The Gift of Christmas NiGHTS


By: Eric Flapjack Ashley (@flapjackashley)

Christmas-themed games are hard to come by, and even more rare is a holiday game that is actually not just a huge lump of coal. Santa’s Christmas Chaos for the Commodore 64 is the first game I remember that was specifically for the season, and games such as Home Alone for the NES had a Christmas theme by default due to the theme of the movie on which it was based. Others titles include a throwaway game like Elf Bowling that was more novelty than fun. But there is one game I’d love to highlight as one I break out every time the snow begins to fly and the carols start to be sung to varying degrees of success.

Darkness before the NiGHTS

In 1996, the once-mighty Sega was struggling. It has suffered a string of disappointing add-ons that attempted to milk the monster success of the 16-bit Genesis, but both Sega CD and Sega 32X were flops, with the latter being especially embarrassing. Due to mishandling in a sloppy launch of the next generation 32-bit Saturn system, Sega was playing catch up to Sony’s dominant PlayStation with Nintendo’s N64 looming large on the horizon. With no true Sonic game on the console, Sonic Team instead released a strange new IP named NiGHTS into Dreams. It was a magical title that is forever hard to explain to people what it is about, but one just has to experience for themselves. NiGHTS was an “on-rails” free floating game that masqueraded as a full 3-D game to the point of having a special controlled designed specifically for it to emphasize the “free roaming” nature.

The story was fairy-tale like and the graphics were majestic and colorful for what the Saturn was capable of. It was not the out-of-the-block raging success that Sega I’m sure hoped it would be, but it garnered a dedicated and loyal fanbase – and even a sequel on the Nintendo Wii and HD remakes on various other current systems.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Born from NiGHTS was my favorite Christmas game of all time: Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams. What really was a short two-level demo of the original game, Christmas NiGHTS used the Saturn’s internal clock to transform into a full fledged Christmas game, complete with different objectives, different music (in this case, it was full orchestrated version of “Jingle Bells”) and all-new bonuses. The sky would be littered with snowflakes, and the sense of wonder I experienced was only amped even more.

And the game was literally a gift that kept on giving, with a wall of over 20 unlockable goodies. Among the bonuses was the ability to play as Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic didn’t fly like NiGHTS characters Elliot and Claris but relied on his jumping ability, and the on-rails flying did not apply, truly opening up the entire NiGHTS world, which ended up being the closest thing to a full fledged full 3D Sonic game that the Saturn would have. (And no, the short Sonic World Museum level of 1997’s Sonic Jam doesn’t count as that was mainly a glossy skin for a collection of nostalgia). Sonic’s archenemy Dr. Robotnik also made an appearance as well as the game’s boss.

This game was so good that I ended up playing it more than the actual NiGHTS game itself. From the moment I would place the disc in my Saturn and close the lid, I was greeted with the amazing holiday music. Looking back, Christmas NiGHTS was probably even one of my most played Saturn games of the time, period. I would change my internal clock specifically to play it and I didn’t feel guilty one bit.

Holiday Gems

Sega truly was an innovator ahead of its time, because Christmas NiGHTS made use of the internal clock during other times of the year, too. Although none were the complete makeover that happened in December, there were other seasonal graphical changes for New Year’s Day and Halloween, and playing on April Fool’s Day would give the gamer access to a bonus playable character. Backgrounds, music, and certain visuals would also change according to what hour it was played. The best gift of all was that Christmas NiGHTS was free – distributed via the Sega Saturn Magazine, Next Generation Magazine, and Blockbuster Video (remember them?), making Christmas of 1996 truly one to remember.

I do not have a Saturn anymore, nor do I have a copy of Christmas NiGHTS, sadly. But my memories of the game remain strong. I often find myself watching YouTube gameplay videos of it just to relive the magic and I have tracks from the game as mp3s that I listen to as well. Finding a copy of Christmas NiGHTS in physical (read: non-emulated form) can fetch a pretty penny on eBay, but it is no wonder why. It is a wonderful game that goes beyond just being a standard demo and ends up being the gift that keeps on giving.

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