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Mario's Shrine to Movies, Video Games, and Animation

Nights Into Dreams
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Nights Into Dreams is a platformless platformer.  Being created by Sonic Team, it often comes off as being like Sonic the Hedgehog without gravity.  However, the similarities to its more popular brother end there.  Released on the underpowered Sega Saturn, Nights Into Dreams at the time faced stiff competition from Super Mario 64 and got demolished in terms of reviews and sales.  But I found Nights Into Dreams to be easily the more enjoyable of the two.
The game's simplicity belied its beauty.  Nights Into Dreams is one of the most gorgeous and endearing games I've ever played.  In stark contrast to Super Mario 64's multiple worlds and 250 stars to find, Nights Into Dreams only had eight short stages.  But this is only the tip of the iceberg.  I reckon many people mistook Nights Into Dreams as being just a game to sate Sonic fans while they waited for a true 3D Sonic game(which never came to the Saturn).  However, Nights Into Dreams is unlike anything ever created.  It featured some of the most stunning and colorful 3D graphics at the time.  But instead of trying to jump the 3D bandwagon, it kept the gameplay to 2D tracks that wove effortless around beautiful and surreal 3D landscapes.
Like Sonic the Hedgehog, Nights Into Dreams is about speed and rollercoaster-like motions.  Unlike Sonic, though, in Nights the player controls where the rollercoaster goes, as you practically become the acrobatic character with complete mastery over flight.  Nights Into Dreams is about pure fun, from the colorful, rollicking stages and zippy flying to the brilliant and bouncy music.  Nights Into Dreams also features a solid scoring system that rewards speed and linking together as many hoops and items as possible in one graceful motion.  It also has a bonus item that awards points for doing as many acrobatic maneuvers as possible before time runs out.  These two elements give the game tremendous replay value as you'll want to play again and again to get better scores and grades, but you don't need points or a bonus item as an excuse to show off and have fun, which is obviously the emphasis of the entire game.  Nights Into Dreams exudes fun and lightheartedness from every corner.  Nights Into Dreams also seems to have a prelude to the Chao system later seen in Sonic Adventure.  In this game, the residents of the dream world grow and multiply and react differently depending on how well you treat them.  You might even get changes in the music as you pass them by.
At the end of every stage is a brilliant boss battle.  Each boss has a different design and approach to defeating it, but they all wonderfully keep in tune with the game's dream and nightmare theme, and the goal to each boss is always the same--to defeat it as fast as possible.  The speed in which you defeat the boss determines the score multiplier.  The boss battle can sometimes be the deciding factor of whether you get an A, B, or even a C for the entire stage.  Finally in the last stage, you face off against the menacing Wiseman, the lord of nightmares, who is hands down one of the coolest designed villains ever created.  The Nightmare King of the animated movie Little Nemo has nothing on this guy.
However what gives this game a little extra depth beyond the normal platform games is not the scoring system or the boss battles, but the very subtle sense of emotion and childlike endearment that makes this game seem like it would be perfect for a cartoon adaptation.  It starts with the opening movie, where our two child heroes suffer crushing blows to their egos.  They have dreams of making it big but also have nightmares of failure.  Enter our third hero Nights, who helps them see they have the coveted courage dream energy.  This innocent wonder pervades throughout the entire game, from the music to the occasional laughter of children during the stage select screen.  It reaches its climax during the game's brilliant final stage where our two child heroes discover the courage to fly on their own, without Nights' help, and go on to rescue Nights from the clutches of Wiseman.  This brilliant sense of whimsy, color, playfulness, and emotion gives this game a certain something more that most games don't possess, that makes it go beyond the eight short stages or the simple gameplay of flying around and collecting things.  Nights Into Dreams should be savored like fine wine.  If you play it too fast and look at it just as an easy, short platform game about flying, obviously it's not going to hold up well to today's big budget games or even to its rival of the era Super Mario 64.  But look at it more closely and you'll begin to notice its beauty and see it for its pure, unadulterated sense of fun and emotion.  Nights Into Dreams is magic at its purest and one of the most underrated games of all time.

Grade: Legendary

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