NiGHTS into Dreams is a great game – my favourite, ever, in fact – but it’s also fair to say that it’s not like anything else, and I mean that partly in the bad sort of way: You fly… but on a set path…? But not always…? What the heck are Mares? Ideyas? Chips? Maren? Whether you’re looking at the game’s collectable items, trying to make sense of the basic gameplay, or even the controls themselves, it’s just weird – and to make matters worse, the game does a very poor job of explaining itself. Because of this Sonic Team’s magnum opus (I know what I said) has spent most of its life under-appreciated and under-played even in its more readily accessible forms (it’s available on PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One (via backwards compatibility), and PC), left languishing in gaming history as the weird Sega game that tried to take on Super Mario 64 and “failed” (even though comparing the two is a lot like comparing apples to penguins. Or staplers.).
Knowing this makes my heart ache – and also makes my fingers want to type out a little something to redress the balance. So the aim of this post is to make sure everyone thoroughly understands NiGHTS’ fundamentals before letting you all loose on the game with all the tools you need to enjoy flying around getting high scores, ever-longer Links, and seeing some really strange Nightopians. To do that we’re going to look at the game’s basic concepts, the controls, NiGHTS abilities, the boss battles – everything else you need to get going. Then after that I’ll take everyone on a quick video tour through both Claris and Elliot’s opening stages and point out a few specific quirks as well as touch on more advanced mechanics such as infinite Links, path splits, and best-practise techniques to unlock bonus time as swiftly as possible.
All of the information presented here is a combination of my own experiences with the game, the Japanese manual, and the Japanese guidebook “NiGHTS into Dreams… 必勝攻略法” published by Futabasha. All of the names found in this post also come from the above sources so I apologise in advance if they don’t perfectly match up to their English counterparts (I honestly can’t remember most of them, sorry). The focus here is on the Saturn version of the game: There are minor changes between the Saturn original and the later ports but they’re nothing significant enough to affect anything written here, and if you can feel the difference between the two then you’re already well beyond needing my help to play NiGHTS anyway.
There is one thing Saturn fans specifically should know before we start: If you are playing this on original hardware you really do need to buy a “3D” controller (known as the “multi” controller in Japan) to go with the game, because digital controls for NiGHTS just will not do. This isn’t my personal remix of the tired old “keyboard and mouse vs a console controller” argument that comes up with every multiformat FPS release or those endless willy-waving posts about wiring up your own arcade stick using nothing but authentic components just so you can lose at Guilty Gear “properly” – you really do need analogue movement for this one, which means you need the Saturn’s extremely comfortable why-wasn’t-this-the-Dreamcast-controller 3D pad. Obviously this is less of a problem for later ports (or when playing Saturn games through an emulator – I prefer SSF) as everything else now has (multiple) analogue sticks as standard, but if you’re playing using ye olde waeys the standard (and usually lovely) pad just won’t give you the fine adjustments you need to play well – much like Ape Escape, this game really was designed with analogue in mind.
OK with that out of the way I now really need everyone to sit up and pay attention for a second, because this bit is the one piece of information that really counts above all else, the one golden nugget of enlightenment that makes the rest of NiGHTS fall into place:
NiGHTS is a score attack game. Your goal is to rack up as many points as possible, to wring every last second out of the time limit and aim for the biggest multiplier bonus and the largest Link combo you can squeeze out of each Mare’s layout. Think of shmups, or good old-fashioned pinball: The juicy core of this game lies in refining your technique, in playing well, improving, and seeing a previous hard-won points total tumble down the score table as you keep getting better and better.
[Quick note: The image below shows an Ideya Palace, Ideya Capture, and a Chip Box, in that order. They’re all very important and I’ll be mentioning them a lot!]
The basic flow of the game goes like this: You’ll always start out playing as either Claris or Elliot a short distance away from NiGHTS – and the only thing you should ever try and do at this point is to immediately send the child towards the Ideya Palace and start the first “Mare” (That’s the route you take through a stage – I’ll cover all the weird terminology in a bit). As NiGHTS you need to collect twenty Blue Chips (blue orbs found throughout the course) then take those to the Ideya Capture – the large spherical object shown in the stage intro – to release the Ideya (the coloured orbs swirling around the child at the beginning of each course). Collecting the Ideya will automatically kick off bonus time – doubling the value of every point you earn for the remainder of the Mare – and offer you two choices: You can now either head straight back to the Ideya Palace (the light blue structure holding NiGHTS at the start of each course), triggering the next Mare but tanking your score/rank (you need at least a C grade overall to unlock the next course), or fly straight over the top of the Ideya Palace and keep doing laps of the same Mare, collecting more and more points (everything bar enemies, items, and Chip Boxes are reset each lap) until the timer’s almost run out and you’re forced to head back.
Keeping an eye on the timer is crucial if you want to do well, as causing it to run out instantly drops your current Mare score to zero, scatters any held Blue Chips all over the floor (Sonic style), and sends NiGHTS back to the Ideya Palace. You’re always given a fixed amount of time per Mare and anything left over isn’t carried forward to the next, so do try to push things as far as you feel you can but also remember that it’s far better to “waste” twenty seconds by heading in early than it is to run out within touching distance of the Ideya Palace – you don’t want to lose all of your hard work!
By the way, “Mare” is just NiGHTS-speak for “route” – there are four within each course, and they are always played in order. Mares always start and finish at the course’s Ideya Palace, with the exception of the final Twin Seeds course which… well, maybe it’s more fun if you see that one for yourself.
To collect anything at all you’ll first need to learn how to fly around, which isn’t half as complicated as it might appear: NiGHTS “2.5D” approach works in exactly the same way as Namco’s wonderful Klonoa: Door to Phantomile, just without the obvious platforms underfoot (or the cap-wearing bunnyperson). This means NiGHTS is always moving along a set “track” in 3D space, with a few minor deviations possible at set points in specific Mares. All you need to do is move the analogue stick in the direction you want to move, poke A, B, or C, to Drill Dash for a bit of a speed boost (more on that later), and use the shoulder buttons in conjunction with the stick to perform various tricks (aim for a “Dreamy Eleven”! Just keep an eye on the timer, OK?). Should you ever feel the need to you can press both shoulder buttons down together to perform a sudden air brake, but honestly you’ll never need to. Contact with the scenery is completely harmless (bar anything obviously spiky or hazardous) even at top speed, so don’t worry about bouncing NiGHTS off mountains or sandy floors. You’ll notice whenever NiGHTS is moving a fading trail of sparkles comes out of their hands – you’ll need these to perform paraloops. Paraloops happen whenever NiGHTS “draws” a circle(ish) shape in the air and is finished by crossing over their trail of stars, closing the loop. These loops possess a very useful “sucking in” behaviour to them and will attract objects slightly outside their shape in all three dimensions, automatically capturing (or killing) anything within them. Objects caught within this loop are dragged behind NiGHTS and take a short while to catch up – this slight delay can be used to maintain Links across otherwise item-free gaps in the Mare (this is something of an advanced technique though so keep it in mind but don’t worry too much about it for now).
Loops can also reveal hidden caches of Chips and even special items. There are three of these pickups in total:
- Help-Pian, a cheerful little fellow who will follow NiGHTS for a short period of time and attract any items that pass nearby.
- The Power Dash completely refills NiGHTS dash gauge.
- And finally the Power Loop, which is something of a misnomer as it allows NiGHTS to perform larger, not stronger, loops.
There’s exactly one of each found on every course (that’s course, not Mare), and you’ll always find the same ones in the same places. They’re normally hidden from view, only appearing when NiGHTS paraloops a particular group of Chips or a suspiciously empty space tucked away somewhere. To me the Help-Pian always feels more like a bit of fun than anything else, but the other two will help a lot in the course itself as well as during the post-course boss battle so do try to pick them up as you play.
The Drill Dash is the other core move in NiGHTS repertoire, allowing them to get around quickly at the expense of their stored up dash power (shown in the bottom-left of the screen – you can replenish lost dash power by passing through rings). It’s also a great way of bopping enemies, squeezing through spiked rings without getting hurt (you’ll still need to be careful!), and opening Chip Boxes without stopping. The caveat is that dashing greatly reduces NiGHTS maneuverability and is best used in short bursts in straight sections of the mare. Should the gauge end up completely empty NiGHTS can only perform a short spin: it won’t get you anywhere fast but it’s still enough to bash anything that needs bashing. The other variant of this is the Touch Dash, which is what happens when NiGHTS gets close enough to grab an enemy or item (this happens automatically when you’re close enough) and from there can tap the dash button to break whatever they’re holding. If NiGHTS grabs an enemy in this way (enemies are safe to touch so long as they’re not doing something obviously harmful, like surrounded by electricity or swiping with their claws) they’ll start a Touch Loop, slowly swinging the enemy around in a vertical loop – enabling you to send them flying off, defeated, in a specific direction with a well-timed Touch Dash or if you allow NiGHTS to simply complete a full rotation the enemy will disappear on the spot. Enemies will dole out a dreaded five second time deduction if they do happen to land a hit but on the whole they’re pretty harmless – if one’s in your path then you should boost through it or make a quick loop around it, but it’s best to avoid rather than engage them seeing as they don’t chase after NiGHTS and rarely make any focused attacks.
The end-of-course Maren (bosses) are far more dangerous than their smaller equivalents, as well as being the one part of the game that you are supposed to tear through as quickly as possible. The reason for this is that the Maren award no points whatsoever… but they do determine the final multiplier attached to your total course score – up to 2.0 is possible, if you’re fast enough. If the timer runs out during a boss battle the game ends and your score accrued during the stage doesn’t count for anything, so it’s important to balance speed with caution. Let’s run through each Maren in turn:
Gillwing: I’ve always thought Gillwing was pretty tough for a first boss; luckily for us we have a few different ways to get rid of them. The safe and easy way has NiGHTS grab Gillwing’s chin (make sure you keep near their chin, and not their mouth), then Touch Dash. It’s by far the slowest method but it works and it’s easy to pull off – remember, it’s better to finish on a x1.0 than not finish at all! Do watch out for their tail after you bop the head off as Gillwing tends to spin around and can catch you out. More risky is to do a large backwards loop that starts up against where their chin is shortly going to be and then links up as Gillwing passes through it. This takes some timing and confidence to get right (grabbing the Power Loop in the course helps too, but it’s still possible without it), but it should destroy a few segments in one go. You won’t get close to a x2.0 multiplier this way, but it’s still an improvement on the safest method. The fastest technique involves flying straight over to Gillwing before they’ve dived down and just catching somewhere around the mid-point of their tail in a small paraloop, which will destroy the whole lot instantly (or at least do an enormous amount of damage). You won’t get this right on your first go. Or your second. Or your third. Or… anyway, it’s best to consider this as to be something to be aware of – but not something to pursue – until the other methods start feeling like they’re holding your scores back.
The x2.0 multiplier is awarded when you defeat Gillwing with at least 110 seconds left on the clock.
Puffy: This one’s much easier – you have to use the boss as a wrecking ball, Touch Dashing them through the weak walls in each segment until the very end, at which point you need to push Puffy into the pillars so the roof above folds down, squashing them flat. If you do miss it’s not the end of the world but make sure you don’t try to catch Puffy on the first rebound, as this will give NiGHTS a five second penalty. There’s no real “trick” to this one beyond memorising the location of the breakable parts and reacting quickly enough to push Puffy through them the instant you know they’re facing at one rather than waiting to see where you’re going.
You need to have over 95 seconds left on the clock if you want to grab the 2.0 bonus from Puffy.
Gulpo: This aquatic fiend floats around the centre of the arena beyond of your reach, so you need to use the fish on the edge of the water-curtain to propel NiGHTS towards him. There’s no magic formula to working out the right fish to use, you simply need to judge it by sight (Gulpo’s collision box is quite accurate too, so it is possible to be in the right place but juuuust miss them as they turn around). Their only attacks are to reposition themselves within the arena (which does no damage to anyone) and to electrify random fish on the edge, which will give NiGHTS that dreaded five second time penalty if they touch them
To gain the full 2.0 bonus here you’ll need to defeat Gulpo with 105 or more seconds to spare.
Jackle: This magician will only attack when wearing their cape, so your first objective should be to remove it from them by getting in close enough to use a Touch Dash. Jackle’s behaviour will then change, and their only concern will be to get back to their cape as quickly as possible – you can use this time to repeatedly grab and then Touch Dash them away from it until they’re defeated (you don’t need to wait for them to put their cape back on before you can attack – and even though Jackle is just a head and limbs in this state you can still grab their nonexistent centre). To get this done as quickly as possible immediately Drill Dash left at the start of the fight, dodging high, low, high (you should now be within grabbing distance), Touch Dash to relieve them of their cape, and then keep chasing Jackle down until they’re finished off.
The maximum 2.0 multiplier is only awarded if you have 100 or more seconds left.
Clawz: This one may look a little intimidating at first, with NiGHTS starting between two rotating stands filled with mouse-shaped fireworks and a giant nightmare cat waiting to pounce, but it’s not so bad once you’ve had a little practise – and the good news is you only have to hit Clawz once! The problem is how to do it, as every time you get close to Clawz they’ll leap onto another firework – and light the one they left behind! You’ve got a short grace period here before the firework goes off and starts chasing NiGHTS, so use that time to rush in and Touch Dash the damned thing before it’s released. If you want to clear this boss quickly you’ll need to move in the opposite direction of the lower rotating stand, which will force Clawz to keep moving away from you. Whenever you come to a lit firework you’ll need to Drill Dash it without stopping, then immediately dash again to keep up the pace – you can get a nice rhythm going with a bit of practise. Clawz will eventually hop onto the top set of fireworks, and you’ll need to repeat the same tactics in the reverse direction until there’s only Clawz left to Touch Dash away.
To earn the 2.0 multiplier here you’ll need to defeat Clawz with at least 100 seconds remaining.
Reala: NiGHTS evil counterpart can do everything you can, and as such they are restricted to dashing around the circular arena and trying to catch you in a paraloop – which just so happens to be exactly the same thing you need to do to get rid of them. To pull this off you’ll need to try and create a large open loop (Reala will always be moving towards you if they’re not performing a loop themselves) and as soon as you spot them in it quickly Drill Dash to close the gap – you’ll need to do this three times to win.
If you’ve managed to defeat Reala with 105 or more seconds left you’ll gain the full 2.0 bonus.
There’s one thing in the game that’s neither a playable character nor an enemy to be bopped: Nightopians. These cheerful “A-Life” creatures are the precursor to Sonic Adventure’s Chao and like to amuse themselves around the course, showing off a wide range of cheerfully superfluous animations. Their happiness influences the music arrangement you hear as you play (Christmas NiGHTS features a detailed Nightopian viewer if you want to see exactly what they’re all up to and how content they are) but apart from that they have no influence on the game – they don’t add or detract anything from your score or abilities no matter how many you have or what exotic combinations you breed (they will sometimes mix with Touch Dashed enemies to create extremely weird and wonderful hybrids). The only thing to watch out for are their eggs, because if NiGHTS brushes one as they fly they’ll stop dead and hold onto the egg before letting go, hatching a fresh Nightopian into existence that’ll wave NiGHTS on their way. Cute? Absolutely. A score destroyer and a huge waste of your ever-decreasing time? Definitely. Luckily your A-Life save is kept separately from your score so if the chirpy little coneheads get a bit too much you can safely delete them without worrying about losing your in-game progress or your impressive scores.
Before we take a look at Claris and Elliot’s opening courses I’d like to mention a few general tips that didn’t really fit in elsewhere:
When you’re learning don’t get so caught up in collecting those first twenty Blue Chips as early as possible that you fight the course – going back and forth, trying to find secret Blue Chip stashes or out of the way Chip Boxes – just so you can say you hit the target at the “right” time. You’ll always do better (and learn to feel how NiGHTS “flows”) if you pick up ten chips as part of a fast and smooth continuous link then carry on and grab another eight, then the final two, than artificially picking up twenty one by one. It’s also important to keep in mind that on some courses it is literally impossible to collect the full set of twenty before you reach the Ideya Capture – and with that in mind do remember that the only thing that counts towards the “Bonus Time Start!” boost to your score is the time elapsed between the start of the Mare and those twenty Blue Chips reaching the Capture – the game doesn’t care how many laps it took to get them.
As I mentioned near the top; NiGHTS is a score attack game, and you should look at clearing stages in the same way you’d go for another lap on a track you’ve already cleared in your favourite racing game or a run through a much-loved Bemani song – for the pleasure of it, for the chance to beat your previous best. And just like those titles how well you take to NiGHTS seven courses depends on your own personal preferences – some will feel like oiled silk through greased hot butter while others are more like walking a mile in shoes made of Lego. To use myself as an example – I could literally play NiGHTS’ Suburban Museum and Splash Garden courses all day long but I only begrudgingly go through Mystic Forest every now and then just so I don’t completely forget how to play – stick to what works best for you, and make sure you enjoy yourself!
One final warning on the tips and videos (!!) below: The information should be taken not as a definitive “right” way to play and seen more as how I play – I’ve been playing the game in a way that suits me for too long to go changing now. On a more positive note I’m really not too bad at the game (despite this YouTube evidence to the contrary) even if I’m not actively competitive on an international scale, so everything below should still genuinely be of some use.
The minimum score needed to obtain a C rank (a passing score) on each Mare is as follows: 9600/9600/8000/8800/
In many ways this is the opening stage of the game, and as such it’s relatively straightforward run without any huge gimmicks to trip you up. The video below is a full run of all Mares – I’m sure you’ll notice how I make mistakes along the way. The biggest one is at the beginning of Mare 3 – I miss one Blue Chip on the way to the Ideya Capture, forcing me to fly a little way past it and then double back (I only double back here because it’s much faster than continuing through another full lap). There are two reasons for this:
- I’m a bit rusty.
- Honestly – and I’m not just saying this because I didn’t want to spend all day trying to record one demo-worthy run – I think it’s helpful to show that you don’t have to play a Mare perfectly (or even close to perfectly) to get an A-class score. You can drop Links. You can make some really quite embarrassing screw-ups. You can fly off in literally the wrong direction during a stunt ribbon section and still earn that top rank.
Mare 1: It’s possible to chain together every single thing on this Mare for a helpful 28 Link bonus – just watch out for the Maren hanging around in the space between the first set of Blue Chips and the Ideya Capture. It’s impossible to collect enough Blue Chips to release the Ideya on your first lap so duck underneath the Ideya Capture and carry on – it’s faster than getting caught, depositing a few Blue Chips, and then moving on.
Mare 2: The first three Blue Chips are slightly hidden by the foreground scenery – you don’t have to get them all but they do help. Then just before the Ideya Capture head up and slightly to the left to grab the Chip Box. You don’t have to go under the waterfall but I think it’s such a charming detail I’ve never been able to resist it – just make sure you head straight up afterwards and paraloop the little bundle of Chips to reveal the Power Dash pickup! You can keep your Link going a little longer if you touch the Star Chips while paralooping the Blue Chips before the large tree at the end of the Mare, but it’s not essential.
Mare 3: If you want to release the Ideya the first time you reach it you’ll have to take a specific route here and collect every Blue Chip along the way. When you reach the first set of rings follow that “arch” up, over, and keep heading to the right – this will move NiGHTS on a secret little detour towards a Chip Box before rejoining the main route. Then once you pass through the Acro-Ring and trigger trick time (the yellow stunt ribbon) head up high (three Blue Chips), keep heading right, turning around the large stone pillar, and collect three more Blue Chips in the middle, then keep going right towards the Ideya Capture.
Mare 4: This is another one that gives you the opportunity to nab all the Blue Chips you need before the Ideya Capture, and isn’t as strict about missing a few as the previous Mare. If you want the Power Loop item you’ll want to make a little paraloop over the stone “bridge” just after the first bend in the Mare. Watch out for the red and white shellfish-like Maren in the high mountainous section – if they drag NiGHTS down to the floor you’ll incur a five second time penalty.
The default boss Maren for this stage is Gillwing.
To earn a C rank (a pass) on each Mare here you’ll need to score: 12800/11200/13200/9200
Elliot’s sunny stage will more than likely be your first taste of the game’s into the screen segments – they’ll feel pretty quick but they’re short and you can’t get come to any harm in them, so don’t panic! The large bubbles hanging in the air act a lot like an automatic Drill Dash – you’ll move through them at top speed, but you’ve got next to no control over your direction once you’re inside. Please take a moment to savour the giant flower clock found in Mares two and three – so long as your internal clock’s set up correctly (on any format) it’ll display the current time! I used to use it to judge when I needed to turn my Saturn off and head to school.
Mare 1: It’s not possible to get twenty Blue Chips before reaching the Ideya Capture here, so you’ll either need to do a few laps or plunge NiGHTS into that second fountain to send them shooting off into the background, and from there head left to a hidden Chip Box. Once that’s out of the way you can have a go at performing a continuous Mare-long Link by following the same route – just make NiGHTS go right after hitting that second fountain. It’s quite tricky to do and there are a lot of places that can drop the Link (as shown in the video…), so don’t fret if you can’t get an unbroken chain.
Mare 2: This Mare introduces switches operated by knocking NiGHTS into the large orange ball on the end: these switches pop up on other courses and activate a variety of different things (with some needing to be hit as part of a sequence), but they’re always worth a bop! Here they’ll release Chips – Blue Chips the first time you whack them, and Star Chips every time after that. If you want to release the Ideya as soon as possible it’s a good idea to head up at the flower clock and Drill Dash the Chip Box.
Mare 3: At the beginning of this Mare you’ll tantalisingly pass just behind a group of Blue Chips – if you perform a paraloop here you’ll be able to drag the whole lot towards NiGHTS! It’s a good idea to paraloop to two Maren just after the long bubble chain on your first lap as they’re in a pretty inconvenient place and tend to get a bit swipe-y if NiGHTS gets too close. The Power Dash item is hidden in the centre of the circle of rings immediately after the flower clock.
Mare 4: You can again grab a few extra Blue Chips at the start here by making a small paraloop as you pass them by on the first turn – you won’t gain as many as you do in Mare 3, but every little helps. It’s not possible to gain enough to release the Ideya before you reach the Ideya Capture in this Mare, but the back half of the course is quite generous with the Blue Chips (do try to hit the switches in the into the screen section for extra ones) so by the time you loop round again you should have plenty. The next time you enter the “underwater” section head straight down (don’t let the current drag you forwards) and you’ll come across two Chip Boxes side by side.
The default boss Maren for this stage is Puffy.
And with that you should now have a decent enough grasp of the game to at least see you through to its adorable conclusion. I really do hope this has helped make some sense of a game about a neckless purple not-person flying through the dreams of two children from a fictional near future (two children who can also be rescued in Burning Rangers, by the way). If not please send me a comment either here or on Twitter so I can try to clear up whatever I’ve failed to explain properly above. Here’s to many pleasant NiGHTS!