There isn’t a true Sonic game available on the Saturn? What?!?! 32X owners already had to make due with having only Knuckles Chaotix and its odd control scheme available but no plans to release a Sonic game (sorry, Sonic Jam and Sonic R don’t count) seemed like a cruel joke for Saturn owners. So what exactly was the Sonic Team working on during this period if it wasn’t a 32-bit game changing 3D Sonic title? That would be Nights into Dreams, an ambitious new IP developed by the Sonic Team and released for the Saturn in 1996.
Nights into Dreams follows a new character, named Nights, who has been exiled from the land of dreams (Nightopia) and now must stop the evil ruler, Wizeman, from destroying it. He/she (Nights’ gender is never discussed) is capable of re-entering Nightopia through the dreams of two teenagers, named Claris and Elliot. When the teens are dreaming, Nights can take control and defeat the various Nightmaren while gaining enough energy to continue on through 7 total dream levels. I think most would agree that Nights into Dreams has an interesting concept behind it, but it’s the gameplay mechanics that transform this action game into something much bigger and more memorable. Nights moves around the various dream levels by flying, spinning, bouncing off environments & generally acting like an acrobat without ropes in a low G environment.
Like many 3D shooters of the era, Nights is “on rails” from the standpoint that you can move up and down and left and right but only on a set path. Each dream level is a gorgeous 3D environment that offers the player the illusion of an open world environment without actually giving it to you. Nights must collect 20 blue spheres within the allotted time limit and deliver them back to the cage you start the level in to retrieve one of the stolen “Ideyas”. If Nights does not retrieve 20 blue spheres back to the cage within the time limit, Nights turns back into Claris or Elliot (depending on who’s dream Nights is inhabiting at the time) and they’re forced to travel on ground trying to get back to the cage where Nights is waiting for you in the Ideya Palace to continue on before being caught by the moving alarm clock. You’ll want to try and avoid having to do this as it greatly affects your final grade after each level. The grade you earn, A-F, will depend on how many points scored, tricks and moves pulled off and how efficient you were in completing the level (i.e. no reverting back to the kids!) The goal is to at least score a C grade in each level and thankfully, the game allows you to return to any previously completed level at any time in order to retry and achieve a better grade. Some of the tricks and moves Nights can pull off involve looping and linking techniques to gather items. Looping is the act of spinning Nights around objects which then attracts them to Nights for collecting. Linking is the act of performing a number of moves together in succession, for example, collecting items and flying through rings in rapid succession. Additionally, Nights can earn power ups such as speed boost or point multiplier can be achieved by successfully performing various link and loop flying activities.
After completion of the 4 sub-levels in each dream world, Nights will take on the level’s bosses, or Nightmaren, in what feels like an arena of sorts. Nights must use a variety of battle techniques to defeat the various Nightmaren and the method in which to harm and ultimately defeat them isn’t always clear at first. I admit that I had to resort to the internet to help me figure out what to do with one boss in particular. With that said, the bosses are interesting, large and nerve wracking considering they all have to be defeated within a time limit.
Nights into Dreams is best played with the Saturn’s 3D controller, with it’s analog stick that really allows for fluid movement of Nights. The use of this controller makes you feel one with Nights’ movements and this control scheme is top notch. The music and graphics are spectacular as well and combined with the unique gameplay (I didn’t even touch on the sub-game within the game involving the Nightopian inhabitants) and plot, Nights into Dreams is a winner for sure. This is considered one of the best games for the Saturn for good reason.
Currently in my collection: game, manual, bundled box w/ 3D controller