Christmas Nights into Dreams

Remembering NiGHTS Before Christmas

Last Updated on December 26, 2023

Christmas 1996. The encore to the greatest year of video gaming, then and now. All the major systems had major wares to shift and the quality was high. Me, I was waiting on a copy of Virtua Cop 2 with twin guns on top.

I knew that this was what I was receiving because one afternoon, after an early knock-off from the stable yard where I worked, I wandered home to find a brother playing said detective simulator with both guns at the same time. That was the bit that I was looking forward to doing, and my brother did offer me a go after him to be fair, but I declined. He had another go in front of me, assuring me that I was going to love playing it come the time.

He wasn’t wrong, and it wasn’t alone. There was another prized present from Sega that year and although I’d let my parents buy the expensive game and twin peripherals, the freebie game I tracked down myself. Then ended up paying a fiver for it, and waited till Christmas day to play.

Christmas Nights into Dreams, the seasonal epilogue to the greatest game I ever played. So perfectly seasonal in fact, I put my guns down several times to twist Nights around two levels lifted from the original game and re-decorated in sparkles and wide drifts of snow. You could almost believe Nights was a flying sledge in this, not to suggest a flying sledge in a tumbling, out-of-control accident about to happen, but not to not include that either. It’s NiGHTS so it gets difficult to exactly pin the form of it down. Rather than trying to do that, I am going to raise a cheer, remember and celebrate.

Free But Not

It would have been the autumn of that year, still indulging in the main game, that I saw pictures and read some details about this forthcoming present from Sonic Team to their fans. A Christmas Special episode of NiGHTS that was going to be distributed… somehow. The exact details weren’t clear, but apparently, Christmas NiGHTS was going to be out there. Well, I was out there on the far edge of Shropshire and wherever gaming culture was, it was a long way away from me. I wasn’t expecting to run into it.

And for weeks and weeks, I didn’t. My local drop-in, Micro Plus had thrown off the shackles of selling game consoles and turned itself into a sterile Personal Computer gallery, so they didn’t have it. I don’t even think they knew what it was.

‘This used to be a real game shop,’ I might have said on my way out the door. I couldn’t believe what they had done to the place since I bought my Megadrive from them. They didn’t even smoke and drop ash over the import equipment any more. Sell-outs.

Woolworths didn’t have it. Of course they didn’t. I even scanned over the PC magazines because they always came with about two hundred demo disks at the time. One of them might have been my one. But no, nothing.

But then, a scant couple of weeks later I wandered into a Curry’s store on the edge of one of those mega car parks you find outside bigger towns. Shrewsbury in this case. Now Curry’s weren’t exactly on the nub of gaming culture, and less still Sega Saturn gaming culture, but they had it.

‘Finally!’ I said and must have looked properly chuffed. ‘I’ll take my copy, thanks.’

‘It’s not free like that, son,’ the clerk replied. ‘It’s free when you buy any of a select few full-price Saturn games.’

I was so close. I was willing to spend some more.

‘What games?’ I asked and he checked the list.

‘Fighting Vipers, you get a copy of it with that.’

‘But I’ve already bought that.’

‘The new Daytona.’

‘I’ve got that. Definitely not buying a second copy. What about I just give you a fiver for it, cash?’

‘Done,’ he said and threw a cardboard sleeve copy of the game onto the counter.

That money was surely going to make it into the till I thought, but didn’t stop to check on my way out the door. I had got it, and quite rightly; I was a proper Saturn evangelist, a fool for its output. Sometimes it felt that us few Sega cultists were doing the majority of the work that should have fallen to Sega of Europe’s Selling Division. It turned out that they had been trying, but only ever seemed to attract the culties. We loved that cool-aid.

I got the game home and waited. Christmas day, before Virtua Cop 2. First thing Christmas morning, then. I nicked a brother’s portable telly and set it up in my room Christmas Eve. And waited. Christmas Eve drags on.

But the morning came and I had Christmas NiGHTS going before even the dog was up. It was a feast, uproarious in that diamond-cut ambient way this game both presented itself and played. But yeah, way more festive with Nights himself resplendent in reds and whites and the whole thing going in all directions with bells and whistles. Even the music had been through a jangles filter. Sonic Team had really gone to town on this.

Much like Christmas itself, you wouldn’t want it all year, but come the season it fits into place like sloe gin. A sign-off for a year in which Sega and a few other third-party developers had genuinely gone toe-to-toe for content with Sony. A great year to have been a customer of theirs. The cool aid was never better.

With Bells On

Doubtless today this game would fall under DLC. I say that like I understand what DLC is, but I really don’t, or at least I have never done it. But I know it is the case. No hunting it down and no cardboard sleeve. No waiting. Probably still cost you a fiver, adjusting for inflation. Which is to say a lot more, probably.

Back in the season of goodwill, Emanuel, and 1996, we Saturn owners were in the mood for some cheer, and dusting off its Father Christmas cupboard, Sega delivered. With bells on…

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About the author

John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90's Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.

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