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Console Yourself: Christmas NiGHTS

“Merry Christmas!” -Narrator

Format: Saturn• Developer: Sonic Team• Released: Nov 1996

With Noise To Signal’s coverage of this year’s blockbuster fourth quarter games releases frustrated by an attack of the Red Ring of Death, Console Yourself is going to drift back to the mid-nineties, for a look at one of gaming’s most memorable oddities. It seems that the esteemed Mr Phil Reed wasn’t the only individual who Christmas Lemmings made in impression upon, with Sonic Team head Yuji Naka citing DMA’s seasonal offering as an inspiration for Sega’s Christmas present to Saturn owners.

Announced two months after NiGHTS Into Dreams had hit store shelves, Christmas NiGHTS was initially described as being a key feature of the company’s 1996 marketing campaign. Purchase two full-price first party games, and the customer at one of a selection of stores would be given a bonus disk created by Sonic Team, based around their recent masterpiece. Centred on the Saturn’s internal clock, for most of the year, the CD would appear to be little more than a demo of the first level of NiGHTS. As Christmas approached, however, the game would begins to subtly change, with Spring Valley covered in snow, and Christmas decorations would be added to the level as time passes. Played close to the holiday, the game adopts its true colours, with a fully-fledged new plot explaining NiGHTS, Claris and Elliot’s mission.

Played conventionally, Christmas NiGHTS can be completed in fifteen minutes, by finishing the one level as Claris and then playing Elliot’s mirrored variant. The most memorable element of the title, however, keeps players coming back for more. According to your grade on completion, you are given access to a number of presents, which are saved to the console’s internal memory and remain accessible. To begin with, these are nothing more than leftover assets from the parent game, with a concept art gallery one of the first items unlocked. As play continues, however, the gifts handed out become more and more interesting, and the disc evolves to be an essential companion to the full title. An A-Life Monitor allows reads the console’s memory to allow detailed assessment of the state of the Nightopians living within the levels of the full title, and the expanded sound test option, giving access to all variants of the original game’s soundtrack, was a revelation in the light of its castrated OST release. There’s not a hint of miserliness, with one of the final offerings being the option to play Spring Valley as Sonic, at a time when the Hedgehog had not been seen in a 3D environment.

The strongest impression of the title is one of awareness and generosity. Some of the play states recognise the irresistible compulsion to fiddle the console’s time settings; change the year to 2099 and the Valley instantly adopts a radioactive glow, years before Animal Crossing began to confront such “cheating”. Christmas day didn’t bring an end to the fun, with New Year’s NiGHTS following soon after, and April Fool’s Day bringing the prized chance to play as recurring foe Reala.

It doesn’t feel fair to allocate a review score to such an offbeat piece. On one level, it’s nothing more than an expanded demo, but its place in the NiGHTS cannon is shown by its inclusion in the original game’s PS2 remake. Although only a limited number of people originally obtained the title on release, a cover mount on the UK’s Sega Saturn Magazine thankfully brought it to the wider audience it deserved. Offering added-value features craved by fans without damaging the purity of the original title, Christmas NiGHTS could offer lessons to the creators of today’s downloadable add-ons in how to supplement an original experience.

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