When Mario hit the stores back in the NES days, Germany tried to imitate the formula, and some would actually say steal it with Great Giana Sisters. After it was pulled from the shelves, it became something of a cult classic (despite its questionable gameplay quality), and now after a Nintendo DS reboot, Black Forest Games presents their labor of Kickstarter love with the sequel Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams.
Little Giana can switch between two personalities and change from one dream to another nightmare world in order to save her sister Maria from an evil dragon.
Rudimentary narrative framework
As with many classic platformers, the plot and characters are rather forgettable and are only used as background story. The rescue motiv is not the stuff of which storytelling dreams are made of, nor is it particularly developed. Even if the theme stays true to the original which was just like a moustachioed plumber’s adventures more about the gameplay, it still feels like a missed opportunity. No cutscenes or dialogues might please fans of the classic platformer template, but compared to other titles the genre has brought out in the past decade or so, a sense of purpose or immersion is lost on the way, making the worlds feel disconnected despite their variety in fairy-tale, chivalry, horror and fantasy themes.
The gameplay’s most unique feature is how Giana can seemlessly transform into two characters. One is a punk girl, the other a cute version of her. Not only do the characters change, the environment does too. This means that certain gems the player has to collect are only available in one world while they’re simply hinted at with a translucent glow in the other. Puzzles also have to be solved in this way. So if one platform is invisible in one world, it becomes solid in the other. Switching between the characters on the fly has to become second nature to the player if he or she wants to survive all the dangers and collect as many gems as possible.
Dying becomes second nature
Unlike Super Mario Bros, on which the original was based (or actually ripped) of, the currency is not used for extra lives, but for unlocking the world to the main stages’ bosses. What at first seems like motivating the player to look out for hidden rooms and running through the levels without missing any gems, becomes extremely annoying and frustrating in the latter part of the game. At the end of a level, a score system determines the number of stars which are necessary to break the seal of the bosses’ doors. Unfortunately it’s sometimes not enough to collect almost all gems but also to complete a level with as few deaths as possible. Considering how unforgiving the game becomes, replaying past levels is less than fun.
Memorizing the level structure in order to succeed has worked for many platformers and even if Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams offers unlimited lives, there are many instances in which deaths occur independent from the player’s input, mainly because of some imprecise controls or enemies which appear out of thin air. Checkpoints are usually set fairly, but sometimes they aren’t and especially tricky sections of a level almost make a restart inevitable in order to fulfil the right quota of stars. For the most part, the jumping controls work just fine, but there’s always a bit of Giana running further than one intended her to do while wall jumps or the use of pinball-like bumpers require more than one go.
Many levels present many tasks
The level design itself is actually pretty good despite these difficulty spikes by introducing various new gameplay elements or enemies. An especially interesting but also rather annoying example of unfairness is the appearance of some ghosts which only attack one form of Giana while the other stays inactive. Switching between the worlds is also necessary to remove some spiky objects or move platforms in other directions. These are only a few of the rather easy puzzle elements the player has to overcome. The boss fights are much more demanding, although if one recognizes the attack patterns, there isn’t much more to them other than being another example of some hardcore difficulty curve. It’s also a bit disappointing that there aren’t enough of these to break up the conventional design of the individual stages.
More modes like the time trial, hardcore or super hardcore mode add to the longevity of the game, even if they don’t offer anything particularly new for those who completed the game and only provide more challenge to an already difficult game. What’s maybe more interesting is that the PC version recently received a Remixed mode which should make gameplay more forgiving. Hopefully this will be included in an Xbox update as well.
A picture-perfect storybook
The game world is simply beautiful to behold with an incredible attention to detail, some slick animations and atmospheric lighting effects. It’s a joy to switch between the two worlds and discover how each object is transformed into its respective counterpart, e.g. a tree full of leaves turning into a gnarled and creepy-looking remnant of its former glory. What’s also worth noting is that there are two different soundtracks which also seamlessly change with the two versions of the sister. One presents cheerful chiptunes and synthesizer sounds with the courtesy of Amiga era composer Chris Hülsbeck, the other incorporates heavy metal riffs by the band Machinae Supremacy and Fabian Del Priore who was also involved in the Nintendo DS remake. But despite Hülsbeck’s impressive back catalogue of memorable melodies in the Amiga era and the catchy metal score, the music still becomes too repetitive after a while. Still, the art design of the background visuals functions as a clever addition to the foreground and creates the illusion of playing in a much wider world. The standard enemies and bosses are well realized as well, although only a few really stick out from the crowd of other generic platformers.
Back to the past with modern technology
Black Forest Games delivers an accomplished sequel to the classic Great Giana Sisters with some lush visuals and some neat puzzle platformer elements, even though the soundtrack and level design are nothing which will stay long in people’s heads after having finished the game. This is probably the reason why Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams sits between the past and the present without really trying anything new for the future of platformers. With no engaging story to boast and a difficulty curve which is a bit too steep, it’s a shame that this remains a title which won’t necessarily find a new audience with casual gamers. Still for fans of the original and gamers who like their platformers with a bit of a challenge, this is a worthy addition to their collection.
One should also consider owning the PC version. Despite some higher hardware requirements, it also includes the aforementioned easier Remixed mode and some bonus levels with the newest update. This might be fixed for the console versions as well, but what these digital versions don’t offer is a poster and the soundtrack on CD, not to mention a nice collector’s flat box to put on the shelves.
Buy the Xbox 360 game on
the Xbox Marketplace
Buy the PS3 game on
the PSN store
If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every Facebook LIKE or comment is appreciated :).