Review by Jeet Soon Kai
""Into dreams" is exactly right..."
Sega has had somewhat of shaky track record in terms of timing. With the exception of the Genesis and the original Sonic the Hedgehog, they have always managed to release their systems and signature titles at exactly the wrong moment. As was the case with one of their most ambitious gems, NiGHTS - into dreams... (to cite its full name): It arrived the same month as the Nintendo 64 and the ever infamous Super Mario 64.
This marketing error was tragic not only in that it called attention away from Sega's new mascot (as opposed to the same rehashed plumber), but from a new plane of gaming all together. I mean, it wasn't just that NiGHTS introduced an entirely new world, fabricated from hints of our own reality then surrealistically spun out of context. It wasn't just that NiGHTS introduced the idea of soaring - yes, there had been games before where you could fly, but not like this... not with the sort of freedom from gravity and physics.
It wasn't just these things... it was everything.
Level after level hit exactly the right note in terms of challenge, imagination and discovery. I'm sorry, but watching the fat little plumber waddle through what was essentially the same world, only in a new dimension, does not hold a candle to the kind of beautiful symphonic composure found here. But, the N64, being the ''next big thing'' as it was, robbed Sega's purple harlequin from finding its proper audience.
Now, as with all of my reviews, let's break it down:
My criteria for rating a visual standpoint has always been in the form of a question: Yes, the game may look good, but does it further the very idea of how we look at games? In other words: A game can look sharper than any other, have the cleanest textures, highest resolution, with no pop-up nor scroll lines, but if it lacks imagination, then it can look as equally bad as a game plagued with the aforementioned flaws. For example, the Tomb Raider series has polished up quite a bit over the years, but it still contains the same flat, boring landscapes with same uninventive characters.
NiGHTS was about imagination from the get-go. Hell, the game takes place inside the imagination, literally. Every nook and cranny of its universe is filled with such a sense of wonder and cheerfulness that I dare you not to smile as you play. Everything is alive on-screen, so many objects move the world moves. The character of NiGHTS himself/herself/itself is so well represented and perfect for their environment, they will stay fresh in my mind longer than any competing mascot.
Even groundbreaking in this department with its A-Life system. Scattered throughout each stage is a family of Nightopians. By taking good care of them (meaning: don't kill them!) the music will be cheerful and uplifting. Go on a murder spree and - well, you get the idea. Be it happy or grim, each tune is wonderfully done and extremely memorable (to this day I still sometimes find myself whistling the ending theme).
Gameplay: 10/10 or 9/10
The reason for two scores in this section is simple: Analog. If you can find the 3D Controller that usually came bundled with the game, you will be in a gaming paradise as graceful and elegant as the world NiGHTS inhabits. If you're using a standard, clunky, 8-directional D-pad, however, your experience will be teased because you know damn well how you should be playing. Seriously, it makes that much of a difference.
The lord of nightmares, Wizeman, is stealing dreams from children in hopes that he can conquer the tangible world beyond his own realm. Story is not the emphasis here, but it's good enough to establish a premise without being needlessly complex. It works.
With only eight levels, the game is fairly short (it can be beaten overnight with both children). But, this does not mean you have seen it all. Have you gotten an ''A'' on every level? Have you hatched every Nightopian from its egg? Have you experienced the battle mode with Reala that's so addicting it could have been released as an entirely separate game? Even just wandering aimlessly proves to be a joy when surrounded by a world this lush and amazing.
While popular in various circles, NiGHTS never found the respect it commands. I have a feeling had it been released for the N64 at the time, it would have been the Mario of today. Hypocrisy runs rampant in this industry, true, but oh well. I'm one of the fortunate few to have experienced this masterpiece, and if you can get your mitts on a copy, you can die with your life a little more complete and a little more grateful for having known such a wonderful gift.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 03/24/01, Updated 03/24/01
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