25 Years of NiGHTS (Part 2)

For Part 1 of this article, go here.

The Cameos

Though no new NiGHTS game was on the horizon by the late 90s, Sonic Team and SEGA still had plenty of love for the purple dream jester, and they demonstrated that a lot. Sonic Adventure featured an entire NiGHTS themed pinball table, which likely served as many Sonic fan’s first exposure to the character. When Dreamcast party game Sonic Shuffle’s multiplayer was played on December 24, NiGHTS replaced Lumina. Sonic Adventure 2 featured NiGHTS on numerous level assets and featured a chao based on them. The cameos continued even after the Dreamcast.

Sonic Pinball Party gave NiGHTS a second pinball table, and the character was playable in both the Sonic Riders games and SEGA Superstars, a mini game collection for the PS2’s Eyetoy. NIGHTS popped up in Billy Hatcher as a special unlockable character, and also starred in NiGHTS Score Attack, a special mini game that could be downloaded to the GBA over a link cable from both Billy Hatcher and Phantasy Star Online.

For over a decade, this was essentially how NiGHTS stuck around. It wouldn’t be until 2007, eleven years after the original game’s release, that this finally changed.

The Sequel

Takashi Iizuka had often talked about wanting to do a NiGHTS sequel, and finally got his chance in late 2005, after the completion of Shadow the Hedgehog. My mid-2006, NiGHTS Journey of Dreams was in full production for the Wii. Though some have speculated JoD may have been originally planned for HD consoles, Iizuka later confirmed it was built from the ground up for Nintendo’s system.

After a small delay, JoD launched in December of 2007. It would not be as well received as its predecessor, receiving mixed-to-positive reviews. The game also likely didn’t sell especially well, though sales numbers appear to be hard to confirm.

JoD kept several aspects from the original, including its 2.5 perspective, its focus on flight, the timer for NiGHTS, and the ability to link rings and blue chips together for higher scores. Unlike the previous game, players needed to chase down nightmarens riding large birds in order to collect keys to free NiGHTS, and there is no incentive to run the timer down. Instead, JoD encourages players to simply complete its stages as quickly as possible. 

JoD also introduced a lot of brand new features, such as multiple missions per level, a significantly more fleshed out plot, an online multiplayer mode, and most infamously, platforming levels starring the children. It also has an area where Nightopians can be interacted with called “My Dream,” which is essentially a barebones chao garden. This open space can be filled with random objects from the game’s levels, as well as Nightopians and Nightmarens, which are sent here via paralooping. 

JoD does a lot to try to modernize NiGHTS. While it has the same number of levels as its predecessor, it stretches those levels out by giving each five missions that reuse assets, including the aforementioned platforming sections. It also features loads of cutscenes and voice acting for all the characters.

JoD’s plot is essentially a reboot of the previous game, but with new kids: Helen and Will. The game features a new helper character, “Owl” who essentially serves the same purpose as Tikal and Omochao. Aside from NiGHTS, Wizeman and Reala also make a return. Everyone is sporting new, more complex designs.

There is a lot I could say about JoD, but that’s best left for another article. To this day, it continues to serve as the only other full game in the NiGHTS franchise. It would not be the last NiGHTS game released, however. The original would soon be getting a remake.

The Remake

Just a few months after the launch of JoD, SEGA launched a full remake of the original NiGHTS for the PS2, exclusively in Japan in February of 2008. It featured completely remade visuals, Christmas NiGHTS, and a complete port of the Saturn original. Each copy of the game also came with a second printing of the rare NiGHTS story book. The PS2 version featured additional timed events in Christmas NiGHTS, including special summer and Halloween outfits for Claris and Elliot, and a special Halloween skin for NiGHTS. Unfortunately, the game didn’t sell particularly well, charting just over 6,000 units. The remake version of the game is also infamous for featuring somewhat slower speeds, as well as inferior (potentially 8-way directional) control instead of full analog.

This version would later become the basis for the HD remake, which as released on Xbox 360 and PS3 four years later in 2012. This remake presented NiGHTS in HD for the first time, and featured true 16:9 widescreen as opposed to the stretched 4:3 widescreen of the Saturn and PS2 games. It included all the special features of the PS2 version, as well as all the control issues. These issues would later be patched, though.

NiGHTS into Dreams… HD continues to be available for both Xbox and Steam users, and can also be played by anyone who has Game Pass or PS Now, making it far more accessible then it once was.

The Legacy

NiGHTS hasn’t had a single release of any sort in nine years, but as with before JoD, the character hasn’t disappeared.

NiGHTS was a playable racer in 2012’s Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, and inspired a whole DLC level in 2013’s Sonic Lost World. NiGHTS, Reala and Wizeman all returned to Archie as part of their World’s Unite crossover event. They appeared as “buddies” in 2015’s Sonic Runners, and inspired a costume in 2017’s Sonic Forces. Elements from the games even popped up in Sonic’s 30th Anniversary Comic and orchestra just last month!

Finally, NiGHTS as a brand has recently made a return…as a slot machine in certain casinos. I can’t say I’m exactly happy about that, but it does show that someone somewhere still sees value in NiGHTS as a franchise.

With Iizuka expressing an interest in returning to NiGHTS yet again, there is yet hope that we’ll be seeing the purple dream jester again in a proper game. Until then, we’ve still got 25 years of games and legacy to remember them by.

25 Years of NiGHTS (Part 1)

The History

Yuji Naka (left) & Naoto Oshima (right) during NiGHTS’ development

It all began on a plane ride.

Yuji Naka was traveling between America and Japan constantly to oversee Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s development. All that time spent in the air made him want to make a game about flight. Though the idea had its roots in 1992, it wouldn’t be until after Sonic & Knuckles’ completion in late 1994 that they were able to begin development for it on SEGA’s newly released SEGA Saturn.

Sonic Team’s primary goal with NiGHTS was to get away from Sonic. They wanted a long break from the character, and desired to create something new that “contradicted” what Sonic was. Early in development, they explored military themes, before eventually setting the game in a dream world.

NiGHTS into Dreams had various influences. Its character design pulled from circus characters, and was inspired by Cirque du Soleil’s “Mystére” show in particular, which Naka saw multiple times during his many trips to America. Sonic Team also did a lot of research into dream studies, as well as the work of psychoanalysts like Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Friedrich Holtz. Jung in particular was an influence, with ideas such as his “dream archetypes” and “animus and anima” becoming central to the game. Jung’s ideas are too large for the scope of this article, but Naka does briefly touch on these elements in an interview with TRiPPY, owner of the fan site nightsintodreams.com.

The Release

NiGHTS into Dreams released in Japan on July 5, 1996, with releases following in the US on August 20 and in Europe on October 7. In the US, its release was accompanied by a $10 million advertising campaign, with the usual ads one might expect from SEGA in the 90s. Many copies of the game were sold with the SEGA Saturn 3D controller, which was developed alongside the game because Sonic Team felt the standard Saturn controller with its digital pad wasn’t accurate enough for the game. Some US copies also came with a free pillow as a pre-order bonus!

 Overall, the game was a success, at least by the standards of the SEGA Saturn. It was the system’s best selling game in Japan for 1996, selling 392,000 units. In the US, it was the system’s second best selling game of all time (in terms of dollar sales), second only to Madden ’97. The game was well received by critics, and currently holds an 89% average on GameRankings. It received praise for its visuals, soundtrack, and fluid flight game play, though did receive some criticism for its graphical pop-in and not being “full 3D” like Super Mario 64.

The World

So, we’ve gone over the game’s development and release, but the question remains for anyone unfamiliar with the game: what exactly is NiGHTS? Let’s go over that!

The title character, NiGHTS, is an androgynous being created by the game’s villain, Wizeman the Wicked. Wizeman rules the dimension known as Nightmare. He wishes to destroy Nightopia, the world of dreams, and steal the ideya (human dream energy) of dreamers in order to gather energy and open a portal to the waking world. To carry this out, he created the Nightmarens, with NiGHTS and Reala being his most powerful. But while Reala served dutifully, NiGHTS was mischievous and didn’t like taking orders or agree with Wizeman’s plans, so they rebelled. Wizeman captured NiGHTS, and imprisoned them in a structure called an ideya palace.

Notably, NiGHTS was created specifically by Sonic Team to be genderless, though he/him pronouns have historically been used. The game’s director, Takashi Iizuka, says NiGHTS’ gender is up to the player to interpret, so we’ll be using they/them for this article.

In addition to NIGHTS, the game also stars two children, Claris and Elliot. They’re having nightmares over recent real life fears, and suddenly find themselves in Nightopia, where all their ideya, save for their red ideya of courage, are stolen. This is when they meet NiGHTS, trapped inside the ideya palace. Thanks to the red ideya, which only Claris and Elliot possess, they are able to enter the ideya palace and merge with NiGHTS, freeing them for a limited time. The two children then work with NiGHTS to get their ideya back and defeat the nightmaren boss of each world.

The Game

I’ve seen people call NiGHTS everything from a platformer to a flight game, but anyone going in with those expectations will probably be confused. NIGHTS into Dreams is a essentially a side-scrolling score-attack collectathon.  Each level in NiGHTS has four courses (or “mares”), each of which have an ideya to collect from something called an “ideya capture.”

To get the ideya, NiGHTS must collect 20 blue chips, fly into the ideya capture to destroy it, and then bring the ideya back to the ideya palace, which serves as the start and end of each course. Each ideya must be collected within two minutes. If the player runs out of time, NiGHTS is sent back to the ideya palace and the kid must make it back there on their own. If they are caught by the alarm egg, a large floating clock, they get a game over. Once each ideya is collected, NiGHTS then faces the level boss, which also has a two minute timer. To deal with bosses as well as smaller enemies, NiGHTS has two attacks: the drill dash and the paraloop. The drill dash sends NiGHTS drilling into enemies, while the paraloop has NiGHTS flying around an enemy and forming a “loop” with the sparkles that trail them, destroying any smaller enemies caught inside and damaging bosses.

But there’s more to this game than just gathering the ideya and killing enemies. As I said before, NiGHTS is also a score attack game. Doing the bare minimum won’t even be enough to complete the game, since players need a grade of C in all six levels to unlock the seventh level. To do that, one must understand the game’s scoring system.

Nearly everything in this game contributes to player score. Collecting blue chips, flying through rings, killing enemies, and pulling off trick combos after flying through a power ring will all get you points. You can start “links” by linking the collecting of blue chips and rings together, though you have to be fast as links are broken if NiGHTS goes a few seconds without collecting either. Destroying ideya captures quickly also nets NiGHTS a heap of points, though it is after this that the real scoring starts. 

To get high scores in this game, players need to lap a course repeatedly after getting the ideya, netting every point possible until the very last second. Run out of time, and players not only lose NiGHTS, but all of their points, typically leaving them with an F grade for the course. This lends the system a certain risk/reward quality. For people like myself, this is where the game really shines.

Alongside all of this, the game also features an “a-life” system, which is essentially a precursor to chao. All of the levels in NiGHTS are populated by friendly Nightopians, who can be interacted with in limited ways. Both NiGHTS and the kids can hatch them from eggs, and NiGHTS can also hurt them with a drill dash or kill them with a paraloop. Obviously, hurting or killing them will make them fearful or angry with NiGHTS. Meanwhile, killing Nightmarens and hatching eggs will make them happy, causing them to reproduce and increase their population. Aside from giving them different behaviors, this system also changes the in-game music, which changes based on their mood. There are also some special kinds of Nightopians.

Nightopian/Nightmaren hybrids called “Mepians” can also be created when Nightmarens are knocked into Nightopians by NiGHTS. This is very hard to do on purpose, so the couple I’ve created over the years (one of which is in the above gallery) were created by accident. These Mepians will also breed, creating other Mepians as well as, eventually, King Pians (pictured above). King Pians appear purely by chance, and will construct a permanent castle within the level once created. They’ll also attack Nightmarens and any Mepians that attack Nightopians. Overall, a fairly complex system for what can effectively just be background creatures!

The Aftermath

The NiGHTS storybook.

After its release, NiGHTS did stick around as a SEGA IP for a time. The franchise received a now-rare line of plushies, which were distributed exclusively in SEGA’s UFO Catchers, as well as a line of keychain plushies. In December of 1996, a NiGHTS story book was published exclusively in Japan, and in late 1997 the game received a six-issue series from Archie Comics featuring art from Patrick Spaziente.

The most notable NiGHTS thing to come in this period, however, was Christmas NiGHTS. Given away for free as a “sampler,” it’s probably one of the most elaborate demo discs ever made. The demo implemented a cut idea from the main game: time activated events. During most of the year, the game is just a vanilla demo of a single level, Spring Valley, but come November 26 it transforms into a Christmas-themed sequel to the original game.

Cover art for the PAL release of Christmas NiGHTS

Christmas NiGHTS has narrated opening and closing cutscenes, fully reskins Spring Valley into a Christmas level, introduces brand new courses in that level, and is full of presents that can be unlocked throughout the Christmas season. Everything from playable Sonic to a score attack mode to karaoke can be unlocked, as well as loads of game art and photos of merchandise. Outside of the Christmas season, it also includes winter skins for Claris and Elliot from November through to February, playable Reala on April 1, and other minor differences in the level for certain holidays.

Despite its success, Sonic Team did not immediately begin working on a sequel. Instead, they began work on another game that utilized a more advanced version of the NiGHTS engine: Burning Rangers. After finishing that game, Sonic Team would also begin developing what would eventually become Sonic Adventure. At one point, they did begin work on “Air NiGHTS,” a potential NiGHTS sequel for the Dreamcast that would have utilized motion controls, but nothing ever came of it.

Burning Rangers was released in early 1998

What came next for NiGHTS? Head over to part 2 of this article to find out.