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.