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VALLEY WEEKEND | VIDEO GAMES

Sega's Good Nights, Genesis' Nightmare

Two new titles are set in a world of dreams. One lives up to the fantasy; the other should be put to sleep.

November 07, 1996|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hokey as it sounds, Nights for Sega Saturn plays like a dream. For a machine that got off to a slow and troubled start, Saturn has hosted some truly amazing games in recent months. And Nights pushes the envelope even further with a lush, fast-paced and slightly bizarre flying adventure through the province of dreams.

Nights' action takes place in the dreams of two kids--Elliot and Claris--who fail to live up to their potential during their waking hours. Asleep, though, the two are recruited by a resident of Nightopia, the world where dreams take place, to help battle Wizeman the Wicked, who captures dream energy and uses it to nefarious ends. Naturally, Elliot and Claris are humankind's only hope.

While Nights' story may be less than inspired, its game play is absolutely unbelievable. Since the action takes place in a dream world, the environments range within seconds from deep, green parks to windy, snow-capped mountaintops--all scrolling and swooping in brilliant color with hardly a flutter. Even in their grandest moments, few games come close to the detail and richness Nights delivers so gracefully level after level.

Nights requires players--who can choose to play as either Elliot or Claris--to fly through these beautiful worlds collecting dream energy before Wizeman and his cronies. It's a lot like Sonic collecting rings or Mario collecting coins, except Nights players soar and dive through the air--unlike anything attempted before in the realm of scrolling adventures.

Even the bosses at the end of each level point up how tired most games look and feel. In Nights, the bosses zip and weave in full, three-dimensional arenas. And it's not just a matter of knocking them on the head a few times to win. Each boss has a particular weakness, which players must learn and exploit. Nights raises the standard of play gamers should expect on Saturn.

Sega's new analog controller, which comes packed with Nights, makes refined control possible. Quite frankly, Nights would suck without it because action constantly shifts planes. Regular directional joypads work well enough for two-dimensional game play, but fail miserably in games with any kind of depth to their playing environments.

Sega claims the new controller, which is more comfortable and intuitive than Saturn's normal joypad, is compatible with other games. But I had trouble getting it to work with anything other than Nights. Not that I minded. Nights is one of those rare games that still has the power to impress and entertain me even after several hours of play.

It is, quite frankly, the kind of game I dream about.

*

Double Trouble: Then there are games I have nightmares about. Bugs Bunny in Double Trouble for Genesis and Game Gear falls squarely into that category. Oddly enough, Double Trouble also takes place in a dream world in which Bugs runs from nightmare to nightmare.

Although the environments are nicely drawn and the character animation is cartoon-perfect, very little about Double Trouble is very much fun. Control is too sloppy. Levels are derivative and don't hang together very well.

Too bad, really. I liked Desert Demolition, another Genesis cart starring Warner Bros. characters Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. Although a little too easy to be fun for long, Desert Demolition at least gave players the feel of romping through a cartoon. Double Trouble, on the other hand, feels like it was run through the Acme Patented Dullifier.

*

Staff writer Aaron Curtiss reviews video games every Thursday. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send letters to The Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311. Or send e-mail to Aaron.Curtiss@latimes.com

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