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SummaryFor me? Oh, Sega, you shouldn’t have.
The GoodI may not follow any sort of religion, but I love Christmas. I love the commercialized sort of Christmas in which people buy me stuff. To celebrate this holiday season, I decided to buy myself games with Christmas themes to get me into the spirit of receiving stuff. Christmas Nights into Dreams was a no-brainer as a purchase. I mean, Christmas is right there in the name. You really can’t get any closer than that. Plus, it gives me a chance to dust off my Sega Saturn, which despite fondness of, hasn’t seen much action lately.
Christmas Nights into Dreams is an interesting little game. It was given out free in a variety of ways, such as: buying a select game, included with a magazine, or bundled with Japanese Saturns. It acts sort of as a demo for the full version Nights into Dreams, but really, it’s more than that. This particular sampler disk contains the Spring Valley stage, but with changes depending on your Saturn’s system clock. There are events for April Fools, snow during the winter months, but the main draw, of course, is December’s Christmas theme. At this time of year, all the characters, enemies, and pick-ups are replaced with more festive things.
It works pretty well, too. It seems that a lot of love went into the Christmasization of Nights. For a place called Spring Valley, it’s hard to imagine it without snow and Christmas trees, even after playing its original version. The background music also changes to a very pleasant version of Jingle Bells with a Joy to the World intro. Added is the ability to play as Elliot in the Spring Valley stage, something that he couldn’t do in the vanilla version of Nights. Better yet, his version of Spring Valley is remixed, providing a new course to play through.
The gameplay itself is unchanged. As Nights, you’re tasked with collecting twenty orbs which you must return to weird squid things, or rather, Christmas trees in the case of the holiday event. This releases one of the children’s bigger, shinier orbs, which are called “Ideya,” apparently. The Ideya must then be returned to, uh, the cake at the beginning of the course. This has to be done four times in each level, with each Ideya-thing trapped on a different course. It’s a pretty strange game. It’s sort of a mix between a collect-a-thon and a race. It’s pretty fun, but it may take some adjusting.
The game may be a demo, but it gives plenty of reason to play it over and over again. After each successful completion of the level, you’re given a handful of chances to win presents in a simple match game. The presents range anywhere from concept art to alternate game modes. One of the more interesting game modes is called Sonic the Hedgehog into Dreams. Of course, you play as Sonic in this mode, but he must run through the courses on the ground. To be honest, this mode is a bit disappointing and unwieldy but it is a neat bonus nonetheless, especially since Sonic never really got his own game on the Saturn.
The BadNights into Dreams is a confusing game. This is amplified slightly by the Christmas version having no instructions whatsoever. When I started to play, I had no idea what the hell was going on and there was certainly nothing that indicated I had to jump on top of the cake in front of me. Just to increase the frustration though, Nights has the nerve to grade you. It won’t even tell you why you got the rank. I saw a lot of D’s and E’s before I finally figured out how to increase my rank. I originally figured you were graded based on your time. Turns out the grades reflect the points you accumulate. Of course, this complaint is only a problem if you’ve never played Nights before, like me.
To further complicate things, Christmas Nights’ graphics are fairly cluttered during the holiday season. All of the strange squid-like orbs from the original version are replaced with Christmas trees, which take up a lot more real estate. In fact, the tree-top extends pretty far past its collision zone, making it difficult to gauge whether or not you’re going around it or through it. It may just be my imagination, but all of this seems to weigh down the frame rate just slightly. It’s not very obtrusive, but since Nights is a fast moving game that emphasizes smooth movements, even a slightly sluggish frame rate drags down the experience.
The presents feature of Christmas Nights Into Dreams is really cool, but some of them just suck. I know that there are gamers out there who appreciate concept art and promotional videos, but I just can’t imagine anyone getting any enjoyment out of the unlockable karaoke sing-a-longs. The song they chose to use is just plain awful. It’s so bad that I haven’t been able to listen to it all the way though. Worse yet, there’s an a capella version that plays over the end credits which, by the way, are unskippable. Ugh, I can never hit that mute button fast enough.
When you’re trying to match your presents at the end of a round, there’s a chance you’ll pull a Reala card. When Reala turns up, it ends the game and any remaining chances you have left are thrown away. I really can’t stress how aggravating it is to have that thrown in there. It really sucks the fun out of earning presents when there’s always a chance that you’ll lose your hard earned points just because of some randomly placed dick card. More than once I pulled a Reala card on my first turn. It’s a really crummy thing to throw into a mini-game that’s supposed to be a reward.
Nights into Dreams always seems to be in a rush. For each of the courses, you’re placed on a time limit and must retrieve all the orbs, collect the Ideya, and return it to the cake before the time runs out. Then you must defeat a boss in as short a time as you can, so you can earn a big score multiplier. Okay, Sonic Team, timing a boss battle is not cool. It’s even less cool when you do it in a game as imprecise as Nights into Dreams. Every time I work up a huge score throughout the level, the collision detection seems to screw me over during the boss. Once or twice, I’d swear I just passed through my target and hit one of its hazardous parts. Frustrating.
Lastly and least of all, there is an added Christmas story told through cutscenes. It’s corny and really lame, but that’s not really the problem I have with it. The problem is the freaking narrator. She speaks so damn slowly and monotonously. It’s like she’s either reading directly off the script or she’s on Valium.