Review by Martin G

"What can make you fly past floating sheepies and through psychodelic sceneries? Not a hard drug, but a superb gaming experience"

NiGHTS is one of those very, very rare games that have a unique identity, that offer the gamer an experience that can't be found anywhere else and makes them worthy of surviving their consoles and occupying a place of their own in gaming history. In this specific case, the particularity of NiGHTS is that it takes place within the dreams of its two main characters, with all that it implies. With this original premise, the developers of this game had a chance to create a completely original images and gameplay. And they took the chance.

The story –explained in the manual, not in the actual game- revolves around an army of evil creatures from the world of dreams that want to invade the physical plane. One of them, however, rebels and begins trying to stop them. To complete this task he must merge with the two kids that we can control, Claire and Elliot, while they're sleeping.

The first thing that attracts the player's attention, even before actually playing the game, are its visuals. Really; considering all the bright colours and undulating movements that take place on-screen, if NiGHTS was a woman it would need a pimp. One scenery is a museum made of elastic rubber; another time you can play in a beach that has a ceiling and water floating in the air. The wide array of enemies range from the aforementioned floating sheepies to more threatening lobsters. Always having in mind that it's all supposed to be happening in a dream, the sceneries and enemies have been designed with colourful and tastefully surreal aesthetics. They manage to transmit a very peculiar oneiric sensation, that successfully makes it look like a dream without actually hampering the gameplay.

NiGHTS' gameplay fits perfectly into this atmosphere. The aim of each level is recovering a certain numbers of orbs that are stolen from you at the beginning. Each orb contains one of your positive qualities –like Courage, Hope or Strength- and are necessary to progress to the end of the level and face the boss. In order to achieve both of these tasks you control Elliot or Claire, the boy and the girl who are dreaming peacefully in their beds. The core of the game is having them merge with the flying creature commonly referred to as NiGHTS due to him (or her?) actually being the character you play as most of the time. As NiGHTS, the sceneries are pseudo-3D, that is, they're actually three dimensional but you can only move in two dimensions. This is usually a major draw-back in most games, but it's hardly a problem in this game because you have the ability to fly. As a matter of fact NiGHTS can't walk –all the tasks are achieved flying. Said tasks consist of collecting a certain number of blue balls throughout the scenery, inserting them into the cage that contains the Orb you're trying to get at the moment, and then proceeding to the next cage. While you travel along the fixed path of the scenery you can deal with the small enemies that hamper your progress via evading them, describing a circle around them (which quite obviously banishes them to another dimension) or grabbing them and then tossing them away. Satisfying.

However, all the time you fly around as NiGHTS there's a countdown ticking at the top of the screen that indicates how long it will take until Claire or Elliot begin waking up. If it hits zero, NiGHTS and the kid can no longer be united and you're forced to continue only as the latter. As a kid you can't fly, but in exchange the sceneries are now fully 3D. It is mostly possible to complete a level this way, but it's infinitely harder and, what's more, you are pursued by a giant clock that, should it reach you, will force you to wake up thus ending the level. In order to keep dreaming peacefully, you are forced to merge with NiGHTS again.

All the levels follow this same scheme (with the only exception of the last one); boss battles, on the opposite, are all different. Taking place in their own scenery, each one of them is defeated via different methods. The first of Claire's bosses is a fat opera singer which you have to toss against walls. Another boss requires flying through it at full speed to harm him; another one can only be defeated destroying several objects in the scenery. As opposed to the cheerful main levels, the boss' chambers are always Gothic and painted in cold and dark colours; truly like a nightmare.

It's all the elements above described what make NiGHTS a really unique experience. There is literally no story or plot whatsoever in the actual game, with the sole exceptions of the initial sequence and the ending. That's another successful attempt at translating the structure of dreams into a game. While you are playing it, you'll often find yourself enjoying the pure fun of describing loop after loop in the air or simply flying at full-speed, forgetting completely about the mission at hand. You know they want you to feel like this because NiGHTS himself smiles and enjoys the feeling of the air on his face as you control him. Just like a dream, where attention goes back and forth without following a defined pattern.

In this day and age, when we are all used to analogue controllers and three-dimensional sceneries, NiGHTS is not as big of a challenge as it used to be; but even though its difficult has decreased (or our skill has increased), the very special type of fun that it provides is still there, waiting to prove us that, with talent, so very little is needed to provide a wonderful gaming experience. A game that everyone should have played at least once.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/21/04

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