In Dreams

The latest issue of Nintendo Force magazine has a theme of new beginnings for both video game franchises and studios.  Outside of being a gorgeous publication, this issue is chock full of informative stories concerning new ventures and creations from well-established developers.  It must be exciting to break away from one’s previous success and strike out into uncharted territory; to see a new dream brought into reality.

Of course, there are plenty of risks and difficulties involved.  Longtime fans of a particular designer often just want to play another installment of a beloved series.  These players don’t want some new-fangled game set in an unknown universe; they want to play Favorite Game 2: Return of the Awesome Hero.  One also has to consider the trouble of developing fresh IPs on a brand new console.  Many publishers want to see hot new games on the launch list for their hot new console.  They ignore the difficulties of developing for new hardware, or the fact that consumers may not rush out to buy the products.  In spite of these challenges, there are some amazing games that broke the mold and have been honored by players and pundits across time.

Nights1From the success of his previous games, Yuji Naka and his Sonic Team were tasked with producing a game for the Sega Saturn console in 1996.  Instead of creating yet another title for the blue hedgehog, Naka and his team decided to break away from running along the ground and took to the skies instead.  Inspired by the research of Carl Jung and the visual flair of Cirque de Soleil, NiGHTS into Dreams was the Sonic Team’s new IP.  Programming an ambitious new engine for the game, Naka built NiGHTS around unique input devices which eventually led to the 3D Control Pad, Sega’s first controller to feature an analog stick.  The addition of the analog stick allowed players better control in a 3D environment, particularly for the flight of the main character.  The culmination of creative design in art and programming, NiGHTS into Dreams is considered a critical success for its colorful characters and smooth gameplay.

Unfortunately, the love of NiGHTS wasn’t enough to encourage similar success in the comic book world.

Nights2Released in February 1998, NiGHTS into Dreams was a three-issue miniseries of comics based on the beloved Sega Saturn game.  Having so much experience writing comics about Sonic the Hedgehog, it makes sense that the team at Archie Comics would produce a series about Yuji Naka’s latest IP.  The comics focused on the characters and events from the video game: the evil ruler of Nightmare, Wizeman the Wicked, is stealing dream energy from those who are sleeping in order to take over the dream world of Nightopia and eventually, the real world.  His two greater subjects, NiGHTS and Reala assist in his dastardly deeds, until NiGHTS rebels against Wizeman and is imprisoned by the Nightmare King.  Fortunately for NiGHTS, two young people from the city of Twin Seeds happen upon the prison in Nightopia and free it.  Together, the three heroes work together to put a stop to Wizeman and his evil schemes.

Nights3While the mini-series does feature battles and events right from the source material, quite a bit of creative license is taken to fill in the gaps.  An origin story for Wizeman and his schemes was added to the start of the comics, along with several moments spent in the real world by the two young heroes, Elliot and Claris.  These Archie-hatched moments are not necessarily bad in their execution, but for players who dreamed up their own stories for NiGHTS’ alter-egos, they may be a bit disappointed in the result.  There is plenty of the usual hammy  dialogue and one-liners that are present in the Sonic comics, along with some invented moments that just fall flat when compared to the unique and grand scenes from the game.

Nights4At least the artwork in the comics is rather good.  Taking cues from the style in the game, the team of artists drew a colorful world, both in and out of Nightopia.  Characters have detailed expressions throughout, thanks to a combination of well-drawn faces and shading.  The panel work takes a unique approach, using full-page spreads and odd angles to convey the loose rules of the dreaming world.  As an extra treat for fans, every issue features a bonus section of original art from the game with detailed descriptions of characters and events.

The first mini-series sold well enough to warrant a second set of tales, but poor NiGHTS was not able to remain in the world of comics.  The second mini-series was cancelled after the sixth issue due to lackluster sales and fans’ disinterest in the new stories.  Fortunately, there are ways to currently enjoy NiGHTS into Dreams, both as a comic and as a game.  A fan site has uploaded both of the Archie mini-series for reading, and the success of the original game led to an HD remake that is available on the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and as a Windows title on Steam.  I would highly recommend checking out this unique and fantastic game from Sonic Team.  Besides being a great game, NiGHTS is a prime example of what an established developer can create when they have the means to bring their dreams into reality.

For more bits and pieces on video game comics, be sure to check out Geek Force Network every Monday.  More info can be found here.

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