NiGHTS is Sonic Teams answer to anybody who complained that Sonic the Hedgehog was too 2-dimensional. But even in 3D, NiGHTS still suffers many of the problems that plagued Sonic for so many years.
There is so much good in NiGHTS and while the game is nowhere near perfect, this is one game that you will want to play just for the experience. NiGHTS, simply put, is a strange dream like state where everything happens in some crazy alternate reality. There are two characters to choose (a boy and a girl), each with their own dreams to free.
There is basically two types of game play here. You are able to play as one of the two characters, Elliot or Claris, in a 3D world filled with mountains, hills, valleys, and big blue balls. Some of the levels are interesting to walk around, but if you're thinking Mario 64, you are going to be extremely disappointed. In fact, in each level, it's a punishment to be walking around the world as these characters. You're ultimate goal, no matter which level it is, is to find NiGHTS (an oddball joker like "thing" that flies around the screen in a psuedo-3D way). When you're flying (by Sega's own admission, NiGHTS is the first game "that let's you fly") you must go around the course finding and freeing your lost diamonds. You accomplish that simply by doing tricks, grabbing blue cubes, and going through hoops. If you run out of time, well, you go back to walking around the world in a boring fashion.
The game falls apart when it comes to flying, though. I know that the flying is the big thing, and for awhile it's pretty darn impressive. But it is no more 3D than Pandemonium was, and the walking segments with the kids are more 3D than the flying can ever be. It's almost at a fault, though gracefully tackled, but Sonic Team falls into the same trap than their Sonic the Hedgehog did. Too much of the game relies on you simply pushing in one direction and watching it go that way ... fast. It actually shares more than a passing resemblance to Sonic Team's Dreamcast Sonic Adventure.
NiGHTS isn't Sonic, though. It would be completely unfair to even compare the two games. However, NiGHTS does excel when it comes to level creativity. Sonic Team knowing that it was all dream worlds created something I have never seen before. Some of the levels are so creative, and so neat to look at, that if it were a movie, you'd never believe it. One of the levels actually sinks (like a water bed) where ever you are walking. The effect is one of the most impressive in any game I can remember.
And did I mention that the game seems drug related? To ignore the similarities between NiGHTS and Alice in Wonderland would be insane, and I'm pretty sure this game would appeal to more than one Timothy Leary follower. If I had dreams like this, I would never want to wake up.
The bosses are something to behold as well. Anybody who has played Phantasy Star Online (also written by Sonic Team) will feel right at home with a few of the Dragon-like bosses. But I'm telling you, in my 20 years of gaming, I don't remember such originality as some of these monstrosities. Some of the bosses require thought, as well. One of the bosses requires you to throw them through a series of walls until he's finally thrown over board. But there is a need for accuracy in throwing, and much skill is required. Some of the bosses are a bit too difficult (especially since you get only one shot at them), but the game does seem fair.
Even though the game really doesn't break any new ground as a genre, NiGHTS does prove to be more than just your average run of the mill game. The game can be repetitive, heck, it can be downright frustrating at times, but it's seldom that the feel of warmth seeps through when you're playing it. Sega doesn't seem to interested with this game anymore, and with no specific console to put it on, NiGHTS seems like it's doomed to be forgotten. This game isn't conventional, it's was extremely risky. It didn't succeed like Sega hoped, but regardless, NiGHTS is the perfect example of what the Saturn is: a great idea, that doesn't QUITE live up to it's possibilities.