It’s Sunday November 24th 1996, and I’m in the Derby branch of Dixon’s – you know, the one in the Eagle Centre. I’ve come out with my parents to buy my Christmas present: a Sega Saturn. I’ve had the Master System and Mega Drive, so it’s a natural step-up for me; I’ve done my homework and know the games I want, and how much it should cost. I’m a pro by now.
The thing is, I’m not even looking at the deals or getting caught up in that wonderful pre-console rush. I’m stood frozen to the spot in front of two TVs, and have been for a good ten minutes or so. I can’t take my eyes off the beautiful falling stars beneath the blinking face I knew, even then, would grow to mean something special to me.
I keep watching and see a rendered movie of a young boy playing basketball. At one point, the ball is thrown into his chest and, as it falls to hit the concrete, the ground turns to liquid and the ball falls straight through. My jaw falls and my heart skips a beat.
Now here we are, ten years later, and I’ve got exactly the same feeling. The first screenshots of NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams (NiGHTS: Mugen no Tabiji according to my poor Japanese!) have emerged, scanned in from a Portuguese magazine, and there’s a definite lump in my throat. The visual style is breathtaking, and I get the feeling that graphically it’s showing the kind of ideas the Saturn just couldn’t cope with – a shimmering coral glow on the groundwork, gilded bronze on the boss chambers, stitches in the fabric texture on the boss itself. The images are easily as captivating as the original game, and stay up on my monitor practically all night.
The initial fear of a NiGHTS sequel has gone now: In Sega I Trust. They’re not the powerhouse developers they once were, but I take this as a marked step back towards greatness – giving players what they want and also taking a risk as they did originally. Of course, in their hardware days Sega had to take risks in their first-party software to sustain them as a company (the cruel irony!). The reasoning behind this NiGHTS sequel, according to Iizuka, is that he wanted to create a sequel that would offer more than just new graphics (my paraphrasing). I’ll drink to that!
I didn’t actually get the game with my Saturn that Christmas – although Sega Rally and Virtua Fighter 2 kept me going! – but I bought it from Makro in Loughborough after my birthday in January. They didn’t have the analogue pad so I played it digitally. For six hours. By the end of it, I could hardly move my left thumb, which remains to this day my only gaming-related thumb injury. I’m proud of that. When I first got Sonic and the Secret Rings I played it for eight hours, and when I went to bed that night I could still “feel” the controller in my hand, like some sort of phantom limb.
If NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams is everything it could be, you’ll have to prise the controller from my cold dead hands.