Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Hidden Gems Volume 7

Oh dear, it's been exactly a week since the last post! I shall try and remedy that this week with a whole stack of content for you. The weekly release list will now be posted on a Thursday, mainly so that people can see what's coming out the next day, but also because I sometimes go out on a Friday and don't have time to write anything.

At least I've managed to post up a new Hidden Gems article for seven weeks running. Speaking of which...

Up until recently, my knowledge of the Sega Saturn almost nothing. A friend of mine at University had one (hello, Simon) and I played a few of his games, but I never owned one myself. I have intended to pick one up on ebay for almost a year though, and a few weeks back I finally bought one, along with a copy of Nights Into Dreams, which is the subject of this weeks article.

"In the nights, sweet delight..."

Like many classic games throughout the years, Nights Into Dreams suffered because it came out late on in the lifetime of the Sega Saturn, when things were winding down for the console. As such, not as many people played the game as it deserved, and so it became a bit of a sleeper hit. It was developed by Sonic Team, and in my opinion it was their last truly great game (Sonic Adventure and Billy Hatcher have their moments, but there's still something missing). The idea of the game is that two children, a girl named Claris and a boy named Elliott, are having nightmares about certain events in their real life, and they have to explore their dreams and conquer the nasty Mares with the help of the mysterious Nights.

Once you've chosen which of the two you want to play as, the stage begins. Each stage follows a certain structure - firstly, you must collect 20 blue chips as quickly as possible and take them to the "Ideya capture". Then bonus time begins, and you can zoom around the level flying through rings, defeating enemies, collecting starts and doing paraloops to build up your score as high as possible. You must enter the "Ideya palace" as soon as possible though, or you will lose everything. One you do, you're rated for that part of the stage and the next part begins. Each stage is divided into four smaller sections, and then you face the boss. The bosses in Nights are extremely imaginative - especially Puffy, who looks like a cross between an opera singer and a space hopper. You have to grab hold of her and through her through the scenery behind her until you trap her at the end.

The theme for each stage varies slightly - from a green and pleasant countryside environment, to a snowy stage, a museum, and more. There's ony 7 stages in total, which won't take you much time at all to beat. In fact, you're likely to feel short changed the first time you finish the game, but it's actually much deeper than you first realise. There's the whole grading system to begin with, so you can constantly try and beat your best score, and there's also the A-Life system. This keeps track of how the "Nightopians" feel toward you. Nightopians are little harmless creatures that live in each stage, and their feelings can be effected by how many you accidentally fly into during a stage, or how many you hatch out their eggs. This has a really clever effect on the game - depending on how these little creatures feel about you, the music changes, so each time you play the results will be a little different.

Speaking of the music, this is fantastic - really funky, happy, stuff in true Sega style. The ending theme, while a little corny, is great too. I was also really impressed by the visuals - considering that is on a console that's almost a decade old, and that the Saturn was supposed to be crap at doing 3D graphics, they're amazing. They'll remind you a bit of the Sonic games, but they also have character of their own, and match the best graphics that I've seen on the PS1.

If you do decide to track down this game, I also recommend you find a copy of Christmas Nights too. This was a demo disc with a difference - rather than just a quick level, you had all sorts of bonus presents to play with, like sound galleries, a menu to keep track of the Nightopians and their feelings, videos, and more. They also made the masterstroke of making the game keep track of the internal clock, with the game changing on certain days. These included Christmas itself, and also Halloween, New Year's Day, Valentine's Day, April 1st and a day in the year 2099! Christmas Nights can be used in conjunction with original game too, so you'll be finding hidden stuff for absolutely ages!

Finally, let's talk about price, and where to find it. My copy cost me about £15, and I got the 3D controller with the game, so that's not at all bad. Copies of Nights crop up on ebay on a regular basis, so you shouldn't have too much trouble finding it. As for Christmas Nights, that was a bit rarer, but is still fairly easy to find. I wouldn't spend more than £5 on it though, considering it was originally given away free with certain magazines.

Tomorrow I plan to do the Mag Watch article on the latest Nintendo Official Magazine, so hopefully, I'll see you there!

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