It’s time for a history lesson. While you may have never heard of them, the Giana Sisters actually have quite the heritage. Originally released as a platformer back on the Amiga and Commodore 64, The Great Giana Sisters aimed to go toe-to-toe with the Mario brothers, and were essentially a direct clone of them. Hell, even the marketing for the game included the phrase, “The Brothers are history,” which managed to grab the attention of Nintendo’s rabid lawyers. After they finished salivating over their prey, the lawyers offered two options to the developers: either pull The Great Giana Sisters from store shelves or be sued into oblivion. As you might imagine, the game was pulled and essentially disappeared off the face of the earth.
It may not have been the most obvious IP to revive, but Black Forest Games managed to build up a little hype and raised $186,158 to bring Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams to life as a 2D side-scrolling platformer. The question with all Kickstarter projects is “Was it worth it?” and I can unabashedly say that it was.
You play as the Giana Sisters while you have to transverse a dream world in pursuit of the Gurglewocky for… well, I honestly have no idea. I replayed the first few missions to see if I missed out on something, but each time I came to the same two conclusions: the Gurglewocky seems to be kind of a dick, and the Giana Sisters love diamonds. There isn’t much else to say when it comes to the story, though that’s all that really needs to be said.
As you’re making your way across the dream world, you’ll be able to instantly blink between two different dream worlds that occupy the same space and time. In the bright and colorful world, you’ll play as the Goth sister with the ability to launch herself in any direction as a fireball, as you jump over flowers and fat feathery birds, while screaming metal guitar leads blare through your speakers. Once you switch over to the spooky world, the blonde sister will delicately pirouette as she glides over demons and skeletal remains with a very soothing piano melody to guide you.
It’s a fairly jarring contrast, but it’s extremely well done. The realms bleed into each other when you morph seamlessly, creating a brilliant visual effect. Watching the skeletal demon morph into a pudgy little bird as the dilapidated walls adorned with skulls twist and transform into a medieval castle is an absolute joy to behold. Even the soundtrack keeps up, changing from one track to another midway through the song without jolting the player out of the experience. It’s a masterful use of the light/dark mechanic and easily ranks up there as one of the best implementations I’ve ever seen.
While the light and dark worlds occupy the same space, they’re not 100% identical. Certain platforms will only be available in one realm while doors may only open on another. The entire game is a balancing act of knowing which character you need to use in order to progress further. To complicate things even more, the diamonds you’ll need to collect to unlock the boss stages may only be available to one character.
The control scheme is simplistic enough, but manages to be complicated in practice as you scramble to remember exactly what you need to do. Using either character’s special ability automatically switches into their realm, and there were more than a few times where I would accidentally trigger the wrong skill leading me to my inevitable death. However, once you get a decent feel for the mechanics, you’ll realize just how well Black Forest Games implemented this mechanic. It only took a few levels before I started to notice enemies lined up suspiciously and realized that, by blasting into a few pudgy birds as a fireball in succession and switching over to pirouette, I could access new areas with more diamonds and unlock some gallery art.
At the end of each level, you’ll be judged based on the amount of diamonds you’ve collected, how often you died, and how many secrets you were able to find. The levels are massive and leave plenty of room for exploring. No matter how thorough I thought I was in exploring a level, I’d find myself missing diamonds and secrets, often in massive qualities. I’m sure some completionists will take joy in exploring every nook and cranny to be found in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, but I simply wasn’t willing to expend that amount of time.
In an effort to encourage exploration, each boss stage can only be unlocked if you’ve earned enough end-of-level bonuses from previous stages. The requirement is quite low so there’s no real worry of not being able to play the final stages; however, it seems a bit draconian in implementation. If the player wants to simply go through the game without veering off from the main path, I don’t think they should be punished for that. This is a mild complaint, but something that seemed worth mentioning.
The game isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s always fair. You can expect to die horribly while trying to get through a particularly difficult area, but once you find the solution you’ll often feel like you’re the most clever man to ever hold a controller. The checkpoints could have been a bit more plentiful, though I honestly don’t know if I would have done anything differently here. As it is, there are a few frustrating points where you’ll be stuck repeating areas until you finally get it right, but if there was an easier checkpoint system the game would be holding your hand a bit too much. Sadly, this is one of those times where there simply isn’t an easy answer.
Once you’ve completed a few levels, you’ll be able to go back through in either score attack or time attack mode. This won’t revolutionize the game, but there’s always a joy in watching people reach a level of skill in a game where the difficult levels are simply trivial for them. More than a few times, while I had to repeat a difficult area, I’d stumble into a little trick that would allow me to breeze through it if I pulled off a difficult jump or attack combo. Hardcore and Ultra Hardcore modes also await players who are able to utterly dominate the bosses and need a new challenge.
I did run into a considerable amount of crashes during my play through. Alt-tabbing would freeze up the program as would anything popping up from my desktop. I could live with those pretty easily since I could take a few precautions to keep them from happening, but I also ran into multiple instances where the game would simply lock up for no reason.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is a fantastic return to form for 2D puzzle platformers. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, and outside of trying to up my score in time attack mode, I really don’t have much incentive to play through it again. However, the time I spent with the game was considerably enjoyable. I didn’t come away with any stories to brag to my friends over a few drinks, and I don’t think this will make many folks’ short list for Game of the Year, but I spent a few hours simply having fun in the game bouncing off fat birds. I really don’t think I could have asked for anything more.
This review is based on a PC copy of the game that was provided to us.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams doesn't do anything to reinvent the wheel, but there's an enjoyable puzzle platforming experience here that brings some life to a dormant genre. If you've been looking for an old-school platformer to blow a few hours with, this is a game that should make it's way into your collection.