Tracing its origins back to the fledgling computers of 1987, the Giana Sisters franchise has had an interesting history. After all, while it’s uncommon to hear stories about Nintendo working to stop sales of another company’s game, that’s exactly what happened with The Great Giana Sisters after extreme Super Mario Bros. similarities were noticed. Hell, there was even talk of a lawsuit having been issued, before it was debunked as a rumour.
One would’ve thought the franchise was doomed after that, but twenty years later, Armin Gessert returned to the series he helped create, for a 2009 re-imagining called Giana Sisters DS. That game was then followed up by a console and PC sequel titled Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, which has amassed over one million sales since late 2012.
Now, the series has returned in a new incarnation, that being the fast and frenetic Giana Sisters: Dream Runners. It’s a game that takes the basics of the endless runner genre and attempts to create something magical out of its shell, by presenting a competitive multiplayer focus and power-ups like what you’d find in a kart racer. The result is a racing game that wants to be the Mario Kart of endless runners, yet is too mechanically flawed to be fun.
Giana Sisters: Dream Runners doesn’t have a story, nor does it have a traditional campaign. Once it loads its main menu players are given three options: Ranked Match, Quick Match and Custom Match. Two of the three are online only options, whereas the third allows for up to three bots to be used, creating a single player variation. However, despite being available in easy, normal and hard rankings, the bots are always difficult opponents – so much so that it’s as if the developers forgot what the term easy means.
The game’s basic set-up allows you to manually select from one of nine environmentally varied courses once your lobby has been formalized. They all differ from your traditional endless runner tracks, too, because they loop so that laps can be made. They’re also all separated into different zones, to allow for play to quickly resume at the beginning of the nearest zone after a character has earned a point.
You see, instead of seeing who can run the furthest across a straight plane featuring different obstacles, Dream Runners‘ events employ a first to three points mentality. And, as you can imagine, said points are earned by being ahead of everyone else once a timer fully ticks down.
Although it will randomly attempt to end laps if they’ve gone on for too long, the easiest way to invoke this game’s countdown clock is to get so far ahead of everyone else that the last placed player is forced off of the screen. They disappear at that point, and then the remaining players battle it out for thirty seconds, hoping to be in first when the timer strikes zero. Or, if you’re really lucky, you’ll gain an incredible lead that will force everyone else out of the field-of-view’s borders and score yourself an easy point.
On paper, this premise sounds like it would be fun, especially since it throws different power-ups into play, including daze-inducing owls, projectile shooting cyclones, spot-stealing teleports and powerful boosts. That isn’t the case, though, and not only because of the bots’ frustrating talents.
The truth of the matter is that, although it has its moments, Giana Sisters: Dream Runners is not a very good game, nor is it easy to play. It’s a pain, because even though being in the lead is seen as a good thing, the camera can easily get in the way of your progress. You’d think that it would have been designed to give the first place player a good look at where he’s going, but it wasn’t. All four characters are shown on screen until someone falls well behind, and this leads to the camera not moving far enough ahead of the leader. As such, it can be easy to come across a conveniently placed vent, enemy or blockade, and lose most of the distance you’ve worked so hard to accumulate.
Races also drag on for far too long, which is at least partially attributable to the mess that some of the courses can be. Then again, the gameplay is also overly fast, especially when players have instigated their boosts after collecting a certain amount of gems. So, when complex and convoluted obstacles come into play, it’s easy to lose one’s way and fall from first to last, because taking a moment to think is an easy way to get passed by.
Of course, the flawed camera doesn’t help, nor does the game’s level-shifting mechanic.
What I mean by level shifting is that, as was the case with previous games in this series, Dream Runners‘ tracks can change from light to dark variations of themselves. How? At the touch of a button, of course, because there are little buttons spread throughout each of the nine environments and jumping into one swaps the motif. Not only that, but the obstacles themselves. Hazards that are in play are fully solid, whereas those that exist in the other world are greyed out, which can be quite confusing at fast speeds.
The four runners — which take the form of colour-coded Giana Sisters or other unlockable skins — are also unusually small when they’re on the playing field, and it can be hard to keep track of one’s character at all times. Sometimes they’ll get lost in the environment, and at other times, all of the players will simply blend together. The camera also moves quickly during segments where one must fall down a hole or wall-jump upwards, making it very easy to lose focus.
At $9.99, Giana Sisters: Dream Runners is an overpriced exercise in frustration that isn’t worth your time or money. It’s also barren online, which makes it tough to find anyone to play with.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Giana Sisters: Dream Runners is far too fast, frenetic and convoluted for its own good. Run away from this one before it entices you to spend any money.