|Title: NiGHTS into Dreams HD
Developer: Sonic Team
Release Date: Available Now
Genre: Flying Arcade Action
Platforms: PSN, XBLA, PC
Age Rating: ESRB E
UPDATE 11/29/2012: As of this day, Sega has released a patch for NiGHTS into Dreams HD which adds 24-way control, bringing it much closer in feel to the original Sega Saturn version. The game plays noticeably smoother than before, and linking tricks is much easier to do. The control is still not a complete 1/1 parity with the original, but this is as close as we will get. The drill dash has also been updated, and with my playtest, it feels a bit faster than before. While these updates are definitely a nice addition, the game still plays very similarly and so the same score still stands.
When I was twelve years old, I found myself utterly entranced by NiGHTS into Dreams. At the time, my friend had a Sega Saturn, and a demo of NiGHTS that had only two levels- Spring Valley and Frozen bell. We would take turns passing the controller back and forth, playing those levels over and over. In some ways, my experience with the flying purple jester was more memorable than other big games at the time, like Super Mario 64. It just so happened that those two demo levels remained to be my favorites out of the entire game, even after I had bought it and played it to death many years later. Because of my history, I was very curious to see how the new ‘high definition port’ turned out.
NiGHTS HD is easier on the eyes than the original, obviously, but is still not quite ideal. The game’s draw distance is still limited, although mostly for good reason: if you could see everything, it would probably serve only as a distraction. Even still, the game’s engine seems to handle the transition poorly. Also, for some reason, the camera angle has been zoomed in ever so slightly on a few levels, which makes it a bit harder to discern what’s ahead of the field of view. It doesn’t pose too much trouble for someone like me who already knows what’s happening by instinct, but for those who have never played the game before, it might cause a bit of frustration. The game’s framerate is also imperfect, and so on certain levels it feels a bit less fluid than I would have liked.
Along with the framerate, it seems like a very small amount of the fluidity of the original has been lost. NiGHTS still controls smoothly overall, but if the Saturn original (with 3D analog controller) was compared side-by-side with this version, there would be a noticeable difference. I’m not sure what the problem is, but it’s definitely there. Unfortunately, this port is not an actual 1:1 representation of the original in terms of control.
These are just minor technical niggles, however. I found that because of my long history with the series, I had to take time and analyze the game on every little angle. But in all honesty, that is not what NiGHTS is about, and has nothing to do with what made me fall in love with the original version. The truth is, this is still a very (nearly) faithful representation of the original, and I found myself getting sucked back into the joy of flight, perhaps in a different, new way than I ever had with the original.
The gameplay for NiGHTS into Dreams is based on a very simple premise: as one of the two children, you walk to the jester-like character after having your little orbs stolen (the proper name for them is ‘Ideya,’ but that doesn’t even matter) and then you begin flying through the air, collecting blue orbs until you have enough to destroy these containers that hold them from you. After repeating that four times, you face a boss, and then you are able to advance to the next level. Eventually you reach the final boss, Wiseman, and conquer your dreams (and fears).
Despite the simplistic approach to story interaction, the game actually has a much deeper premise, which explains why the two children are in this unique situation. The ability to understand what is happening is given to you in a very subtle way, and in fact many smaller details of the story as well as the game’s features are not even mentioned. NiGHTS is a game that actually comes from an old era of gaming, where your hand is not pulled unwillingly through the experience, and you are not force fed a contrived story explaining why you are playing the game. Instead, the game simply exists for you to play it, and find out for yourself if you ‘get’ it. This is something that modern gamers might not understand, or even video game reviewers who are impatient and simply complete the game because they have to.
I would say that only after beating the game and playing through a second time can NiGHTS really be understood. The first playthrough is all about beating the levels and seeing the ending for each character, which can be done in half an hour or so, depending on how quickly you learn to play. On the second play through is when the real beauty is revealed: playing continuously for the sake of increasing a score, discovering the little nuances and secrets, and learning to do it in the most beautiful way possible. The fact is, the levels fly by in the blink of an eye, and the aim of each level, beyond getting your Ideyas back, is to get as many points as possible before the time runs out. The designers had included ‘tricks’ that can be performed while flying, which might seem useless, but become integral to the experience. I personally have a tendency to try and make my character’s flight look as beautiful as possible and as accurate as possible with linking tricks and scoring high combos (by flying through rings and collecting items consecutively). NiGHTS has an ironic sense of freedom, despite being limited mostly to movement on a 2D plane.
There are a couple of additions that make it worthwhile to play through and get all the secrets. Those who have not been able to get their hands on the Christmas NiGHTS expansion will be happy that it is included in this package. In the end, it’s really nothing more than a redesigned version of Spring Valley, but it’s still fun nonetheless to experience it, along with the extra story scenes that come with it.
The greatest addition that Sega has added to this version is the online scoreboard. In all honesty, it’s not a crazy advancement, but what makes it a great addition is the fact that it really compliments the arcade-like nature of the game. Because the gameplay is focused heavily on pursuit of a better score, there’s nothing more enticing than checking the worldwide top scores and finding out how yours compare. This definitely adds a new facet to the gameplay, as there are now an infinite number of scores to compare with instead of being limited to besting your own.
One of the elements of NiGHTS into Dreams that has not aged a day since 1997 is the music. These tunes are still some of the most memorable, and I found myself surprised by how good they still sound. From a jazzy, uptempo boss fight to a snowbell-chiming arctic carnival, the music is a perfect compliment to the atmosphere. Just wait until the credits roll on the Christmas NiGHTS expansion; the Gospel rendition of the theme song is simply beautiful.
NiGHTS also has a very distinct melodic motif that ties many of the songs together, which can be heard in the track below:
Despite minor technical issues, NiGHTS into Dreams HD remains a mostly accurate portrayal of the original, and is in fact one of the most creative games I’ve ever played. NiGHTS itself is not a perfect game, but one that is so unique in its offering, that no other game comes close to capturing the same experience. I think of it as one of those incredible-but-rare moments of capturing lightning in a bottle.
The review copy of NiGHTS into Dreams HD was paid for by the reviewer.