Following its 1987 release, ‘The Great Giana Sisters’ was inadvertently propelled to cult classic status – a status achieved through a legal battle with Nintendo, and subsequent removal from the global market. Twenty-five years on, Black Forest Games are attempting to recreate that hype with their new offering, ‘Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams’.
Coming in at $40,000 over their initial $190,000 kickstarter target, the game is a quirky 2D side-scrolling platformer released on Windows, and due for release on XBLA and PSN in early 2013.
Featuring sisters Giana and Maria, the opening cut scene depicts a portal appearing in the sisters’ bedroom, which then sucks Maria in. Attempting to follow her sister, Giana jumps in after Maria to the unknown world; only to witness Maria being swallowed whole by a dragon (great day for Maria). The game then begins with the aim of Giana rescuing her sister from this dragon and the story, or lack thereof, is essentially forgotten for the vast majority of the game.
Throughout the game you play Giana, a girl with two opposing sides – ‘cute’ and ‘punk’. Both differ aesthetically; cute Giana has blonde hair and a tendency to pirouette, while punk Giana sports pink locks and a particular fondness for skulls. As you switch between the two versions of this character, so too does the surrounding world. Cute Giana spends her time in a nightmarish world surrounded by spikes and monsters – and even, at times, spiked monsters – while punk Giana is sentenced to a realm of cutesy animals and kitsch fluffiness. The juxtaposition between world and character makes for an interesting addition to the game dynamic, and while this doesn’t entirely compensate for the lack of plot, it is fun nonetheless.
The ability to switch between characters and worlds is not only for aesthetic purposes, but intrinsic to the mechanics of the game. As you switch worlds the platforms change directions, gates unlock, gaps open and close, even certain objects are only available to use in one world. Each version of the world also has its own gems to be collected by Giana, which along with time and deaths, adds toward the end score of each level.
Along with transforming the world, each of Giana’s personalities have access to a unique skill that is used to navigate their way through the varying challenges that are thrown your way. Cute Giana can double jump, leading onto a twirling glide through the air, and punk Giana can transform herself into a ball of fire used to bounce up walls and smash objects. Interestingly, both skills can be used in combination with the world switching mechanic, allowing you to switch midway through a skill to pass more advanced obstacles. This adds a satisfying complexity to an otherwise simplistic game – a sense that some level of skill is required, a sense that you have to do more than just hold right and mash jump to win.
As you do come across these advanced obstacles, you may find that checkpoints throughout levels can be rather sparse, sometimes requiring you to complete multiple difficult segments without a checkpoint; this can at times make the game seem rather unforgiving. With one-hit-kills for all, certain sequences can take a few attempts and gives the game a certain “trial and error” quality.
Also featured is a variety of game modes; Adventure as a classic campaign, Score Attack for the gem collecting enthusiasts, Time Attack to cater for your inner Olympian, Hardcore for those who seek further challenge and Uber Hardcore for the clinically insane. Each of these I am sure will provide extra replay ability, especially for those pesky completionists, who will be glad to hear there is also a series of unlock-able rewards.
By and large, ‘Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams’ is an entertaining, vibrant and ultimately enjoyable game. While the lack of plot is slightly disappointing, the challenging game-play and quirky features do help to make up for this. The difficulty setting has been established beautifully, sitting at all times on the cusp of throw-your-controller-at-the-screen frustrating, without making it so demanding that you wouldn’t wish to play on.
In reality, ‘Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams’ is unlikely to prove itself a pioneer – it isn’t what you’d call groundbreaking, and doesn’t bring anything massively new to the genre. But what it does deliver, with its various little quirks, is a fresh approach to the 2D platformer. And for anyone looking for simple, nostalgic fun, this game is hard to fault.
8 personality disorders out of 10