The Sega Saturn was, arguably, a failure of a console here in the US. An awkward release strategy and poor timing coupled with the impossible task of competing with the Nintendo 64 and the original PlayStation console spelled doom for SEGA’s entry into the 32-bit race. This means that many gamers of the era never got to experience the few gems the console had, most notably of which happens to be the cult classic NiGHTS Into Dreams.
The game captured players and transported them to a whimsical world of dreams and nightmares. I have a sneaking suspicion that no one ever actually figured out what was going on in the game, given that in-game story was kept to a bare minimal. To this day I’m still not entirely sure what on Earth was happening. Something about two kids who are transported to a world of dreams, and your character, Nights, is trying to protect them…or something. As I said, the game was never really known for a gripping story.
What the game was known for was allowing players to carelessly fly about richly detailed (for the time) levels, collecting blue orbs in order to vanquish the baddies. This makes up the gameplay of much of the game. Players will find themselves in a sidescrolling fashion flying through rings, collecting power-ups and performing acrobatic tricks.
The game itself is broken up into seven levels, each of those broken up into four “courses” and a boss battle. Each course is essentially floating around in the 3D world on a different set path. The objective of each course is to collect enough orbs to defeat a giant robot jellyfish and move on. You’re also tasked with racking up a score through flying through rings, defeating enemies and performing tricks while flying. The higher score means the higher your rating, which would have absolutely no baring on anything back in the mid-90s, but those ratings and scores are now posted online for all the world to see and laugh at/gawk at.
After finishing all four courses, you’re given a boss battle. These usually revolve around having Nights throw an enemy into something, or throw something into an enemy. It’s just the context at which you do damage that’s somewhat difficult to figure out.
You see, you’re given a time limit while you’re playing as Nights. In the normal courses this isn’t a big deal. You just turn into the kid whose level you’re playing and are welcome to move around in 3D space in order to finish the level. But boss battles don’t even have that option, meaning you have to figure out what to do to damage the boss quickly, or you’ll have to play through the entire level again. This wouldn’t be a problem if the only controls the game tells you exist are “control movement,” “drill spin” which really only makes you go faster, and “acrobatic tricks.” So when you’re faced against a giant dragon with spikes on his head, chin and tail early on, it might be a bit confusing to figure out how to actually progress.
Thankfully, the game will put your mind at ease by being audibly and visually gorgeous. SEGA has included the expected HD version of the game, as well as the original Saturn version in an unaltered state. It really shoots home just how much SEGA put into making the game look less like it was a game released in 1996. The sprites that made up the floating rings or the random animals that inhabit each of the levels have been rendered in full 3D now. Textures have gotten a slight bump up; characters have more polygons now. The same addictive soundtrack that accompanied the original game is back, and stuck in my head even as I write this.
This presents the feeling that the game was really built for the fans of the original game, rather than attract newcomers who never got a chance to play it, although those with more patience for older mechanics will find enjoyment here as well.
I’m very impressed with how much better the game looks, and how much the game appeals to the senses much better than it did when it first released. However, it’s clear that the mechanics of the game are very much still stuck in 1996. I can’t blame SEGA for that. If they had changed things over too much, you’d have a mess of angry, lifelong fans on your doorstep. And ultimately, it’s a better idea to appease those who’ve been fans for a longer period of time rather than trying to attract newcomers.
The controls are finicky, the game is confusing and it’s really difficult to justify playing the game more than once unless you’re a leaderboard junkie, but damn if the game doesn’t look and sound its finest.
I commend SEGA for leaving the HD-ification as faithful as they could, however, I worry about the frustrated gamers that will look into the game purely because of the history behind the title. It takes a special kind of person to be able to effortlessly play a game from 16 years ago without too much problem or getting frustrated. Hopefully today’s generation of gamers are ready for that kind of blast-from-the-past. The game is decent, but the simple mechanics being trapped in the past will no doubt leave a sour taste in the mouths of gamers who don’t get what the big deal is about.
This review is based on a copy of the game provided to us for review purposes.