Retro Review: Christmas NiGHTS

Anybody who recognizes the Christmas season has their traditions. Some go to church, some pig out on honey-glazed ham and others have their list of “must watch” tv shows and movies. But very few have a “must play” Christmas video game. Christmas themed games are out there, but most are so horrible that they would only hurt one’s holiday mood (never ever play Elf Bowling or Dreamcast’s The Grinch). Leave it to SEGA to fill that empty void of quality Christmas games with the NiGHTS into Dreams demo Christmas NiGHTS. But is this much talked about Saturn release a holiday classic? Or is it simply an overly glorified demo disc?


Gameplay is 1:1 with the original NiGHTS into Dreams, so I’ll keep this short. The player, as Claris or Elliot, enters the Ideya Palace and frees NiGHTS. They then have a set amount of time to fly through four courses. NiGHTS must collect twenty chips to release an Ideya ball, and then can either return to the Ideya Palace to run through the next course or can use the remaining time to find more chips before returning to the Ideya Palace yielding a higher score. The player is then tossed into a boss battle, and once the boss is defeated an average grade is given based on the past four courses and the boss.

The NiGHTS gameplay formula is simple enough to understand quickly, but complicated enough to challenge players for a long time. Like the Sonic titles, NiGHTS is a game that is easy to play but difficult to master. You won’t find yourself dying every few minutes, but you will find that a straight “A” score is tough to attain. While the full NiGHTS offers multiple bosses and stages, Christmas NiGHTS only offers the stage Spring Valley and the boss Gillwing. Thankfully, this stage alone is a lot of fun and has more than enough secret areas to explore. Claris plays through the course just as it is laid out in the full game, while Elliot races through a mirrored course. What more, Christmas NiGHTS keeps this single stage more than fresh thanks to the many date specific modes.

Date Specific Modes

It should be noted that when it was released, Christmas NiGHTS was a freebie given away in a number of magazines during the 1996 and 1997 holiday seasons. So this was very much a gift from Sonic Team to the fans, filled to the brim with goodies and bonuses. The game features a unique time sensitive system, so the way the game appears depends on the internal date of the console. During March through October, Spring Valley appears just as it does in the full game. But come November, Winter NiGHTS comes to Spring Valley as grass turns to snow, the characters don winter outfits and the music changes to a more festive sound.

Come December, the game goes full-on Christmas and really comes alive, changing just about every aspect of the game into Christmas objects. Ideya stars become bells, stunt rings become wreaths, the palace becomes a Christmas cake (a Japanese Christmas tradition), the characters wear Santa inspired suits and the music changes to a joyous remix of Jingle Bells! There is even a light story mode told through illustrated cutscenes. The story is simple but suits the season and length of the demo. The star atop the town tree is missing, and Claris and Elliot must return to Nightopia to battle Gillwing to get it back. It’s a fun little semi-sequel to the original game, and ends with the always awesome acapella version of “Dreams Dreams”.

Once the Christmas season is over, the demo switches to a special one day only New Years title screen and then the rest of January and February returns to Winter NiGHTS. April Fools Day replaces NiGHTS with his rival Reala.

Bonuses and Extras

If the date specific modes weren’t enough of a reason to come back and play the demo again and again, Sonic Team also included a unique Christmas present system. After each successful boss battle, players are given a number of chances dependent on their letter grade to play a game of memory. Match the correct NiGHTS images and you unlock a unique gift! These goodies include image and art galleries, time attack modes, movies, a Nightopian a-life status viewer and an enhanced sound test which allows players to hear the many variations on the NiGHTS into Dreams stage themes. Perhaps the most popular of these gifts is the ability to play NiGHTS as Sonic. Players can run about Spring Valley in full 3D, which at the time was a real treat. Once Sonic collected all the Ideya balls, he was sent to a hilarious reskin of the Puffy boss from NiGHTS, made up to look like Eggman. The music is even Sonic CD’s final boss music!


Not only is Christmas NiGHTS a great demo of a great game, but the date specific modes are a very unique use of the Saturn’s internal clock. The gifts system gives a great reason to replay the demo and some of the gifts even enhance the original game by using a player’s original save file to display information about the a-life and records. The holiday visuals, story and music make for a fun and unique take on the original game. If you have a Saturn, Christmas NiGHTS is a must own.


  • The many date specific visuals
  •  Christmas NiGHTS story mode
  •  The many Christmas gifts
  •  New music tracks unique to this release
  • All of this was given away for FREE!


  • It is no longer a freebie

Rating: A

[Images from The GHZ]


8 responses to “Retro Review: Christmas NiGHTS

  1. I was going between an “A” or “A+” for this, but in the end it got an “A+” as Sonic Team really went all out in putting a load of great extras into something that was totally free. It’s like a really great DVD bonus disc.

    If only SEGA did the same for Sonic Generations: A christmas themed Green Hill, Santa suits for the Sonics and a reskinned Death Egg Robot would be a lot of fun. lol

  2. Radrappy says:

    yeah, this is really a love letter to the fans and one of the only efforts I’d deem worthy of a perfect score. Every christmas I get out the excellent ps2 port and take Xmas Nights for a spin. It’s funny that sega was willing to develop and distribute for free in 96 what companies now would be charging you through the nose to experience. And to think that this was pre DLC too!

    great review.

    • Thanks!

      Yeah, nowadays this would be $5 DLC at least, $10 at most. Aside from the cost of whichever magazine you bought to get it, it was totally free which was so nice of SEGA. The free SA2 Birthday Pack was another time SEGA went above and beyond for fans.

  3. 4skin says:

    The Grinch on Dreamcast kicks ass!

  4. Lovely review Barry! I give it AAA+++ 🙂

    • Barry the Nomad says:

      Thanks FK! Xmas NiGHTS is the game that keeps on giving. Booted it up New Years day for the special title screen.

  5. link459 says:

    I have honestly played christmas night on christmas eve for the last 5 years. A great classic with a fun adaption. I have both the american and jap version just because,lol

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