The Sega Saturn was released in 1995 for North America and was Sega's first true step into the 3D market. It was popular in Japan, lasting six years from 1994 to 2000, but its run was only half of that for North America and Europe. Following suit of the lackluster 32X and Sega CD and leading to the Dreamcast, Sega was ultimately eliminated from the console races and Microsoft took their place as the third pillar.
Despite this, the Saturn did have some notable games like Burning Rangers and Panzer Dragon Saga, and on a personal stance Saturn Bomberman and Fighters Megamix, but one game truly stood out from the rest and became a cult favorite for many, including me, and even replaced Sonic as the mascot for that generation. NiGHTS Into Dreams.
The brain child of Yuji Naka and created by Sonic Team, NiGHTS was not like anything we've seen before with an interesting mix of 3D graphics with mostly flying side scrolling gameplay. Naka found inspiration for the game during a takeoff from an airport and thought that simulating the feel of the speed of flight would make a great game. While it didn't actually give the feeling of actual flight, he was right that it would be a hit.
NiGHTS takes place in both the fictional town of Twin Seeds and the dream world of Nightopia and stars two teens with their own aspirations: Claris Sinclair, who dreams of being a singer and Elliot Edwards, who wants to be a great basketball player. Both of their fears of failure are taken advantage of in their dreams by the evil Wizeman and that's where NiGHTS comes in to protect them.
The game is pretty simple. You start a level (or Mare) as one of the characters and you are immediately attacked, loosing all of your dream energy except for the most important, bravery, while the rest (purity, wisdom, hope, and intelligence) are encased into Ideya Captures. Luckily, you just happen to be in front of the Ideya Palace that holds NiGHTS and all you need to do to free him is one energy.
Now to take back your precious dream energy. You have to spin and paraloop your way to the Ideya Capture with different acrobatic moves while collecting blue chips to break it open. All you need is twenty, but there are other items to collect and link to score more points. You're going to want these points, too, because each lap and the level overall is graded A through E. If you want an A you're going to find yourself flying through laps a few times after you retrieve your dream energy to rack up those points.
You have to be quick, as well, since each lap has a time limit. In most cases this won't be a problem, but some laps can be pretty tight. If you do run out of time you'll be on foot again as Elliot or Claris and an alarm clock will appear. Should it touch you it's "Dream Over," so you have to avoid that while collecting the twenty chips for the Capture or simply returning to the Palace if you already have the energy. Once you clear all four laps you're warped to the boss room were you will fight one of the main Nightmaren henchmen.Wizeman's second hand man, Reala.
My first experience with the game started with a simple trip to Blockbuster video sometime in 1997, near the end of the Saturn's life. Since they weren't doing well they were selling their rental Saturns for $50 and for some reason I wanted one. I didn't know anything about the system or the games it had, but it called to me and boy am I glad I got it.
I only had a couple demo disks at first and one of them was the NiGHTS sampler, but when I popped that one in it would change my gaming life for the rest of the year. It only had two levels to play and a preview trailer, but I played it to death until it wasn't enough and I just had to play the full game. While Blockbuster was selling their systems, Saturn games were still up for rent and NiGHTS was one of them. I must have rented it two or three times before it was finally put on the sales rack and I grabbed it up like there was no tomorrow, the same copy I had been playing the whole time.
At this time I had already beaten it numerous times, but that didn't keep me away from it. It took me a while, but I even figured out I had to fly through laps until time was almost out to snatch an A rating. It was, without a doubt, my favorite game as it must have for many other gamers. Replaying it now for this article I pretty much fall into it like I've never stopped playing it, though it is kind of rough on my thumb. I suppose that's what the 3D pad was truly for, but unfortunately mine broke long ago.
There was another sampler called Christmas NiGHTS that, obviously, had a Christmas theme to it. It had two levels as well and along with the system clock changed depending on the date for such occasions as Christmas and New Years. You also had the chance of playing as Sonic or Reala and changing Puffy into Robotnik as well as other bonuses. I never had the chance to have this disk or play it, but I still hope to someday. It's on my obscure item must have list much like the Sega CD and Sonic CD were before the Gems Collection came out.
Since then Archie Comics released two three-issue mini series based on NiGHTS, though neither were popular enough to warrant a series of its own like Knuckles. NiGHTS also made a few cameo appearances in other games such as Sonic Riders and had themed mini games in others like Sonic Pinball, but no other full games to star in. It looks like it was over and this game would disappear into history with little more to show for it than other games like Ristar.
Or will it?
The many loyal to NiGHTS into Dreams wanted a sequel, but Yuja Naka himself even said he didn't want to tarnish the game's image and there would be no remake or sequel. Later, perhaps after the trouble Sonic had adjusting to the 3D era, he wanted to use NiGHTS to, "reinforce Sega's identity." Nintendo released the Wii in 2006 and not long after rumors started about the sequel being for it. The motion sensing controls did seem to be a natural fit for the gameplay, but there was nothing official.Rumors spawned fake, though wonderfully made, cover art.
In 2007 Sega posted a poll on their site asking who people would most want to see appear in a game with NiGHTS as an option. At the same time, Nintendo Magazine stated that a new game would be announced along with an image of a constellation that formed NiGHTS. Later in the same month the Japanese magazine Famitsu confirmed that after over ten years of waiting we would finally be seeing a sequel called NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams.
Story and character wise it seems very similar to the original. Instead of Claris wanting to sing you have Helen playing the violin and replacing Elliot who likes basketball is William who plays soccer. Also, from the game footage I have seen one boss seems to be a bouncing copy of Puffy including throwing him through walls, as well as another that looks to be a spiritual merge between Gulpo and Gillwing. The A-Life system, a Chao-like system within the levels of the original game involving Nightopians, will also be making a comeback. New to the game, however, will be new items like keys and transformations that will aid you throughout the game as well as more time playing as the human characters, both of which live in a new town called Bellbridge. The new dreamers, Helan and Will, but can we expect to see cameos of Elliot and Claris?
While some might find the similar ideas as repetitive, I think I'll enjoy it. The original had such a simple charm to it that, if done right, it would be refreshing to see old ideas that I have fond memories of incorporated into a whole new adventure. I absolutely cannot wait to try it out, and I wish I could be one of the lucky people who will be picking it up this week, but first thing's first, I still need a Wii. Until then I can only hope it'll be a success.
So, will this game meet the expectations of those who have been waiting forever to fly again in Nightopia or will it sadly take the path of Sonic and tarnish the series as Yuji Naka feared? Those with a Wii will know soon enough. And for those who never had the opportunity to play the original it will be coming out in Japan on the Playstation 2 with the original Saturn version and a newer refurbish version as well as some extras (dare I hope, Christmas NiGHTS?). If we're lucky we'll be seeing it State side and I'll be quickly getting myself a copy.
Because one fake box art wasn't enough.