Friday, December 9, 2011

Nights: Into Dreams (Saturn)

From the time the Sega CD was first released and up until the company officially stopped making consoles with the demise of the Dreamcast, it felt as if Sega was always snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. For anyone who has played a Sega Saturn or a Dreamcast, there's no denying that Sega made great systems after their mostly ill-fated 32x. Unfortunately, both systems fell away rather quickly under the strength of competitors like Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft. A series of poor decisions such as a rushed release date, technology that was innovative but difficult for third parties to program for, and the aforementioned strength of newcomers Sony and gaming legends Nintendo sealed the coffin on the Saturn. The Saturn in particular is a system that had boatloads of potential that just wouldn't be realized.

It's a sad reality because there are a handful of great games for the Sega Saturn that nowadays fetch hefty price-tags - due to both their small production runs and the high demand for them by collectors. It's rare to find a copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga for less than 2 bills - and having played it first hand, I can say it's a pretty awesome game. Collector's price-points for some of the rarer and desirable games aside - there's more options for a Saturn owner now than ever before. With the power of sites such as Lukie Games, you can track down a good chunk of the games released in the US - and if you hit auction sites, you can track down the Japanese and European imports which can nearly double your collection (as the Saturn was popular in Japan and had a longer production run than here in the states.) One of the best, most accessible Saturn games is also fairly common and affordable; Sega's high-flying 1996 release "Nights: Into Dreams."

Motion-sickness meds sold separately

In Nights, you play as either Claris or Elliot - two young kids who discover the title character Nights in their dreams and merge with him in order to work their way through the dream/nightmare world Nightopia. Throughout the game you'll battle a handful of bosses and collect Ideya orbs in your quest to take down the evil Wizeman in his quest to steal the dream energy of children in their sleep. I guess that makes Wizeman the Freddy Krueger of Nightopia? Nights was designed by Wizeman to carry out this task - but instead rebels against his creator. If this all sounds insane and convoluted, it's because it is. If you think any of this is adequately explained or represented in the game, it ain't. That's what the game manual is for, kids! Goofy, insane plot aside - there's plenty of reasons why this is one of the best games for the Sega Saturn.

The hills are alive with the sound of confusion.

For starters, the graphics and music hold up really well even by today's standards. Keeping in mind that this was still near the beginning of the 64-bit gaming era, Nights has really well fleshed-out graphics with smooth animation and tons of color blasting all over the screen. It always felt like games such as Nights and Clockwork Knight (another popular Saturn game) could handle quicker animation and more vibrant color than similar games on the N64. The cutscenes (as vague and nonsensical as they are) happen to be crisp and detailed and character animations are fluid even with lots of action going on at the same time. The music and sound effects in Nights really seem to show off what the Saturn is capable of and demonstrates why (for me at least) cd-quality audio couldn't be beat by cart-based technology. The music is beautiful (and not surprisingly) very dream-like. In cutscenes you have sound effects like birds chirping, basketballs bouncing, and other ambient noises that not only add impact to the scenes but are the kind of little details that seemed lacking from games until at least the Dreamcast/PS2/Gamecube era.

The gameplay in Nights is very much in line with the gaming you'd expect from a typical Sega release - fast, fun, and high-flying (in this case, quite literally.) The best way I can find to describe Nights is that it's a Sonic game where you fly instead of spin and Sonic's not actually in the game - save for as the mascot on power-ups. Well, that's not 100% accurate, but I'll get to that later. You control Nights through hoops, around corners, over snow-covered mountains all while displaying some serious acrobatic skills - doing loop-de-loops, twirls, pirouettes and more. There are instances in the game where the more creative you are with your acrobatics, the more points you rack up. Controlling Nights is relatively simple. As Claris or Elliot, you basically can run around the terrain and jump - but that's not where the meat of the game is and you aren't likely to complete your goal unless you unlock Nights. As Nights you can use your d-pad to twirl around the sky like a circus acrobat. To aid in Nights' twirly, whirly antics, Sega released a 3d controller with a thumbstick that is perfect for performing all of the high-flying antics in Nights. (This controller also happens to be available right now through Lukie Games.)

I only sorta lied. Kinda. Well, not really. Read on.

One of your main means of attack is a spin/dash which is very effective to latch on to enemies and blast them into the stratosphere. Another means of attack is to circle your enemies and catch them in your magical pixie trail. Just remember to kill a bunch of these cute little suckers because the more points you rack up, the better your overall score at the end of each stage. Get an A thru C and you're pretty much in the clear, but getting D or below will really hurt your chances of advancing on to the final level. The basic rule of thumb is to complete the stage once by grabbing floating orbs, killing baddies and capture your ideyas as quickly as possible so you have enough time to power through the level again to collect bonus points and raise your score.

Nights: Where even little blue-haired boys can fly.

Nights is a fast, colorful, heck-of-a-good time. Sure, the story is like a schizophrenic's fever dream - but there's a whole lotta fun to be had with this game and it's one of the essential Sega Saturn titles. I recommend picking up Nights as well as the 3d Saturn controller. Nights also makes for a great holiday game because...