Sega’s confirmation of an HD re-release for Yuji Naka’s seminal 1996 Saturn title NiGHTS into Dreams for PC, XBLA and PSN is wonderful news – not least because the announcement trailer (below) appears pitch perfect.
This is the farthest the company has reached into its backcatalogue for a contemporary remake, buffing up the Sega Saturn’s somewhat jaggedy polygons a greater challenge than polishing the later Dreamcast titles to have already undergone the HD treatment.
But for those yet to play the game (or those unsure of what the fuss was all about following the somewhat scrappy Nintendo Wii sequel in 2007) the wait will be worth it. NiGHTS is one of those games in part defined by the controller used to play the game. Released just 12 days after the Nintendo 64’s radical new control pad debuted in Japan, Sega’s first analogue controller could so easily have led the revolution had the schedules fallen differently.
If Super Mario 64 was designed to show off this new world of analogue control with gentle tilts of the stick to propel Mario into a run, Naka’s NiGHTS encouraged sweeping arcs to throw its airborne jester protagonist into dizzying loop-de-loops.
Not even Mario himself had replicated the freewheeling sensation of flight with such casual grace as NiGHTS. Here, traditional video game objectives were pushed to the background, the focus instead on the immediate, joyous thrill of flight, with a player’s performance in each dream stage graded on style and speed as much as how many orbs collected.
Challenge derives, not from progressing from stage to stage or defeating the game’s ingenious bosses, but from attempting to achieve A-rankings, a score attack emphasis absent from other platform games.
The sweet sense of dream-like flight was compounded by the game’s narrative premise. Elliot and Claris are two teenagers who, having been bullied at school, fall asleep to the troubled dreams in which the game takes place where they must overcome their fears and low self-esteem.
Despite the somewhat heavy-handed set-up Naka’s wider aim was to touch players without using words, through the use of colour, music and animation and NiGHTS remains an affecting game, primarily through ambiance rather than a single tangible factor.
The last game which Naka programmed himself before stepping into Producer roles, the designer famously created a free demo of the game that, thanks to the Saturn’s internal clock, knew when it was being played at Christmas time and themed its levels in tinsel and snow accordingly. If Sega can retain these characteristics and remain true to the magical, hazy ambiance of the original, all will be well in Hookshot’s world.
The NiGHTS remake is due sometime in the autumn, complete with widescreen compatibility, support for leaderboards and achievements. What with Guardian Heroes and Radiant Silvergun both already present and correct on XBLA, now all we need is Burning Rangers, Panzer Dragoon Saga and Dragon Force to complete the essential Saturn set.