Before I jumped into Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Director’s Cut, I have to admit that I was a tad unfamiliar with the history of the series.
Originally released in 1987 for the Commodore 64, The Great Giana Sisters ran into legal trouble due to extreme similarities between it and Super Mario Bros. Then, after over 20 years, Spellbound Interactive revived the franchise with 2009’s Giana Sisters DS for the Nintendo DS.
Following the dissolution of Spellbound Interactive in 2012, the newly-formed Black Forest Games took to Kickstarter in order to fund Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. After a successful launch on last-gen consoles and Windows PC, the title has now come to current-gen consoles, complete with remastered graphics and additional content.
Similar to the events of the original Giana Sisters, Twisted Dreams sees the titular heroine’s sister, Maria, getting abducted into the Dream World. So, once again, Giana must enter this strange place in order to rescue her captured kin. However, during our time apart, Giana has grown from a little girl to a sassy teenager. This development is reflected in how she can transform the world around her in order to suit her previous “Cute” persona and her current “Punk” persona.
This would be a perfectly adequate plot, if not for the fact that Black Forest Games doesn’t really explain what’s going on during the actual campaign. The summary I posted above was crafted from reading about Twisted Dreams on Wikipedia and its official webpage. All you get to start off the game is a brief cutscene showing Maria being sucked into the Dream World, followed by Giana going in after her. This certainly isn’t a killer issue, as I don’t think a plot is necessary for enjoying Giana Sisters, but more background information would have been appreciated.
Besides being important from a plot perspective, the ability that allows Giana to shift between her different personas is the biggest gameplay feature to be found here. Each persona, which I will now refer to as Cute and Punk, respectively, has its own unique ability for Giana to use. Cute can glide through the air by twirling her hair, while Punk can dash at enemies and walls. You can also switch between the two at any time with a simple press of a button. Doing so allows Punk to do a twirling ability and Cute to dash, if things are timed properly.
Learning how to properly utilize Giana’s ability to transform from Cute to Punk is integral to being able to have any success in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. Besides the unique abilities each persona has, the world around Giana also changes when she transforms. In an ironic twist, Cute is stuck in the dark, gloomy world, while Punk gets to run around in the colorful and cheery world. Moving between the two worlds will also reveal hidden platforms and open doors that may have previously been closed.
As with every platformer ever made, there are also plenty of collectibles to find. Colored diamonds are scattered across the Dream World and need to be collected in order to not only open up later levels, but also additional extras, such as artwork from the title. The colors of each diamond are more than just an aesthetic choice, as each persona can only collect certain colored diamonds. Punk Giana can pick-up red ones, while Cute Giana can collect yellow diamonds. Both personas, however, can collect blue diamonds and pink diamonds, which grant Giana with ever-important extra lives.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams wouldn’t be a modern platformer if it didn’t have some absolutely hellish levels to deal with. Black Forest Games went out of their way to craft some of the more devious levels I have seen in recent years, as certain areas of the game are littered with instadeath spikes and obnoxious enemy placement. Most of the levels in the title are also fairly huge, which means that if you want to collect every diamond, you’ll need to deal with even more difficult challenges.
While a majority of the difficulty stems from the layout of each level, some of it does result from slightly imprecise controls. For the most part, Giana Sisters controls just fine, as Black Forest Games clearly studied some of the classics in the genre in order to understand what does and doesn’t work. There are times, though — particularly when you need to slow down and be precise — that things feel a little floaty. I also found that the hitboxes for each enemy were smaller than I would have liked. For example, I would dash towards foes as Punk Giana and barely miss, then find myself shellacked by an owl.
Speaking of enemy Owls, I was disappointed with the fact that it seemed like Giana Sisters reused a handful of enemy designs over and over again. Each persona features their own unique foes, besides bosses, which is interesting at first. But having to dodge jellyfish or bounce off goblins loses some of its appeal after the millionth time.
In fact, the graphics as a whole were off-putting to me. From a technical standpoint, they look great, as the backgrounds are littered with details and the vivid colors of both worlds really pop in HD. However, I just wasn’t a fan of the fantasy-styled design of the title. The character designs are off-putting and the worlds tend to look awfully similar after a while.
One of the big goals when Black Forest Games first went to Kickstarter was that they would bring in Chris Hülsbeck, who worked on the soundtrack for The Great Giana Sisters. Highly respected in the industry, Hülsbeck’s work is excellent here. The seamless shifting between the soft melodies of Punk Giana’s world to the hard metal of Cute Giana’s world is near perfect. I only wish that there were more tracks on the soundtrack, as it felt like I heard the same ones over and over again.
Considering its not so great origin, it’s kind of amazing that Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Director’s Cut turned out as solid as it did. It truly seems like Black Forest Games learned from the criticism leveled at the previous entries in the series in order to craft a highly enjoyable throwback platformer. There are certainly faults to be found in their formula, as the graphics could have used some more work and the controls are a little floaty, but in a crowded genre, this title stands out by focusing on the basics.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the title, which was provided to us.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams - Director's Cut may not be the most original title, but thanks to solid mechanics and a bevy of content, it stands out in a crowded genre.