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Grade: B+

Published: Friday, October 12, 2012

Updated: Friday, October 12, 2012 17:10

In the mid 1990s, the “Console Wars” between Sega, Nintendo, and Sony were proceeding at a rapid clip. Hardware had become more advanced with the coming of new game systems, and 3D was no longer just a gimmick in a video game: it had become the standard. The Playstation launched with games such as “Battle Arena Toshinden” and “Ridge Racer,” the Nintendo 64 with “Super Mario 64,” and the Sega Saturn, which ran a distant third in the console race, had yet to acquire a true killer app. Developer Sonic Team answered with “NiGHTS Into Dreams…” in 1996, and the results were quite spectacular then. Today, though a bit on the short side, the game definitely retains most of its charm.

The story is a bit complex. Two children, named Claris and Elliot, fall into the dream world Nightopia, where all human dreams are played out each night. There, they discover an androgynous-looking purple jester named Nights, who is trapped in a gazebo-like structure called an ideya palace. They must free Nights in order to battle his evil creator Wizeman, who seeks to steal ideya (blue orbs of energy) from dreamers to seize control of Nightopia. Only by entering an ideya palace can the children take flight as Nights and fight back against Wizeman’s nefarious plans.

As muddled as NiGHTS sounds, the story takes a backseat to the flight mechanics of the game, which are an absolute dream (no pun intended). Analog control on the Xbox 360 works just as well as the flight controller designed specifically for the game back in 1996. When playing as Nights, the goal is to collect as many blue orbs and golden stars as possible to break open robotic spheres in the allotted time. Doing so will allow the player to continue onto other predetermined flight paths to repeat the procedure. It is also possible to fly loops around orbs and pick them up all at once.

While it may sound repetitive, the paths change perspectives occasionally from side to side, overhead, and behind, and the effect can look rather spectacular. Everything is widely varied and designed to keep the game engrossing and intriguing. Nights sometimes even turns into a mermaid to dash through water.

The visuals are nothing short of luscious. NiGHTS was a visual treat during the Saturn’s heyday with a 16x9 TV mode, a novelty back then. Now on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network, the game looks better than ever. No longer are characters mere polygons with pixels for grins and blocks for eyes. Edges are better defined than any gamer in the 1990s could have ever hoped for, and the foliage in trees and the dips in valleys pop off the screen in more than adequate detail.

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