Due to its freebie nature, Christmas NiGHTS is a much smaller game than NiGHTS into Dreams - there is only one level (Spring Valley - almost identical to the level seen in regular NiGHTS) however unlike the original it is playable as Elliot as well as Claris. When playing as Elliot the stage is mirrored.
Christmas NiGHTS is Christmas-themed, and so its graphics and music have been replaced with winter-esque versions of the original stage (but only in winter). For example, Ideya Captures are now giant floating Christmas trees, and NiGHTS wears red attire rather than purple. Gameplay is largely identical to the original game, including the A-Life system altered by defeating enemies.
If not played over the winter months, Christmas NiGHTS defaults to "NiGHTS: Limited Edition" and essentially acts as a no-frills demo. Between November and January it is "Winter NiGHTS" and during December, "Christmas NiGHTS".
The visuals of Christmas NiGHTS change slightly depending on the time indicated by the Saturn's (or PlayStation 2's) internal clock.
The period between November and February is the most "active" part of the year, which scenery changing almost at an hourly rate.
Falling objects in foreground
Snow (though less of it)
The main part of the game is not unlocked until December, when Christmas NiGHTS mode is enabled. Here, the children wear Santa outfits, and defeating the boss (Gillwing) will lead to a credits screen.
On New Year's Day, there is a change of title screen, on Valentine's Day, hearts always fall, and on April Fools' Day, users can play as Reala instead of NiGHTS. Reala can be played at any point after the latter event is seen.
Christmas NiGHTS has many extra features unlocked by playing the game:
Two trailers of the standard NiGHTS into Dreams can be unlocked, ths first being from the '96 Tokyo Toy Show (where the game first debuted) and the second a "summer special" trailer.
Sonic the Hedgehog into Dreams
Perhaps the most notable extra is the ability to play Christmas NiGHTS as Sonic the Hedgehog. Under the "Sonic the Hedgehog into Dreams" mode, the player is restricted to traveling on foot, and instead of tackling the level's original boss, Gillwig, Sonic is put against an inflatable balloon version of Dr. Eggman in a battle similar to Puffy from the "full" game. The boss music is a mash-up of both Puffy's original theme, "She Had Long Ears", and "Final Fever", the final boss battle music from the Japanese version of Sonic CD.
Interestingly this qualifies as Sonic's first "true" 3D outing - Sonic Jam, Sonic R and the Saturn version of Sonic 3D were all released in 1997.
Christmas NiGHTS was not sold in the same way as most Sega Saturn games, being initially bundled with issue #14 of the UK's Sega Saturn Magazine, before seeing limited distribution across the rest of the world.
In addition to being a cover disc, Christmas NiGHTS was distributed in the UK as part of special console bundles and as a gift with the first 200 subscriptions to Sega Saturn Magazine during the month of December. It is currently unknown whether the game saw a release in other European countries.
In Japan, it was part of a Christmas-themed Sega Saturn console bundle and not sold separately, however it was packaged in a plastic jewel case like the majority of the Japanese Saturn library. In fact, the Japanese Christmas NiGHTS clearly states "only this winter" on the box, and has always been treated as a limited edition of the game.
In North America the game was distributed with the January 1997 editions of Ultra Game Players and Next Generation magazines (with a combined circulation of roughly 100,000 from 15,000 retail outlets), as well as being made available for free rental at Blockbuster Video locations in America. Later the game was given away with the purchase of select Saturn games such as Daytona USA: Championship Circuit Edition. These versions were distributed in a cardboard slip case to cut costs, much like many early Saturn bundles.
Christmas NiGHTS was also included in the PlayStation 2 version of NiGHTS into Dreams. The Saturn disc can also be accessed via a Windows PC for extra content, similar to other Sonic Team games.
The game makes use of the Saturn's internal battery back-up as well as the Saturn Backup Memory cartridge to save progress and unlockable content. In addition, you can link save data of Christmas NiGHTS with the retail version of NiGHTS into Dreams and see in-depth information of save data from the retail version.