Review by Mr Flunchy

"Don't let this milestone in gaming history be forgotten!"

Before I start, I must say that I first played this game in June 2000. I felt compelled to, because after accidentally finding some old magazines I read a review of it.

Subsequently I had dreams about the game (spooky, huh?). So I bid for the game on eBay. I won! After playing the game for about a month with the digital pad, I noticed an Analog pad in a bargain bin in an electronics store. It is now 6 months since I got this game and I am still playing it. Now, in Dec. 2000 I am reviewing it, so I may spread the word of its excellence.

Story

There is another world that exists in dreams called Nightopia. When you dream, small creatures called Nightopians give you good dreams, while Nightmarens give you nightmares. Wizeman the wicked wants to control Nightopia. He creates a number of Nightmarens, including NiGHTS. NiGHTS rebels though, and for this is imprisoned in a shrine.

To control Nightopia, Wizeman needs Ideya. Ideya is something that we all have, but Eliot and Claris, the two dreamers, have very rare red Ideya, which symbolises bravery. At the start of the level, your regular Ideya is stolen and placed in Ideya Captures. You use your red Ideya in the game to ‘merge’ with NiGHTS (releasing him from the shrine) and rescue the rest of your Ideya from the Ideya Captures.

However, that is just one side to the story. Eliot loses badly at basketball, and Claris freezes up during an audition for a musical. The game, from their perspective is to regain their confidence and utilise their red Ideya, whether they do so is up to you.

The only criticism I would make of the story is that it does not flesh out the relationships between the Nightmarens and NiGHTS ingame. Eliot and Claris’ story is concentrated on more, and I feel that showing Wizeman’s plans would help the narrative to become more coherent to NiGHTS virgins.

9/10

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Gameplay:

Of this many strong points, this by far the strongest point. This is the gaming equivalent of being on a rollercoaster, the sheer exuberance of racing around the courses is enough to bring out an adrenaline rush in you. Also, the very structure of this game defies catagorisation. It is a flying/racing/platform game, this may initially seem confusing but you soon realise that Yuji Naka has married them together expertly.

The basic structure of a level is this.

1. Race around a course as NiGHTS collecting 20 blue chips, then deposit them in the Ideya Capture, then using your bonus time, rack up your points and then return to the Ideya Capture.

2. Repeat for 4 different courses around the level.

3. Face off against another Nightmaren.

This structure allows you to have the illusion of freedom, when actually the designer has constructed a series of 'gateways' through which you must pass to finish the stage. This guides you through the levels, and no matter where you are in the game, you have a goal to aim for.

Another way in which the enjoyment of the game is increased is the time limit imposed on NiGHTS when you control it. This makes your time spent as NiGHTS seem valuable and it suits the dynamic of the game (and the character) that you are constantly rushed everywhere. While you are the kids another sort of time is chasing you, however, this is a more literal concept. The 'Alarm Egg' that chases you
will result in you waking up if it captures you.

If you were to strip the game down to its skeleton, it would be composed of a system of points. (not literally) As you fly through loops and pick up chips and stars you accumulate points. If you pick up an object within one second of another you link them together, as your links get higher your points get higher too. At the end of each course you get awarded a grade, from A-F. You are preliminarily graded before the Nightmaren, depending on how fast you beat the ‘maren you can multiply your points by 1.0 through to 2.0.

The control of the game is another area in which it excels. With the digital pad, the game seems muted somewhat, you do not enjoy the freedom of the game as much. However, it is perfectly possible to play, and complete the game this way.
The Analog Pad is genius. This pad was designed specifically for this game, and it shows. The control of NiGHTS and the kids is always fluid and clear. As the kids, the control is very similar to other 3D platformers. The Analog stick moves them around, one button makes them jump, and the two shoulder buttons control the camera.
However, while controlling NiGHTS you forget the pad is there, the control is so smooth. the A, B and C buttons make you boost, and the L/R buttons perform stunts. And that is all.

Apart from the excellent control and concept, the A-Life needs to be praised as well.
While speeding through the levels you will notice small sprites called Nightopians. As you progress through the game, and replay the levels, they will develop. They breed, and take on jobs. Their attitude towards you is also affected by how you treat them (if you speed past them, or accidentally paraloop them they will not be pleased). I will not give too much away, there is a lot of fun to be had by simply watching what they do next!

In short, the gameplay is brilliant, there is not a single aspect of it I dislike.

10/10

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Graphics

This game was released in 1996 and as a result of this, the graphics look quite dated in screenshots.
The game in motion however looks amazing. However, on it’s release the game set new standards in 3D graphics, unfortunately it was compared with the brilliance that is Mario 64, and obviously this reflected badly upon it.

When you play the game though you soon forget the age of the game and concentrate on the fun you are having. NiGHTS utilises Gouraud shading, and this means that everything has a wonderfully smooth, organic feel to it. Eliot and Claris’ models look a little blocky, but this is likely due to technology constraints than anything, while NiGHTS (the character) itself looks amazing. Admittedly you do not see it still for any large period of time, but in motion the animation displayed is excellent.

Another graphical issue that unfortunately plagues this game is pop-up. When playing as Eliot or Claris there is a horrendous amount of pop-up and clipping seen, admittedly, unless you really suck at the game, you won’t be playing as them for any amount of time. There is pop-up while playing as NiGHTS but the action on screen is so intense you really don’t notice.

I sound like I’m criticising the graphics too heavily, but to be honest, their shortcomings nowadays don’t have any real bearing on the game as a whole. The Saturn simply was not designed to handle complex 3D environments. Even if you are accustomed to 128bit graphics, you will not find anything in this game to detract from the overall experience.

In 1996: 9/10
Now: 6/10

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Sound

The sound in this game is amazing, fantastic, brilliant, but enough superlatives, here is where I tell you why it is amazing. The music that accompanies you through each level is excellent. Unlike most games the music actually evolves depending on your style of play. Your treatment of the Nightopians reflects the style of the music, if they all hate you then the music will be harsh and muted, however if they all love you then the music will be upbeat and cheery. After experimenting on NiGHTS’ sister game, Xmas NiGHTS, I have realised that the difference between the different songs is amazing, it isn’t just the tempo that changes, the composition of the instruments is also altered. I don’t think there has been any game with an interactive soundtrack quite like this one.

However, all this would count for naught if the music itself was terrible, it isn’t. The music contains swooping, inspiring tunes, and horribly twisted Nightmare music. The styles range from light piano, to warped opera and back to heavy metal guitar. There is not one piece of music in the game that did not add to the overall effect of the scene.

There is also a theme song of sort of the game. ‘Dreams Dreams’, now this song is kind of cheesy, but I like it. In its first incarnation it is sung by children, and put simply, this is torture on the ears. However, you only have to listen to this during the credits, and as you get better at the game, you earn a version with adults singing the lyrics, and suddenly the song becomes a lot more palatable.
(I’m ashamed to say that I have sung along to the karaoke version on Xmas NiGHTS)

The sounds effects themselves are merely functional though. They do not particularly stand out, but it is difficult to see how they could improve upon them. However, some effects, like the swoosh when you paraloop, or NiGHTS’ cry of ‘APTIVA!’ when it runs out of time work well. Another nice touch is that as your link score rises, the pitch of the effect rises, little things like that add to a game.

10/10

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Presentation

The presentation of this game is exemplary. The menus themselves fit the dream theme, with a nice purple motif is abundant. You can tell a game has had the extra effort put into its presentation when opening up the high score table produces a rotating 3D map of the level. All in all the menus themselves are extremely well designed.

Surprisingly for a Saturn game there is also a large amount of high quality FMV. At the beginning of the game there is an impressive FMV showing NiGHTS flying over lakes and mountains, and this really helps to set the scene and give NiGHTS a large degree of personality. While I do not want to give too much away, the ending sequences are also excellent, with the final one being simply breathtaking.

There are also a few extras to unlock as you progress through the game. You get to choose which Nightmaren you fight at the end of the stage, and after beating a certain boss you enable a 2-Player mode, which is not advertised on the box.

10/10

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Replayability

Replayability is a tough criteria to evaluate in this game. Theoretically, from the moment you pick up the controller for the first time, you could finish the game with both characters within about 6 hours or less. Initially you may think that this allows for a very small degree of replayability. However, it takes considerably more effort to complete every stage with an ‘A’ grade, and obtaining this would take the average player about 2 months.

Weirdly, even when you have completed the game totally, you still feel compelled to try and beat your best scores. There is always something that you can do, a new method of obtaining a link that would propel your score into the stratosphere. Also of course is the sheer amount of exhilaration involved in playing the game.

The 2-Player mode, though a nice touch is slightly under-realised. One player controls NiGHTS, the other Reala, the opposite of NiGHTS and they attempt to paraloop each other. It is rendered a bit confusing though as the horizontal split-screen does not allow you to see your whole loop, and the level that you play on looks pretty much the same from all angles. Another small problem that arises, is that, unless you have 2 analog controllers, one person is going to be stuck with a digital, putting them at an immediate disadvantage.

To be fair, at the price that you can pick this game up for now the amount of replayability is very high.

9/10

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Flunchy’s final thought

If you own a Saturn, you owe it to yourself to own this game. Even if you don’t own a Saturn, buy one and this game. You will not regret it. This game oozes playability from it’s every pore. Obtain it! Yuji Naka, creator of Sonic the Hedgehog, and head of Sonic Team regards this as his favorite game he has developed. By playing this you begin to understand the references in games like Sonic Adventure and Shenmue.

Don’t let this piece of history be forgotten!


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 12/11/00, Updated 12/11/00


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