Review: Christmas NiGHTS (SEGA Saturn, Jolly Jinglings Special)

Welcome back to The Splintering’s Jolly Jinglings holiday event! Today we’re going to celebrate by taking a look at possibly the Christmasiest of all Christmas games!

It’s difficult to believe that the classic playground war of “Nintendo vs. SEGA” was officially decided nearly 2 decades ago!  I mean, seriously!  2020 is RIGHT around the corner!  Making me feel old over here!  At this point though, it’s interesting to look back at how SEGA fought their battles, and appreciate some of the risks that they were willing to take.  Risks such as completely replacing your mascot character for every system!

Sure, the Dreamcast and Genesis both featured Sonic in abundance, but there was that crazy Saturn system in between that demoted our favorite blue hedgehog into a “greatest hits” collection, a bizarre racing game, and a port of the last Genesis Sonic title released…  which was really more of a sequel to the classic SEGA arcade/Genesis title, Flicky…  just starring Sonic instead of…  well…  Flicky!  Yeah, seems crazy, huh?  But looking at what they tried to do with the Saturn, is commendable, even if only for bringing us  one of the most beautifully innovative, albeit, often misunderstood, games of the 32/64-bit era!  Of course, that game I am referring to is the legendary, NiGHTS into Dreams!

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Bow to your Jester Overlord, puny humans! NiGHTS demands blood and flesh!

OK, so at this point, I am going to assume that many of you have never actually played NiGHTS, and I feel I would be doing you a disservice if I did not address the core gameplay mechanics…  even if that’s not what we came here for!  I feel I need to because while once you grow to understand how NiGHTS plays, then you can truly see the beauty in this game, however, if you don’t understand it, then it can easily seem like a letdown.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many reviews I have read where I thought to myself, “This guy never “got” how to play NiGHTS, and yet he criticizes it for being too easy to beat, or too hard to get “A” rankings, or too __*Insert totally weak complaint here*__?”  It’s like eating a candy bar with the wrapper still on!  Sure, you can do it, but YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!!!  The candy bar is so much sweeter when you learn to eat it properly!

So to all those who have never played NiGHTS into Dreams, listen up!  Go get the game, either the Saturn original, or any one of the many later ports of the game, then take the time to learn to play it before you start complaining about how you are blazing through the level but are still only getting “C” ranks!

You’re not going to look it up, are you?  Ugh!  Alright, so just really quick, because this is NOT what we really came here to talk about…  NiGHTS is very much an arcade style game, in which the challenge comes in how many points you can rack up before you finish the level.  There are two segments to each “run” around the world in the search of what the game calls “Ideya,” which you will need to unlock the way to the boss.  The first half of the run is meant to collect 20 color chips as fast as possible in order to break the Ideya from the “Ideya Capture,” which is basically a spherical safe that breaks apart when you take the 20 color chips to it.  Once you have the Ideya, this is when the second half comes into play (and it’s also the part that people don’t take the time to learn).

With the Ideya in your possession, you are given double the points for everything you do, like destroy an enemy or do a trick after flying through a ribbon.  However, you will be getting most of your points by picking up the color chips and the star chips, and also by flying through rings you’ll find floating throughout the course…  and these points go up REALLY quickly if you are able to link them all together before too much time passes to “break” the link!  This is what separates those who know how to play NiGHTS from those who don’t.

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All of SEGA’s greatest characters are invulnerable to dizziness.

Once you play the games a few times, then you’ll see it…  These Wonderland inspired levels will start to make sense…   You’ll begin to “feel” the path to take as you blaze through at rocket speeds trying to build that link up just a few notches higher and higher…  Your heart will start pumping as you begin to wonder if you’ll make it back to the Ideya Palace in time as you try for ONE MORE LAP before the time expires!   This is when you get that feeling that some of us old fogeys used to feel thanks to those simple to play, yet difficult to master arcade games of yesteryear which had people popping quarters like happy pills as they tried just ONE MORE TIME to beat the high score on that Pac-Man machine!  Suddenly you’ll notice that instead of getting max links of 10 – 20, you are working with 3 digit links that you never “dreamed” possible!  *herk*

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Kill Santa’s candy-cane-fused minions!

Right! So now that EVERYONE knows just what greatness to expect from NiGHTS, let’s get in the holiday spirit and talk a brief bit about the greatest demo of a game ever released (And I really don’t feel there is any argument with that statement), Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams!

Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams is real, and it is really just the demo for the first level of NiGHTS into Dreams…  most of the time!  The best way I can describe Christmas NiGHTS…  and I say this even MORE SO than I do about “regular” NiGHTS (and you know how I can gush on and on about THAT game)…  Christmas NiGHTS is, magical!  You see, while NiGHTS may have more levels to play, Christmas NiGHTS actually made me look back at NiGHTS and feel like it wasn’t actually the game it SHOULD have been.

From the opening cinema, to the final credits in NiGHTS, it was truly a great game…  but that’s it!  Once you’ve beaten it, your motive to go back was for score alone, or maybe for a bit of the A-Life aspect of things…  but seriously, there aren’t any codes, secret unlockables (unless you pop your disc into a computer to grab some hidden artwork), or anything!  It was pretty much classic arcade motivation alone that had me over and over again!  It didn’t bug me playing through NiGHTS originally, but after seeing what COULD have been, I REALLY wanted to see what NiGHTS SHOULD have been had SEGA made the full NiGHTS package with the same tricks they used with Christmas NiGHTS!

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So I mentioned that Christmas NiGHTS was just a demo for the first level of NiGHTS “most of the time,” right?  That’s because if you pop the disc in your Saturn in the middle of summer to see what it entails, then that’s exactly what you are going to play!  HOWEVER, if you decide to pick it up again sometime in November, then you’ll notice things start to change in the game!  The title screen will now say “Winter NiGHTS into Dreams,” and once you start to play the one level demo, you’ll notice things have gotten a bit more, “festive,” this time around!  So THAT’S fun!  You can’t wait that long until you play it again, so now, just a month later, you pop the disc back into your Saturn, and it’s a full on holiday party up in your Saturn, as Christmas NiGHTS replaces Winter NiGHTS, and this one level “demo” has just become the reason to bust out your Saturn for every Christmas to come!

Sounds cool, huh?  Yeah, SEGA used the internal clock on the Saturn to change the whole way you enjoy the game!  During Christmas NiGHTS, the ground is covered with a layer of snow (with some candy canes mixed in for good measure), NiGHTS is wearing a bright red suit, the music plays renditions of Christmas classics such as Jingle Bells, and a new story is added to make sure we all remember that when the meaning of the holiday seems lost on everyone around us, to just remember the true spirit of Christmas, and help someone else in need.  Because when strangers help strangers, then the world is happy and peaceful, and we can all probably use a reminder these days, that most people are good people…  they’ve just gotten distracted and lost their way.  *slap*  NO PREACHING!  Well, the story isn’t THAT in depth, but I can read between the lines!  Anyway, the game does have a cheesy little story, but it’s definitely part of the charm of the game.  Most cinemas can be skipped, but be warned;  Some are only available once unless you start a new save file…  which really isn’t a big deal, because remember…  THIS IS A ONE LEVEL DEMO!

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Light all the candles on Jesus’ birthday cake to gain access to the boss that is holding the star of happiness you need to save Christmas

Yeah, it already sounds like more than most games, but that’s not even the end of it!  In Christmas NiGHTS, each time you play through the level, you are given some “Christmas presents” as rewards for doing well in the course.  The better you do, the more presents you get, so there is some motivation to get better with each play through!  These “presents” are actually just chances at a little memory mini-game, where you have to match up cards to win the prize on the back.  The prizes range from some sweet pictures and art from the game, to an A-Life manager that ties directly into your NiGHTS save file!

Now, there is a down side to the Christmas present memory mini-game.   Other than trying to find matches for presents, there are also hidden “Reala” cards in the game, and if you choose any ONE of these, then it’s game over, and the rest of your guesses are taken away from you!  Now you can understand why you have to go get NiGHTS and beat his punk @$$ for stealing your Christmas presents!  But if you pick Reala, then you just want to go right back into the game and get more presents, and you are SUCKED INTO THIS ONE LEVEL DEMO!

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I know the title of this game sounds like a bad April Fool’s joke, but I can assure you, that’s not the joke!

OK, so I know this sounds sweet and all, but I’ve saved the best for last!  There might be some spoilers in this paragraph, so if you don’t already know what all the Christmas presents are, and you want to be totally surprised on Christmas morning, then just skip on over to the next paragraph and the rest of us will meet you there!

Now, if you are still here, and you were like me and my brothers who would scour the house for the Christmas presents our parents were hiding from us, then I’ll let you in on what one of the last presents in the game is!  So there are three increasingly more difficult versions of the Christmas present memory mini-game.  In the final stage of the mini-game, one of the presents is actually “Sonic the Hedgehog into Dreams,” which lets you play as Sonic in this ONE FREAKIN’ LEVEL DEMO!!!  You even fight a special boss in this mode instead of the standard Gillwing you’ve already fought multiple times by this point in the game. Santa Robotnik!  While this mode is certainly dated by today’s standards, let me tell you, we were absolutely GIDDY, simply because this was about as close to a new Sonic game as we were going to get on the Saturn…   And I’m not counting Sonic R! Another misunderstood game, but that’s a completely different genre!

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These images were hidden extras you could only get by loading your Christmas NiGHTS disc into a computer… or by downloading them off of SEGA Nerds

Back when this was first released for rent at Blockbuster Video in 1996, people were literally renting this disc and never returning it, because they knew it was special!  The great thing is, that those people who managed to get their hands on the disc, were then able to see that the fun didn’t end at Christmas!  The game kept changing, and you’d be curious on any given day if something was going to be different.  Granted, you did soon find out that the changes were mostly limited to special days throughout the year, so make sure to wish everyone a Merry Christmas on Valentine’s Day by playing a few rounds of Christmas NiGHTS!  Granted, this is a ONE LEVEL DEMO, and the amount of content you are given is absolutely amazing for a demo…  but if there is one knock on the game, is that you just can’t help but wish that they’d done even more!

Once you finally do put it up on the shelf, you will walk away feeling like you experienced something special! Honestly, I guess the biggest complaint I can offer against Christmas NiGHTS is…  that it makes regular NiGHTS feel like it could have been SO MUCH MORE had they given it the same treatment!  Is that a bad thing?  Well, I guess the ones I would feel sorry for are those who bought NiGHTS BECAUSE of the demo, and not the other way around, because for them, I can see how they would be let down.  However, for anybody who played NiGHTS and loved it as much as I did, Christmas NiGHTS was the best Christmas present we could have asked for from SEGA…  A one level demo that has more fun and charm than most full games!  That, is truly the sign of something special!

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