Tuesday, March 11, 2008

NiGHTS Into Dreams Review

Back in '96, the Saturn was begging for a real Sonic game - one that would be able to right the course for the sinking ship. It never happened and instead, Sonic Team introduced NiGHTS into Dreams, a game featuring an androgynous, purple jester as its main character. As a Saturn exclusive, the game would never find mainstream success, but it earned good reviews and developed a cult (and somewhat scary) following. Over time, its mystique grew and Nights has, correctly or not, been hailed as one of the top all-time games.

Now, after the release of its sequel, Journey of Dreams, Nights finds itself on the PS2 alongside other Saturn exclusives. It, however, eschews the Sega Ages tag and bargain price, mostly because the game is on a DVD and Sega certainly knew they'd be able to demand a higher price for this title.

The story centers around two kids, Claris and Elliot, getting caught up in their own fears, which are so average it's almost comical. Claris is afraid of her singing auditions and Elliot was beat in a basketball game by some older kids. Feeling like failures, they head to sleep that night, where the dream-creature Nights needs their help. The evil Wizeman is trying to take over the land of Nightopia. If this happens, then there's no more dreams and all of the happy-go-lucky Nightopians will die. Coincidentally enough, this is the kids' chances to redeem themselves.

The game plays the exact same way as it did on the Saturn. Find Nights, track down 20 blue spheres and drop them off at the capture. Race around during bonus time and try to rack up the score before the clock runs out. Do that another three times and then head off to beat up a boss. The trick to getting high scores is linking everything together. Grabbing several items in succession will pop up a link counter on the screen. The higher the number, the more points that are rewarded. By keeping the speed high and learning the ins and outs of the level, paths can be created with near infinite links available. It's being able to master these paths that gives Nights its replayability. The dual shock does just as well as the Saturn's analog pad, and after a moment of adjusting, controls just fine.

First-time players that have for years been hearing how amazing and legendary the game is will probably be let down. Ultimately, Nights is just a time/score attack game. That's not to say that it isn't a score attack game done with a lot of style, though.

Nights takes the Blue Sky approach to its artistic design. Colors are bright, music is happy, and everything seems cheery in the world of Nightopia. It's definitely a throwback to the old school gaming days, before there was such a huge focus on realistic and gritty game worlds. It's this feel-good world that has earned Nights its cult following - Nightopia is a pretty happy place. As the player takes out baddies, bald-headed Pians bounce around in the background, singing, fishing, dancing, and of course, making more Pians, while the music becoming ever-more cheerful. If the player decides to destroy of all these buggers, the music gets a little less cheery and the Pians get angrier in response. As the player can influence their environment, the end result is that the world just seems that much more alive.

For the most part, Nights comes over as the same game, with a few new modes to justify the price. The graphics have been redone in the "Brand New Dream" mode. With crisper looking visuals, reduced pop-in, and redrawn 3D geometry (the formerly sprite-based Pians and Nightmaren are now in 3D and objects have been remodeled to remove their blockiness), the game's bright and colorful worlds really get a chance to shine. For the nostalgic, the "Sega Saturn Dream" is available that will give the game its original pixilated look.
Other new PS2 additions include a move gallery for watching all of the unlocked cut scenes in the game, an image gallery featuring CG renders of characters and promotional items, and a Nightopian viewer, which will let characters check out the happiness of each level's inhabitants.

Christmas/Winter Nights is included as well, and is actually a fairly big reason I wanted to get the remake. Back in '96, I had a subscription to both Ultra GamePlayers and Next Generation. Wonderfully enough, I managed to not get a single Nights demo desk from either, and I've been left out to this day. While I'm glad Christmas Nights is included, the presents feature has been taken out. Some of the presents are already in the game, but others, like the karaoke mode and Sonic into Dreams are gone entirely. Though it's not a deal killer, it would have been nice to have everything in there.
With all the good comes some bad. The PS2 seems to take a little bit longer to load than the Saturn. Another annoying addition is the lack of auto-save. While the game will still ask you to select a file when loading it up, it won't save to that file automatically like the Saturn version did. Lastly, the two-player option has been removed. In the Saturn, after defeating Reala, a two-player Nights vs. Reala game become available, but it's nowhere to be found in the PS2 version.

For the dedicated, a Nightopia Dream Pack version can be purchases than includes a Japanese art book. For collectors, it may be nice, but for everyone else, it's completely skippable.

Final verdict: While the graphics keep the game looking modern, it's still the same Nights. Fortunately, the game mechanics hold up after all these years, and while it's not the "mind-blowing" experience that legend has made it out to be, Nights into Dreams on the PS2 is an uplifting game that's still fun to play.


See also: The Local Ditch - Nights

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