NiGHTS into Dreams is a score attack game

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NiGHTS is my favourite game ever, bar none. I always squirm when it comes to making a top ten list of games because there’s way, way more than just ten games worthy of a place on something like that, but if nothing else the top spot’s always easy to fill.

So I must admit it does get up my nose when I stumble across people dismissing it as that short-weirdy-not-platformer-thingy when I’ve had so many years almost two decades of pleasure from it. Don’t worry though – this isn’t going to be some strange angry rant about people playing games “wrong” or how everyone should play everything the same way I do; I just want to explain where the real meat of the game lies.

As the title says, NiGHTS is a score attack game – a game where the bulk of the challenge and skill comes from getting a higher score than you did before. Certain other genres have the luxury of an unspoken rulebook so people know what they’re getting into before they’ve even turned it on – racing games generally involve beating your previous times, for example. NiGHTS doesn’t have that, and unfortunately Sonic Team only give you occasional gentle nudges in the intended direction in the hint screens shown after a particularly poor performance.

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So why should anyone care if people look at NiGHTS without realising it’s tuned for score-based play? The best example I can give, if you’ll forgive the tangent, is to compare it to Street Fighter II. Imagine somebody running through that game alone, Hadouken-ing ‘til their thumb blistered, and then declaring they’d seen everything it had to offer. They’d seen every boss, bonus stage and level… so what’s so different about playing it against a friend? While very different games, the developer’s intention of focussing skilful play into a particular area is the same, the main difference is that Street Fighter II does a better job of explaining itself.

Right then smarty-pants, what is a score-curious NiGHTS player meant to do then?

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There are two main stages in each “Mare” (that’s the name for the courses on each level) – the first priority is to grab twenty “chips” (blue orbs) and head straight to the Ideya Capture (the colour-coded prison holding one of the coloured orbs that are stolen at the start of each level). The faster you get there the bigger the bonus will be and the longer you’ve got in Bonus Time mode, which doubles the score value of absolutely everything. Then the second part of the Mare begins – performing as many laps as possible while maximising scoring opportunities (links, stunt ribbon bonuses, looping up chips, etc.) before returning to the Ideya Palace (the little “hut” that NiGHTS always starts in) with as few seconds to spare as you dare.

That’s not all though! The next part will make or break your final score – the boss! Defeating a boss adds a multiplier to your final score, anything from x1.0 (so, nothing) to x2.0 (doubling your score!) – a poor performance here can crush a promising run, but it can boost an average one too. It’s always pad-destroyingly depressing to foul up at the last moment, but on the other hand it means that the tension’s there right up to the moment your final total rolls onto the screen.

Then you remember a little trick you should have done or think up a new route you’d like to try out and you start all over again – and again, and again…

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The point of this post was never to try and force people to play “properly”, but just to be aware of where the game’s focus lies and why people like me keep going on about it. A lot of gamers simply won’t care anyway and there’s nothing wrong with that – just like I don’t lie awake at night worrying about optimum MMO rotations or trying to 1CC every shmup I come across – but I do hope it’s at least shown that there’s a lot more to the game than just whizzing around and trying to open Pian eggs.


  1. i don't think there's anything wrong with telling people how to play a game "properly" when it's about trying to help them ahve a good experience. "you should do it this way if you want to be real hardcore truenerd sneer gloat guffaw" is one thing, but "you should play it this way because the designers built it specifically to accommodate that kind of play and if you do it some other way it will feel slow and horrible and no fun at all" is a whole other matter.

    i've always thought of it as a racing game, myself. a racing game that i am total crap at. :| i've still never managed to finish the game... why do my comments here always turn into Shocking True SEGA Confessions

    1. I do agree with you Sharc but the line between those two points of view is easily blurred online, even more so when you're on a nerdy blog that uses a nerdy Cave shmup background image! I thought erring on the side of caution and emphasising that it's all good so long as we're having fun would be best.

      As for your other point - I'm here just to get all your Sega-related skeletons out of the closet!

    2. nooo my terrible secretsss

      yeah, i agree a disclaimer is necessary on the internet, i don't think any regular reader would mistake your intentions, though. they're clear enough you could only muddle them if, i dunno, some doofus translated key parts of a sentence into the wrong word in chinese but hah hah that's ridiculous I MEAN WHEN WOULD THAT EVER

      i really should get back to the game one of these days. i didn't know you were as big a fan as you are, so maybe next time i am stuck i can just ask for ~protips~ instead of shelving it in frustration.

    3. Yeah, how could something as crazy as that happen? ~_~

      Now I've got the PC version I can not only give you the pro-est of tips but I can also regale you with HD videos of hot NiGHTS action! Lucky you eh? ;)

  2. I remember an interview in which Sonic Team were discussing how replay value was one of the main things they had in mind while creating NiGHTS. They definitely got that part right - not to mention the sheer fun of flying through the game world.

    Anyway, reading this reminds me that I still haven't played more than a few minutes of Christmas NiGHTS. I'd always decided I would only play it and get those presents once the holidays roll around (the proper way…). I've had the original demo for about ten years! Time to fix that.

    1. Please do! Playing Christmas NiGHTS is something of a tradition for me, and having two new courses to fly through is no bad thing (even if the boss is my mortal enemy, Gillwing). :)

  3. Yes! There is someone else in this world who understands Nights! You really don't know how a game is really crafted until you try to play it to mastery -- but as you said, what "mastery" means isn't always obvious. That's one thing that trophies/achievements can be good for. If they're well-conceived, then skimming the achievement list will give you an idea of how the developers intended their game to be played. (But then you have things like the "collect 100 million gold" trophy in Fairy Fencer F...)

    1. If only NiGHTS had achievements when it first came out! ...Although looking at the achievement list it does have they do really support the intended play either *sigh*

      If there are two faults with NiGHTS it's that they really didn't do enough to show people how they wanted them to play and the grading system/score table is set too low so there's not really that feeling of pushing against something and improving when you get a new high score.

  4. My estimation of your tastes keeps growing! This is my favorite game of all time too, for various reasons. It feels like Sonic Team just put so much love into it. It's vibrant and colorful and the music is fantastic, the control is nearly perfect, and its score attack nature gives it nearly endless depth. Plus its story is so heartwarming, and manages to pull off an encouraging tale about building confidence without being too cheesy or cloyingly sentimental, which few things can. (One of my favorite things about it is the final moment of the ending, which seems to suggest that the entire thing, including Wizeman, might have just been an illusion NiGHTS conjured up just to challenge the kids.)

    But mainly, it's just FUN! The sense of flight, of flying around and constantly improving one's flying skill just for the joy of it, is the essence of what made classic arcade games a joy to play. It reminds me of Out Run in that way; it's a game that you can play forever, always improving yourself. And they both have that same sense of joy in fluid movement.

    I do think there's a sense of fulfillment from challenging oneself in games like this that has died off a bit over time, with games becoming more and more focused on loot and arbitrary "achievements." The younger generation of gamers seems not to get it sometimes, so it is nice to have a post like this explaining NiGHTS. When the HD remake of the game came out on 360 and PS3, there were people posting on GameFAQS bragging about how fast they had finished the levels and complaining that there wasn't more content in the game. It was pretty funny. You'd think the extended focus on the scoreboard the game gives after every completed mare would be a clue...


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