Nights into Dreams HD: A tribute handled with care

October 15, 2012

It’s safe to say that one of the most popular games released for the Sega Saturn is Nights into Dreams, a whimsical 2D/3D hybrid that was unlike any game released before or since. When I think of what made Sega stand out among the rest, I think of games like Nights. While it may not be as impressive today, both technically or mechanically, as it was back in 1996, there is still a lot to like about this classic gem.

The updated presentation is gorgeous, and really highlights just how colorful and stylistic the visuals are. You do have the option to play the original Saturn version, complete with now-dated character models and environments, but you’ll want to play the update to see just how great a sixteen-year-old game can look with the right amount of polish and care. The presentation, including the amazing soundtrack, highlights one of the reasons why Sega’s games stood out among the crowd back when it was released.

The gameplay is actually fairly simple, but those completely unfamiliar with Nights may have a hard time adjusting to everything. When jumping into a game like this for the first time, you will most likely be thrown through a loop by the game’s strange design and odd mechanics. There is a lot to learn, and this is a title from an era where tutorials weren’t considered a standard. The controls especially take some getting used to, as you find yourself attempting to figure out both what you have to do and what the best way to go about doing it is. Once you take the time to learn the basics, you’ll find there is a lot to love here.

Nights takes place in a dream world where you play as one of two kids working with the titular character, Nights, as you attempt to save it from the evil Nightmaren creatures. As you enter the dream world as one of the kids, you have mystical items known as Ideya Spheres stolen from you, which are the key to victory. It’s weird, I know, but the main goal is go through each level, collecting blue orbs in order to destroy the machines that hold these Ideya Spheres captive. There are four spheres in each level, and as soon as you grab one, you are allowed to continue on to the next section of the level. There’s also a time limit to worry about, making the act of moving fast in order to collect the spheres in time a huge part of the gameplay.

The core mechanic in Nights is flight, and once you get a handle on the controls, there is a lot to love about the flying. While the game doesn’t teach you, as you play through each level you’ll begin to learn the best method to get the Ideya Spheres as quickly as possible.  Once you do, you have the remaining amount of time to pass through the gate that takes you to the next section of the level, but the idea is to use as much of that time as you can before continuing on. This is a game that is all about replaying levels, scoring points, and getting graded on your score. As such, there are many tricks to learn, but if you stick with it, you’ll find reasons to continue to replay levels and improve your score.

These mechanics are still excellently crafted and plenty of fun, and thanks to the various, well-designed levels, there is plenty to keep you busy even if you can finish the game in a relatively short amount of time. Simply soaring through levels, flying through rings, doing tricks, and being able to get your score as high as possible is an experience that no other game has been able to replicate since. Those who play for the first time might be turned off by the lack of tutorials, but if you give yourself time to adjust, there is plenty to love.

Once you finish a level, you are then tasked with fighting a boss. This is easily the weakest part of Nights as the boss fights can be a pain. They aren’t necessarily difficult, but they are poorly designed and the game offers little time in order to learn their patterns of understand the best ways to go about taking them down. Simply put, they aren’t fun to fight and really only demonstrate that the mechanics aren’t particularly well-suited to battling these large enemies. Even if you can get the hang of fighting them and can defeat them fast enough, they are still a chore to get through and can ruin your chance of a getting a higher grade if you make even the simplest of mistakes.

Some people will play Nights into Dreams and give up on it before even really giving it a chance, not understanding what all of the fuss is about. But if you take the time to appreciate the game’s mechanics, controls, and intricacies, you’ll find a truly memorable experience like no other. Many consider this to be one of Sega’s all-time greats, and even with some rough edges, this is a game that everyone should try at least once.

Pros: Beautiful updated visuals, solid level design, core mechanics are still very fun
Cons: Awful boss fights, controls and mechanics take some getting used to

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.