It doesn’t matter how diluted this version of NiGHTS into Dreams is. Technically, your Xbox One is emulating a last-gen, HD reworking of an import-only PS2 remake of a game that itself hasn’t been cutting-edge since 1996… but it’s still one of the best games ever made. Also my personal favourite game of all time.
There’s a reason I’ve written about this game so many times over the past 10 years. It doesn’t matter how old the graphics get or even how poorly the feeling of free flight has been translated to new formats by coders other than former Sonic Team genius Yuji Naka. Fact is the fundamental brilliance of this game’s design cannot be dulled.
Never mind that its plot is massively original, telling the tale of two children having their adolescent nightmares soothed by an enigmatic being that lives in the dream realm. Never mind that the art design is both beautiful and bewildering in equal measure, dreamed up by a Sonic Team at the very pinnacle of its creative powers. Never mind the freakin’ waterfall you can splash through just because it’s fun. NiGHTS is a rock-solid score attack game at heart, and that’s why it has aged so well.
Playing on a 2D plane (for precision) in 3D space (for spectacle), you have to fly through hoops and collect items in quick succession in order to keep your ‘link’ going. It’s a combo system. Then, once the four circuits of the level are complete – which you can loop as many times as you like within the time limit – you’re whisked from the dream world into the nightmare realm. Beat the boss there as fast as you can and you can multiply your score, up to double its original tally.
It’s a game of pixel-perfect accuracy when played with skill, but NiGHTS as with its ’96 competitor, Mario 64, the act of just controlling NiGHTS is fun. Although this HD version is not quite as fluid as the Saturn original with the 3D Control Pad. That’s still the best way to play NiGHTS. But Xbox One – with the ability to save gameplay clips of great scoring sequences and share them online – is a very close second.
This HD version offers the full original game with either improved textures (upscaled from the PS2 remake), or a Sega Saturn mode, which keeps the original character models. All of the Christmas NiGHTS bonus content is in there too so you can watch the seasons change in tandem with the real world, assuming your console’s internal clock is set correctly. And all of the evolving A-Life, dynamic morphing of the exquisite soundtrack and widescreen support remains, only now the game makes even more sense thanks to online leaderboards. Though sadly my all-time world record of 1029980 on Spring Valley is now #2 on the board because of a hacker. Git.
I could talk about this game forever, so I’ll end this with a wholehearted recommendation that you pick it up and take the time to learn how it works. You will find it bewildering at first… a platformer without platforms, a shooter without bullets. A racing game with no competitors (but there is a car – it follows you into a garage for a score bonus). Even so, stick with it. Learn it. If you can rank A on every course and see the true ending, you’ll understand. This is genius.