Sonic Team are most famous for one franchise; no prizes for knowing that the franchise in question is the formidable Sonic the Hedgehog. You could even go as far as to say that some of their other efforts have sailed under the radar. Not this one; this one flew into the minds of gamers and made that clunky Sega Saturn something to be jealous of back in the hazy glory days of 1996. That game is the absolutely wonderful, Nights Into Dreams.
Normally with this type of thing I would spend the next few lines telling you where the game fits in. You know, where it hangs its awards in the halls of gaming history. This time, however, I am not going let that blur my focus. This article is going to be my love letter to one of the best little games I have ever played.
Nights follows the story of two kids who are tasked with saving Nightopia from the clutches of evil monsters and terrible beasts. Well, that’s how I saw it at least; you see, the story here always came second to me and I did not really pay much attention to it. What really shines is the delightfully simple and fiendishly addictive way in which the game plays… let me explain.
Each level in this game tasks you with flying around stages, collecting orbs and storing them in what looks like giant, see through jellyfish so that you can fly round the tree and glide through as many orange rings as you can…whilst dressed like a court jester, get it? These days, there is no way a game like this would be unleashed on the public.. people would spontaneously combust just at the thought.
It explains nothing, not a single thing; it simply doesn’t have to. This is because the only way to experience Nights, is to play it. There is no way I could describe how much fun it is perfecting your run through a stage, collecting all the orbs in one go and doing it five seconds quicker than you did it last time.
One of the main reasons is that the stages have such a brilliant, natural flow to them. They don’t have arrows in them telling you where to go or walls forcing you down one path. If you don’t get it right first time, just try again. Once you have a few runs you will be zipping round at turbo speeds breaking your high scores like a dream weaving wizard.
All of this comes, of course, without any cut scenes, no tutorials, no on screen prompts and absolutely zero quick time events. It is hard to think of a time when games were this beautifully simple and joyous.
Everything looks so vibrant and alive; even on the dated Saturn hardware, each level pops out of the screen with its very own personality. This graphical flair is especially apparent in the fabulous boss fights. Whether you are fighting a giant, multi-coloured fish or trying to dodge a killer cat; each fight is unique and demands you to think just a little differently.
The thing is there isn’t really a lot of game here; only a handful of stages and a few bosses. But what is here, is so fantastically thought through and well executed you can’t help but fall in love. This was the game designed to show off the Saturn…and it certainly does; I guess it was just unfortunate that Resident Evil and Tomb Raider were sat at the front of the class taking all the attention.
But while those games have a lasting legacy and their influence is easily felt in many of today’s modern games (Dead Space, Uncharted) the same cannot be said for Nights. That, in my opinion, is the very reason why this game is so special; you very rarely here anyone say “Hey this new game reminds me a lot of Nights on the Saturn” and there is a good reason for that.
Sometimes something is a one of a kind; a hybrid of a platformer, a racer and a puzzle game all thrown into a blender and given the world’s most delicious coat of luminous paint. Nights is the sum of a massive gaming equation with the best elements of a hundred games, all sparkling in one glorious constellation. You simply couldn’t play anything else that would give you that feeling; the only way, is to dive in head first into the only daydream worth having in 32 bits; Nights.