Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
Price: 1200 Microsoft Points ($15)
System: Xbox 360 (also available on PS3, PC)
Release date: March 20, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Black Forest Games (Black Forest Games)
ESRB Rating: Everyone
The Great Giana Sisters got off to a less than stellar start. Their first game was a shameless Super Mario Bros. ripoff, right down to a first level that was a complete recreation of the same stage on Super Mario Bros. It was just brazen.
Nintendo lawyered up, and that wasn’t a boss battle the sisters were going to win. Retailers quickly got rid of any Great Giana Sisters copies. Collectors drove the market price for those things up to ridiculous amounts. Once the door to the 80s was closed, it appeared the Giana Sisters were left in there.
As I often talk about in my Xbox Live weekly updates, there is a new version of a classic arcade game almost weekly. More than a few owe their existence to Kickstarter projects. That’s the case here. Developer Black Forest Games set about the difficult task of raising money to revive a game a lot of folks had never heard of. There were more Giana Sisters fans out there than you might have imagined. The final product is here. Does it measure up, or should these girls head back into obscurity?
Entering the realm of dreams, and developing a split personality.
The story is barebones. The two girls are sitting in bed when a mysterious portal opens, taking Maria into a dream world. Her sister Giana follows after. Yes, her name is Giana Giana, just as we learned that Mario’s is Mario Mario. Don’t try to wrap your head around it. The most important girls for you to meet are Cute Giana and Punk Giana.
These two Gianas have their own set of skills players need to master. Cute Giana can twirl while she’s descending, slowing her fall. Punk Giana has a dash move that propels her forward, obliterating enemies in the process. It’s useful not just in combat, but is essential for getting around. It also recharges if you kill an enemy in mid-flight. The neat thing is that when you switch between sisters, the world around you changes. Cute Giana’s background is dark and desolate, in contrast to her perky appearance. Punk Giana changes the scenery to pretty clouds, fluffy birds and the like. They each have different musical scores too. This truly is a twisted dream.
Intriguing and beautiful designs, but sometimes too much is going on.
I absolutely adore the design choices in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. The jarring shift in the landscape is inspired. Every time I play, I notice something that’s different when Giana changes. Those changes aren’t just for show. They play a huge roles in the puzzles and platforming. Gates open, ledges move, enemy behavior changes. Giana collects gems as she moves through levels, and those change as well. Even the music changes. This dreamscape is on par with several of – those brothers’ recent adventures. That’s especially true as they’ve started releasing games that play themselves. Comparisons are a sticky business, but in this case they are basically unavoidable.
Changing is such a simple mechanic, but Black Forest does so much with it. To succeed, you’ll need to switch back and forth often. Stages demand you change between them on the fly. There are plenty of sequences where a single mistake ends your run. A fifteen-second sequence may require to twirl your descent, dash across a platform and then bounce off some monster’s head to land safely. Later levels have enemies that pursue you based on which form you take.
My primary complaint with Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams‘ changing landscape is that sometimes there is too much happening on screen. In the midst of one of the platforming jaunts I just described, it’s easy to not see an obstacle and get killed by it. There are parts where Giana can swim, yet other parts where the water is fatal. A skull and crossbones logo marks many of the deadly obstacles, but it’s easy to miss until it is too late.
With most platformers, this wouldn’t be a huge deal. But in Giana Sisters, you can’t fight the boss until you have earned a certain number of stars. Dying hurts your score. You will die enough on your own by the obstacles you see in time and the jumps you don’t make. The deaths that occur without really seeing what happened take away from the experience.
You’ll want to experience Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
I suspect the speed run videos are going up on YouTube as I write this piece. Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is begging you to enhance your platforming, and gives you a simple yet brilliant tool to do so. This game is one of 2013’s pleasant surprises, and one of the unlikeliest comebacks in gaming history. Thanks to a Kickstarter campaign and a developer that clearly loves the platforming classics, the Giana Sisters now have their own gaming identity. These sisters are finally doin’ it for themselves.