Once you have completed the game you feel the need to go back and try and score A on every level
Not So Good
No way to play it at decent speeds on most modern consoles, even with emulation
Bosses can be confusing and frustrating, completely contrasting the rest of the game
Not releasing a Sonic title for the Saturn was probably one of Sega's biggest marketing disasters (although there really are an awful lot to choose from!) It did, however free up Sonic Team to work on one of the most spectacular pieces of single player gaming history.
The story if NiGHTS is a peculiar one. He seems to be some kind of sandman-esque creature who only appears in dream lands. This game focuses on the dreams of two particular individuals: Claris and Elliot. You can choose at the start to play through either character's dream. Claris' dream is the easier of the two, but then this game isn't really about being easy of difficult.
Not being one for lengthy story sequences in games, I was relieved to be able to load this game in my Saturn console and actually be playing within a few presses of the start button (something Sega royally screwed up with the game's quite awful squeal 'NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams' on the Wii). When you begin the level you are placed in control of your chosen character. While you can walk around and try to explore the world, if you choose to do so a giant alarm clock will come after you and once it catches up with you, the dream is over. Luckily, you are placed right next to a machine called the 'Ideya Palace'. One you enter the Ideya Palace, you are transformed into the main hero of the game, NiGHTS himself.
From this point you are able to fly around the level in a pseudo-3D fashion, in that while you can move up, down, left, and right, the course you follow as you fly to the right of the play area is fixed. The level is divided into four courses (that loop around indefinitely until you move on to the next), each of which must be completed in a given time frame. The idea for each course is to collect 20 blue chips that are littered around the area and return them to a second machine, the 'Ideya Capture'. The Capture explodes once 20 chips have been taken to it, and you then can make your way back to the Ideya Palace to start the next course. At the end of each course you are awarded a grade between A and F, and at the end of the four courses your grades are averaged out. If your final grade is C or above then you may fight the boss, and once successfully defeating the boss you progress to the next level. If your grade is D or lower, then the dream is over.
While this all may sound simple enough, the truth is that simply collecting 20 chips and returning straight to the Ideya Palace is rarely going to be enough to get you the C grade you need in order to progress to the boss. In addition to the blue spheres that you need to collect along the course, there are a variety of different shaped loops for NiGHTS to negotiate. Each loop you pass through scores you points but in order to score big, and get a great grade at the end, you need to perform links. After every loop you penetrate, and after every blue sphere you collect, you are given about a second to get to the next one. For each loop or sphere collected in succession, the 'link' goes up. The more high value links you get in the game, the better your score and hence your grade. In order to aid you in your link-building, NiGHTS has one very handy little trick up his sleeve: as you fly around the level a small trail of what appears to be some kind of disturbed air follows you around. You can perform a loop the loop and build a circle out of this disturbed air and, in doing so, collect all the items surrounded by that loop.
To get a high enough score to obtain the grade you need to pass most courses will involve, therefore, collecting the 20 sphere's and destroying the Ideya Capture as quickly as possible, then flying over the Ideya Palace and looping around the course again getting high links/high scores and returning to the Ideya Palace just before your time runs out. If you time it wrong, and you run out of time before you reach the Palace, you turn back into Claris or Elliot and fall to the ground. The alarm clock starts to follow you and you need to return to the Ideya Palace before it catches up with you. If you manage to do this then you still progress to the next course, but you are automatically graded F for the area you have just completed. If the clock catches up with you, then the dream is over.
The bosses in the game are something of a let down. Playing through the dreams is a surprisingly tranquil and peaceful experience. With chirpy music in the background and a real sensation of flying around relatively care free, building up links as you go, the levels themselves have an almost meditative quality to them. When you get to the boss, though, things change. The graphics become garish and psychedelic and it's difficult to see what you're doing. You generally have two types off boss: ones where you have to throw them up and up until they hit the ceiling, or ones you need to smash against the ground as many times as possible. The whole experience is very fiddly and the flying no longer feels natural; rather it seems that you're trying to make your way through some very gloopy treacle to reach your target. They aren't terrible end-of-level bosses, really; they just seem totally out of place in this game.
NiGHTS on the PS2
NiGHTS into Playstations
After giving up on the console market, Sega released an eye-toy game for the Playstation which featured snippets of various games, including NiGHTS into Dreams, to be controlled by hand gestures using the camera. Not much fun.
Sega then released a remake of NiGHTS into Dreams for the Playstation 2, featuring (apparently) identical gameplay with improved graphics. Unfortunately Sega only saw fit to release this in Japan so it is not available in the UK, nor compatible with unmodified Playstaion 2 Consoles outside of Japan.
Nights and the Wii
Sega finally released a sequel to NiGHTS: Into Dreams on the Nintendo Wii. If you have read this review and are feeling nostalgic and want to feel the NiGHTS experience then do not be tempted to buy the Wii game. It shares very little in common with the Saturn original.
NiGHTS into Dreams is one of my all time favourite games. And, unfortunately, also the game I miss the most. I hope one day Sega come to their senses and re-release some of their all time classics on modern day consoles. If you haven't played this game before and ever get the chance to, I suggest you snap that chance up!