“In a dream I could see, you are not far away. . .”
Reviewing ports and remakes of classic games should be the easiest part of being a videogame critic. I was a poor kid growing up so when I got a new game I actually played it for a very long time. These days thanks to disposable income, a full-time job and the nature of being a reviewer I don’t get that luxury anymore. This is all the more reason why I like reviewing these types of games. I usually know everything about the game so that in five minutes or maybe an hour at the most I have enough material for the review. Typicall.y all I have to write about is whether or not the classic is worth revisiting today. However, this is one case where reviewing a port has become the hardest part of being a videogame critic.
Everyday we are faced with challenges. Whether we rise up to face them depends on our strength of character, our ability to overcome fear and doubt. Elliot and Claris are two teenagers who, faced with the possibility of failure, begin to have nightmares. It is in these nightmares that the evil Wizeman hopes to gain control of the dream world and then the real world. Still, buried within Elliot and Claris is the ideya of courage, the one thing Wizeman can not steal. With this power they release NiGHTs, who can use the ability of flight to collect the other ideya found throughout the dream world of Nightopia. Imaginative and surreal, NiGHTs into Dreams is a unique adventure that deserves to be experienced.
At around the time of its release, NiGHTs into Dreams was consistently pushed by gaming magazines as the “answer” to Mario 64 and to a lesser extent Crash Bandicoot. This must have been done to play up the console wars because I can’t imagine any other ways in which this game compares to either of those titles. NiGHTs is a score-attack game, the kind that you play repeatedly in order to get a better score and improve your ranking. Each of the seven worlds is broken up into four tracks that you fly through on a two-dimensional plane. Your goal in each track is to collect 20 chips and use them to release the captured ideya. Upon release of the ideya bonus time begins and everything is worth double the points. Either you can get to the end of the track to move on, or skip it to start another loop and try to boost your score.
Whatever the case, you’re given 120 seconds per track to free the ideya and reach the end. Failure to do so causes Elliot or Claris to separate with NiGHTS and they are thrown to the ground. At this point, a rampaging clock will hunt them down. If they’re caught, the game ends; then they wake up and are possibly subjected to enslavement after Wizeman takes control. Each world also ends in a boss-fight, usually there is some method for a quick win which is important as this can practically double your score if you’re fast enough. Again, if you fail to defeat the boss in time the game ends.
Everything you do along with collecting the necessary chips for releasing the ideya counts towards your score. Each track is filled with hoops and stars that are worth points. By moving at a relatively quick pace while hitting these objects you create links. After memorizing the locations of these objects you can begin to create a route for the highest possible score. There are numerous mini-objectives and other methods of scoring points. While most are tied to the specific world there are some like the acrobat ring where you’re given a short amount of time to pull off as many stunts as possible. Although thanks to a glitch it’s better to ride the ceilings and floors while hammering the maneuver buttons to perform a ton of different stunts at once. Performing loops causes a vortex that can destroy nightmaren and collect items, both necessities for getting through track quickly to take full advantage of the bonus points. Finally there is the dash for getting around quickly and knocking out nightmaren.
Normally if I were to discuss the intricacies of the controls for NiGHTs into Dreams, I’d talk up how absolutely flawless they are. Simply flying around is sublime, and the analog control makes this game a uniquely wonderful experience. This is where everything falls apart I’m afraid. This version of the game is ported from the Playstation 2 edition, which is understandable considering it’s much easier than attempting to port from the original code (and knowing Sega they’ve probably lost it anyway). However instead of the full range of movement available in the original the NiGHTs move in only eight directions. Somewhere in the process between porting the PS2 version to the PS3 a mistake had to have been made. This more or less breaks the game as far as I’m concerned. Instead of flying in graceful circles you’re more likely to fly in squares or hexagons. Also you’ll have a lot more trouble adjusting to anything that might get in your way. On its own the game is still playable, and I have the full-set of trophies to prove it. The problem is it’s no longer any fun for me.
I’ve taken this news especially hard because when I first started playing this port I initially thought: “Wow. Didn’t I used to be good at this game?” While it has been several years since I played NiGHTs Into Dreams, I’m not the type to accrue rust when I haven’t played a game in awhile, especially one that I’ve spent a significant amount of time on. When I was younger and my game collection was maybe a hundredth of what it is today I played a ton of the original NiGHTs on the Saturn. I didn’t even own the analog pad back then. I simply developed enough of a muscle memory from performing certain actions within the game over and over again that ultimately flying became just as natural as walking. There are things I did in that version that I just can’t do today on the latest release. It’s comparable to the timing on the bread & butter combos in your favorite fighting game getting tweaked so that you’re no longer able to perform them. Maybe if you start over and attempt to perform the new revised bread & butters sequences enoughs you’ll eventually get them down. Unfortunately, these combos won’t be the same and they will always feel unnatural, and thus, are liable to fail when you need them most.
Like a number of other gamers, I believe that classics must be preserved in the best condition possible. In the case of some games such as NiGHTs Into Dreams, we’ll never see anything else like them. Today the most widely available version is also inferior which automatically ruins any potential for discussion. What’s the point in talking about whether or not a game is worth playing today if the game in question doesn’t work nearly as well as it should? Before proper discussion about the merits of this game can even take place,everyone would have to seek out the original Saturn game. The PlayStation 2 version might be a viable alternative, but it requires a console that can play Japanese games and is quite a bit more expensive than this edition. Being able to share experiences about the game doesn’t do much good when the barrier for entry is so high.
Yes, not all players will notice or care about the flawed controls. I really wish I could do the same, but when I play this version I get so frustrated. Imagine what the average Star Wars fan thinks about Greedo shooting first. On the outset it’s a seemingly minor change but it undid years of goodwill and became something endemic to the movies. Is NiGHTs into Dreams not capable of the same effects? People will say it’s just a game as if their time was better spent with a book. As long as this attitude remains prevalent people will continue to wonder why videogames are never taken seriously. No matter how that time is spent it is still a part of somebody’s life and if they were to revisit something that was tarnished in any way they should be allowed to be upset over it.
Maybe I am being slightly over-dramatic about it. As I mentioned earlier,the game is still playable, the music is still excellent, and extras such as Christmas NiGHTs are included. Plus there is always some enjoyment to be had in raising the Nightopians, and throwing nightmarens at them to produce mutant variations. Graphically the game hasn’t aged well but that’s to be expected. At least the visuals use bright colors to help the player properly track what they’re supposed to be doing. No matter what is happening on-screen, you can easily tell where to go and what to avoid. Still, I can’t help feeling that such a landmark game deserves better. A number of Sega games have been seeing ports on this generation of consoles and for the most part they’ve been stellar. Some like the Guardian Heroes re-release had the benefit of its original creators working on it, while others such as Daytona USA and Afterburner: Climax were handled by a top-level team. Then you have M2 who has also done numerous quality ports. When you take into consideration that none of these options were chosen for a re-release of NiGHTs Into Dreams, the results aren’t entirely unexpected. Altogether it’s a disappointment, but if it doesn’t bother you, then so be it.
Perhaps you can look at this version as an “added challenge” or “a new spin on an old classic”.