Elliot is playing basketball with his classmates. Some of the older kids from school show up and challenge Elliot and his friends to a game. A team-mate passes a long to Elliot, who is just feet from the net, but the star player on the other team steals the ball. A long pass downcourt and a slam dunk finishes the day. Elliot walks home alone.
Today is Claris’ chance to show her family she has stage talent. The stagelight flares on, and her heart starts racing. The directors are out there, watching. Claris approaches the microphone, but something’s not right. A small voice inside her tells her that everyone will laugh. A few seconds pass, and the voice grows louder. No longer able to bear it, Claris runs off stage.
In their dreams Elliot and Claris have seen NiGHTS, a being capable of flying freely through the sky and performing the trickiest of aerial acrobatics. But what is NiGHTS? A spirit? A memory? Whatever he, she or it is, NiGHTS plays an important part in the upcoming battle with the evil Wiseman.
That night Elliot and Claris return home, thinking of themselves as failures, not realising that the real challenge is about to begin. In the world of Nightopia where our dreams are played out, an evil being is gaining tremendous power. He is Wiseman the Wicked, and through his creations the Nightmaren, he captures precious dream energy from humans. If he is not stopped, he will rise from the subconscious and enter our world. No power on earth will be able to stop him.
As Wiseman’s Nightmaren start fulfilling his horrible plan, a Nightopian escapes from the dream world and begs the sleeping Elliot and Claris to save the world from the evil being. But now that the world needs their help, Elliot and Claris feel, for the first time in their lives, a courage growing within them. They accept the Nightopian’s desperate request.
The creature explains to them that they need to recover four types of dream energy from Wiseman’s Ideya Capture, a group of large machine-like beings. The four energies are White (representing purity), Green (wisdom), Yellow (hope) and Blue (intelligence).
Wiseman will attempt to steal Elliot and Claris’ dream energy and will try to confuse them by placing them in strange dream worlds. These worlds are places developed from the depths of their minds. The fifth and rarest of the dream energies, bravery (Red in colour), is the only one of energy that Wiseman and his henchmen cannot steal. It is said that the only one not yet under Wiseman’s power is NiGHTS, who appears as an aerial acrobat and is attracted to red dream energy. The Nightopian believes that Elliot and Claris possess this rare energy, and thus NiGHTS will come to their aid.
The Nightopian warns that sooner or later Wiseman will send the most powerful of his Nightmaren, his henchmen, after Claris and Elliot. The two children will need the help of NiGHTS every step of the way to thwart Wiseman’s plans if they are to restore peace to Nightopia.
The game is not essentially a difficult one…
You enter the game in Nightopia, as either Elliot or Claris, locate the imprisoned NiGHTS (you enter the level right in front of him, so he’s not hard to find, but you are immediately mugged by some Nightmaren who steal all your Ideya except the red (bravery) which is needed to free NiGHTS), bond with him and fly around the level collecting enough blue chips (magical balls that hang in the air) to destroy the Ideya Capture so you can free the stolen Ideya (dream energy), all within a not too generous time limit. There are four Ideya to collect in each level. Then you’re transported to Nightmare to do battle with the end of level boss.
The levels are you basic, run of the mill platform fair. There’s the lush, green Spring Valley (Claris’ 1st level), where you get used to the game play. Splash Garden (Elliot’s 1st level) is similar but set in a beach side park. Then you move on to Mystic Forest (Claris’ 2nd level), which has some truly beautiful lighting and misting effects, and Frozen Bell (Elliot’s 2nd level), the rather stereotypical snow level. After that there’s Soft Museum (Claris’ 3rd level) where the rubber-like ground warps beneath you as you glide over it and you bounce off the architecture, and Stick Canyon (Elliot’s 3rd level) the desert balance of the previous snowy level. Finally you reach Twin Seeds, the 4th and final level for both dreamers.
Yes, the game is short, but at the end of each level you receive a grade, from A to F (just like being back in school, huh?), and you need at least a C on each level to open up the final level. And you have to play through as each dreamer to see the full ending of the game (it’s very nice…seeing Claris’ and Elliot’s dreams come true…).
But it’s the little touches that keep you coming back. The music changes as you play, so in each adventure is never exactly the same. Though the boss tunes remain static, once you’ve beaten them (Gillwing at the end of Spring Valley, Puffy at the end of Splash Garden, Gulpo at the end of Mystic Forest, Clawz at the end of Frozen Bell, Jackle at the end of Soft Museum and Reala at the end of Stick Canyon) the game randomises who you face, so you’re never sure who you’re going to be up against. Also, once you’ve beaten Reala, a two-player option opens up, where NiGHTS and Reala go head to head in an aerial dog fight.
But the most interesting part is the A-Life. A predecessor to the Chao of Sonic Adventure, the Nightopians actually multiple in the game, and their reaction to you varies depending on how you treat them. Be nice, and they sing a happy little tune as you fly by. By mean and they run away. And you can create a whole new type of creature by batting about the Nightmaren in the levels. If they land close to a Nightopian the mix-matched pairing results in a Mepian, a creature that is both Pian and Maren (though they don’t attack you like their Maren parent will).
And besides, it’s just so darn fun to play!
Sonic Team had some ideas that they wanted to include in the game but Sega forced them into a rush release so it could go head to head with Mario 64 (which it initially beat in Japan). But rather than ignore these plans, Yuji Naka, the head developer of Sonic Team approached the heads of Sega with the proposal to release a date-sensitive version of NiGHTS, containing a single level, as a free gift for loyal Saturn owners, and for to entice new gamers. Sega agreed, and the result was Christmas NiGHTS. Not truly a sequel, but more an addition to the original, Christmas NiGHTS has, as its name suggests, a festive theme, but only when the Saturn’s internal clock is set for the festive season. During the year it changes to Winter NiGHTS (during the Northern winter months), NiGHTS - short version (during the rest of the year), and New Year’s NiGHTS (well, that one’s pretty obvious).
The gameplay is essentially the same throughout the multiple versions, but the costumes and scenery changes to set the mood. NiGHTS and the rest of the cast wear Santa inspired costumes during Christmas NiGHTS, and though NiGHTS returns to his familiar purple outfit in Winter and New Year’s NiGHTS, Claris and Elliot don more suitable outfits for the colder weather.
But it wouldn’t be Christmas without presents, and this little freebie is full of them. Each time you finish the game you get to play a form of the game Concentration. You are given a selection of cards, and if you can match a pair, you get the present. Most of the gifts available are part of the NiGHTS Museum - some nice official pics of the characters and the various environments in the full version of the game. But there is also a karaoke present (where you can listen to the NiGHTS’ theme song, Dreams Dreams while the words appear for you to sing along), the Link attack, where you try to keep a continuous link going by drill-dashing through as many items as you can and the Time attack, where you try to make it around Spring Valley in the quickest time possible. You can mix the game’s music and check up on how your Nightopians are doing (in both games). And there are a couple of movie clips and a selection a NiGHTS merchandise to have a look at.
But perhaps the most interesting gifts of all are the two additional characters you can play the game as. Firstly there’s Sonic the Hedgehog, who bolts around on the ground collecting items in much the same manner as the kids do (if you resist the temptation to merge with NiGHTS). The end of level boss is a Puffyised version of Doctor Robotnik. But, come April 1st, NiGHTS disappears to be replaced by his alter ego, Reala (after which the option to play as the nefarious Nightmaren is always available). Reala plays exactly the same way as NiGHTS, and you can’t help but wonder if it’s an indication that he followed his twin’s lead and rebelled against Wiseman as well…
The game was universally well received when it was released in 1996. Reviewers the world over agreed that it was a truly magical experience, the only real complaint being, that with only seven levels, it just wasn’t long enough. It also showed that, in the right hands, the Saturn could pull off all those visual marvels that detractors claimed it couldn’t - multiple light sourcing, misting effects and so on…
With the release of the Dreamcast, fans of the game have been clambering for the sequel, a logical step for Sonic Team due to the success of the original. Also, the game’s setting would fit so well considering the console’s name. Even Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of the Mario series) expressed his interest in seeing the sequel when he met Yuji Naka at 1999’s E3…
But Sonic Team seem to be skirting the issue, neither truly confirming or denying the possibility of a second NiGHTS game (not counting Christmas NiGHTS). Perhaps they are thinking along the same lines as Steven Spielberg who has flatly refused to make a sequel to his all-time favourite E.T The Extra-Terrestrial, claiming such a move would “prostitute the character”. Perhaps the NiGHTS appearances in Sonic Adventure and its sequel is all we’re going to get.
We will just have to wait and see…