing correctly, you’ll never jump. Instead, this is a game about flying whilst still performing acrobatic stunts.

Each level has you starting off as one of the kids. You’ll then need to run over to where Nights is. After that, you take flight and start on your goal. The goal of each level is collect twenty blue chips and deliver them to a jellyfish looking cage somewhere on the course. Once there, you need only return to the start to move on to the next level. Each stage has four of these levels that you play without breaking. Then, you fight a boss. Boss levels have a trick that you need to figure out, and mostly involve dodging attacks before using one of Nights’ abilities to win the day.

Nights is a nimble character, as the power of flight would suggest. The acrobat can fly in pretty much any direction. This is good, because you may occasionally whiz by something and need to turn around. He (or she, as the game never specifies) can also perform stunts by using the shoulder buttons to earn extra points. Flying through rings is not just for the points. In fact, it fills up a meter that powers up his spin attack. This attack is good for taking out enemies or obstacles in your way, but is primarily used to give Nights a boost of speed. This is deadly important, as you’re on the clock.

Time is a very important aspect of this game. Getting hit by an enemy will cost you five seconds, and you’re awarded bonus points for how quickly you collect those pesky blue chips. Also, time can run out. If this happens, the flying stops. You take back control of the kid and have to either finish the level or get back in the air to move forward. The controls here don’t work so well, thanks to an awful camera and odd jumping mechanics. You also have to avoid an alarm clock, or the game will end altogether.

The game shines thanks to tight controls and a sense of speed that make the whole game a freeing experience. Tack on multiple pathways and secrets to discover, and the recipe is there for a hell of a fun game. You’re meant to try and get faster and score more points. Ranks are assigned from F to A, but getting that A is going to require a lot of speed and skill, let me tell you. I’m honestly bummed that I’ve never played this game before. It’s utterly fantastic.

Replayability

If your only goal is to beat all of the levels, this game will likely not last you more than a couple of hours at best. That’s assuming you don’t get a high enough ranking to unlock the boss levels. If you succeed in that the first time through, you can probably blaze through in about half an hour. That’s okay though, as the game isn’t meant to be lengthy in that regard.

Where the game gets its replay value is in topping that high scores and improving your skill. Thanks to the fun gameplay and high challenge level, good ranks are not going to come easy. It will take patience, skill, and time to master each level. Plus, there are now trophies to earn and online scores to best. That makes the game perhaps more replayable than ever.

If there’s one disappointment, it’s that there aren’t more levels.

Balance

The plateaus you must reach to achieve high scores are daunting. So far, I’ve managed only one A ranking on just a single level. I pulled a B for the overall stage. I was damned proud of that too. With each level having secrets and better routes to uncover, it will take multiple playthroughs in order to find everything. From there, memorization of the layout and quick reflexes will help you get that score up.

There is one problem with the game’s balance. There is no retry option. If you fail, you fail completely. This means if you lose a boss fight, you have to start the whole stage again, including the four levels that led to said boss fight. This can be extremely frustrating, and is a mechanic out of the stone age. The game really shows its age here.

Originality

You can find influences from Sonic throughout the game, but you can see how much this game has influenced more recent titles to a greater degree. I don’t doubt that Kirby Canvas Curse wouldn’t exist without this game.

That being said, this is a re-release of a fifteen year old game. Sure, the package takes bits and pieces from numerous releases of said game, but beyond online leaderboards, nothing new has been added. That kind of makes scoring points for originality hard.

Addictiveness

If you have the urge to simply get better at things, this game will eat up your time quicker than you can believe. Getting a C ranking is nice and all, but getting that A ranking would be so much sweeter. This is the kind of game where one-upping yourself is the goal. Watching that high score list get dominated by your efforts is highly rewarding. Watching your world ranking increase with each new attempt is even more so.

I found myself often in the mind set of playing just one more stage. I couldn’t help myself. The only time I managed to keep this urge down is when I managed to fail out of a stage and didn’t want to have to redo the whole thing. This feeling does die down eventually due to the short number of levels. However, there are still plenty of secrets to keep players coming back for more.

Appeal Factor

Fans of the original game should not miss this port. At ten dollars, the game is perfectly placed for an online environment. The ability to play the original Saturn version or the updated PS2 version is a nice touch. There are trophies to earn, and online scores to conquer. Now is the perfect time to get back into the game.

For people who haven’t played NiGHTS before, this game is darned good. With a great sense of style, fun gameplay, and a highly addictive nature, this is one of the better ports you can get on PSN. If you’re someone who likes to download the classics, this should be at the top of your list.

Miscellaneous

I like that they added the Christmas levels. They didn’t have to, but it makes the experience more complete in my eyes. There’s also a nice video with the director that explains how he came up with the concept of the game. There’s some great artwork as well that you can view. I would have loved to use a few of them as backgrounds for my PS3.

It’s just really great to see a game that is considered to be a classic hold up this well.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Good
Audio: Classic
Gameplay: Incredible
Replayability: Enjoyable
Balance: Decent
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Classic
Miscellaneous: Classic
Final Score: Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
For fans of the original, or newcomers, NiGHTS into DREAMS is a fantastic option on the PlayStation Network. Between the beautiful art, fantastic music, and sinfully fun gameplay, I can’t recommend it enough. The sense of speed is palpable, and the skill required to be good feels at the right level. My biggest problem with the game was that there wasn’t more of it. That’s always a good thing.

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