While Xmas trees rot on street corners and the majority plod once more back to work, our man Sam reminisces over the Ghost of Christmas Past that was Christmas Nights into Dreams:
System: Sega Saturn
Sometimes, mulling over my own memories and ghosts of Christmas past, I have to admit they never quite reached the festive ideal portrayed in the humble but happy surroundings of Cratchitt’s kitchen.
How could they? Dickens never had a Sega and rumours he was a Neo-Geo man proved wide of the mark. As far as I recall, the fourteen-year-old me would spend the winter season hunched in the near dark, transfixed beneath a glowing screen of videogame heaven, clutching a long-abused ‘joypad’ whilst simultaneously shoving salty pretzel snacks into my gob and fending off my poor console-less younger brother.
It’s not the smell of fresh-baked mince pies I look back upon, or the inevitable inter-familial arguments. It’s not my Nan necking too much sherry and passing out on the sofa, or my Dad burning the parsnips after taking our pre-dinner Subbuteo tournament too seriously; insisting on extra time and penalties.
Instead, it’s the smell of slightly over-heating games consoles I remember, usually playing both the Yuletide season’s biggest hits and its disappointing stocking fillers. Back in 1996, my first-generation Saturn was steadily wearing out its CD motors on the Christmas edition of Sega’s Nights into Dreams.
Originally given away free as a festive gift with the officially licensed Saturn magazine, this special bonus offering only deepened my devotion to the main game, which I still feel was never really given a fair crack by European gamers – probably due to the Sega platform’s swift usurpation by the cooler and more creditable PlayStation. Providing a unique experience in its own right, Christmas Nights was hewn from the imagination of the infamous Sonic Team and brought a strangely upbeat twist to the usually fairly spooky Nights ambience.
The original game was groundbreaking due to the appearance of analogue control on a European major home console, pre-dating the classic configuration of the N64 and the now ubiquitous PlayStation ‘DualShock’ controls. Allowing full 360 degree rotational control, the fluid movement was paramount to enjoying the Nights games, where looping, arcing and stunt flying would earn you the higher grades come score totting time.
Christmas Nights also included an extra still entertaining gamers today, only recently featuring in just-released Batman: Arkham City – the use of the actual date and time of the world outside to affect the gamer’s virtual world.
Functioning seasonally, when the Saturn’s clock reached November, the lush green scenery of the two levels supplied would be suddenly carpeted in white snow, and the skies began whirling with various hour-based visuals, ranging from lunar eclipses to the Northern Lights, via snowing hearts, candy or confetti to get you in the party mood.
The following month in Advent would see cute touches such as the Nightopians sporting green garb and sprouting elfin ears, item boxes suddenly ribbon-wrapped, and the Ideya cages replaced by bauble-laden Christmas trees – even old Father Christmas himself made an appearance on the 25th. New Years’ Day came with a typically positive message of celebration. And the fun wasn’t strictly limited to wintertime. Load the game up in spring, and on April Fools day, Nights’ nemesis Reala became your controllable character.
Best of all, a whole banquet of unlockable treats were made available; ranging from the sprout-and-turnip mash of the then-vogue CD music mixing, to the pigs-in-blankets of the time attack mode, guaranteed to ensure longevity by the simple addition of a stopwatch, right through to the main roast – the ability to cameo as no less a Sega luminary than Sonic The Hedgehog – possibly even his first ever third dimensional appearance.
You could sprint through the now-familiar Spring Valley level, spinning and bouncing to your heart’s content before taking on Dr. Robotnik, remixed cleverly from the original boss fight with the similarly rotund Puffy, and now set to the soundtrack of the elusive Sonic CD. For the mascot-deprived among us, Christmas Nights not only gave us further worship of our latest hero, but the belief that the old gods could still conjure their inimitable brand of magic.
I don’t actually remember what the big seller in the gaming charts was that year – a lame Toshinden port perhaps, or a crippled semi-3D Fifa. But I do recall getting an extra helping of the tastiest ‘turkey’ of all.