You may not know it yet, but you’ve waited your entire life for this.
PROS: Excellent convergence of styles. Excellent tunage. Excellent gameplay. Excellent!
CONS: Soul crushingly difficult in some parts. Kirby’s Dreamland this is not.
WTF?: Gumball machines. Rising acid pits of death. Cute bunnies who kill you with kindness.
Giana Sisters:Twisted Dreams is a modern miracle. It does so many things so successfully simultaneously. At the same time it is one of the biggest pieces of evidence that crowd-funding through Kickstarter can work out for creative endeavors that traditional publishers may not believe in. A very brief history lesson in case you missed our review of the original game or didn’t know of it’s existence. The Great Giana Sisters was originally released in 1987 by Rainbow Arts. A clone of Super Mario Bros. GGS brought along a few of it’s own conventions, and was a hit on 8-bit computer platforms of it’s time. The Commodore 64 version is generally the most cited one.
Legal troubles with Nintendo saw it pulled from shelves, and fade into obscurity until just a few years ago when ironically a new game found it’s way onto the Nintendo DS. After the DS game however, developer Spellbound went belly up, and sadly creator Armin Gessert would pass away after a heart attack. Rather than throw in the towel, most of the developers would regroup, creating a new company: Black Forest Games. BFG had worked on a new Giana game, but with a cash shortage after getting their new company off the ground it didn’t look like the funding to complete it would be coming in for awhile. Until Kickstarter.
Using Kickstarter, BFG managed to find enough enthusiastic fans to contribute money after traditional publishers either turned them down, or requested too many alterations to the game. Changes the developers felt would far too lower the bar of their creative vision. With Kickstarter BFG was able to get the difference needed to complete the game, and throughout the process they would release a couple of demo levels. Near the end of development they would request their game make it to Steam through Valve’s Greenlight program. It did, then after getting enough votes the game was completed, and made it’s way to Steam just a few short days ago (Of this writing) October 22nd, 2012. It’s also on it’s way to other digital storefronts such as Gog.com, and with any luck at all you may even see it appear on console digital storefronts.
With all of that out of the way you probably want to know how the game is. In a word. Awesome.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams eschews some of it’s Super Mario Bros. trappings, and yet still features some of the best platform jumping of this generation. While the game no longer has the infamous power up blocks, most of the game still has that same floaty, yet spot on jumping those who played the original game will remember. Giana still jumps on monsters, over chasms, and other environmental dangers. But now she also has elements of another, almost as popular mascot from another huge player. When Giana finally gets the electric ball in this game not only does she become a punk rocker, she also gains a dash move reminiscent of Sonic The Hedgehog. Using this move Giana zips through brick walls, chain attacks smaller enemies, and later in the game even finds some bumpers, and jump pads. But don’t go thinking GS:TD is all about changing one plagiarism for another. Instead the game borrows these elements, and combines them along with a few new mechanics. The game feels both hopefully familiar, and yet completely alien to become it’s own thing. When using the Sonic inspired punk rock Giana the world becomes happy, and joyous. When using the depowered Mario styled Giana the world becomes twisted, and horrifying. Mario styled Giana can float after jumping much in the way Mario did in Super Mario Bros 3, when the Raccoon tail flight period was over.
In addition to being cool enough to hang with the likes of Mario, or Sonic, Giana also has a light/dark element. It’s been done in countless other titles, but Giana takes it to a new level of greatness. Anyone who played through Metroid Prime 2: Echoes will remember constantly having to switch between light, and dark worlds in order to solve puzzles to progress. GS:TD also does this except it involves little to no back tracking. For example, in some stages you will find yourself looking to find a hard to reach item. In order to reach it the game requires you learn how to properly shift between light, and dark worlds to get there. Dark may cause a block to appear where in the light it may not exist. From there you can jump up to the previously inaccessible item.
This change in scenery doesn’t only effect backgrounds from going from scary to happy, and back again, it also changes the appearance of enemies. Cute owl enemies introduced in the original game become scary demons. Acid spitting frogs in one world become cute rabbits in the other. Later puzzles even force you to take advantage of these. Including one eyed green blobs whose corpses become jumping crates when the world appearance changes. Other noteworthy events you simply have to see to believe include clouds that can be walked on. In the dark world these also cast lightning bolts that can shock Giana. These borrowed elements are combined with some really cool original ideas as well. For instance, in some later levels you will find these seemingly out of place gumball machines. Standing on them causes a gumball to come out. Running over it puts Giana inside a bubble that she can pilot around in. Sometimes you will be using it to find secrets, other times to navigate treacherous spike walled areas unseen since Mega Man 10.
Bosses are also very wild, and imaginative. They are also very difficult, and this is where you will begin to realize that having unlimited lives doesn’t really help you (More on that in a bit). Bosses are huge emotionally investing trials that will both grate on your nerves, and fill you with a sense of accomplishment. Like the greatest platformers they will force you to master all of the game’s mechanics in order to defeat them. Shifting from light to dark, and back again everything done in the main stages will apply to the bosses themselves. The game’s final boss, Gurglewocky is one of the most difficult bosses you’ll ever be tasked with toppling. It’s a three part saga that easily ranks with the toughest Bowser, Eggman, K. Rool, Dr. Wily, or Sigma battles you may have spent hours through. Most who make it to the end will likely make over 100 attempts before they can claim victory.
GS:TD is not for the faint of heart. Make no mistake, this game is HARD. But like any of the great platformers you remember not usually unfairly so. Save for one or two moments questioning your TV or monitor you will really be more upset with yourself than the game itself. This is a game for people who love a challenge, and it’s also for those who love to explore. Progression is not a simple point A to point B route to victory as in a lot of today’s games. While each stage has a definitive start, and finishing point further stages have to be unlocked based upon performance rating. GS:TD has a five star rating on each stage, and on average players need to have around a three star rating to unlock boss levels. On one hand detractors could argue this pads the game out, making it longer than it is, but on the other hand this really forces players to explore the world for secrets.
The ratings can be boosted by finding diamonds. There are three main types. Blue yellow, and red. Blue diamonds are pretty visible. Yellow diamonds are only collectable by dark world Giana, while red ones can be picked up by light world Giana. There are also secret diamonds in each level. These things are quite large, and are almost always in fairly well hidden areas. Getting to them may require you to smash a wall, or find a secret teleporter, or float out to a seemingly inaccessible ledge. Others will be more obvious but force you to go through a marathon of hazards, and traps to find them. Find enough of these collectibles with a fairly low number of deaths under your belt, and you’ll unlock your way into boss stages.
The game also makes exploring, and collecting fun. Many platformers in the late 90′s, and early 00′s made the mistake of making them boring chores. It’s something BFG should commend themselves for.
Unlike the original game, stages are no longer simply called stages, and are instead broken up into worlds much like the earliest mainline Super Mario Bros. games. Except instead of 8 worlds of 4 levels each, this game has 3 worlds, each with a different number of levels. Some of the levels are very long however, so it is nearly as long as many modern games in the same genre when taken into consideration. For most gamers, the campaign will take a week of nightly play sessions to finish while some of the more dedicated gamers who have a lot of free time may do it in two days.
Aside from Adventure, (The game’s campaign) you will find a gallery where you can view unlocked artwork. It’s mostly concept art, but for those who really like behind the scenes content in games it’s a nice feature. Many games do this of course, and most won’t care. But it is a nice gesture. Other modes that you can play are Time Attack, where you replay unlocked stages in an attempt to speed run them. Hardcore mode (Which you unlock upon completion of Adventure) which is a harder difficulty level version of the main campaign, and Uber Hardcore mode (Unlocked if you can beat Hardcore) which is an even more difficult version of the main campaign. Thankfully the game’s length though is just about right, and it’s difficulty will sate all but the most die hard fans.
Visually the game is stunning. Not only do backgrounds animate seamlessly as players shift between light, and dark worlds, but there are rarely any hiccups in doing so if ever. The art work is amazing in GS:TD. From the feathers falling off of defeated owls, to the mushroom homes, and faced evil trees in the backgrounds to the glow of light passing through trees or reflections in water. Giana’s worlds look beautiful. This is one of the most beautiful games you will ever run on your PC. It’s even more amazing when you realize it’s rivaling the aesthetics you can find in big budget platformers like Sonic Generations, Rayman Origins, or Super Mario Galaxy 2.
GS:TD is also a very scalable game, and has options even some AAA tier budget games no longer do. Not only can you change resolution, and texture options, players can remap keys, choose what version of Direct X effects to go with (Handy for any one running a 5+ year old computer with an older video card). They can also tweak AA, and Vsync options if need be. The game can be played with either a keyboard or a gamepad. The Xbox 360 pad is preferable as that is what the default layout is mapped to. Right Trigger changes the world between light, and dark as does using Giana’s special moves. X uses her Punk dash, turning the world happy with it, while Y uses her Spin jump. Holding Y slows her down allowing her to more safely navigate areas. Doing this also twists the world into it’s dreary, bleak, nightmarish form. A, and B buttons are neutral jump buttons. Start pauses the game, and players can either use the D pad or the left stick to move about the various levels.
Another point that should be addressed is the music. Chris Hulsbeck returns here to reprise tunes from the first game, as well as to construct some new ones. These compositions are wonderful bringing back both the whimsical, and dystopian New Wave sounds of the Commodore 64′s SID to life once again. Each song has it’s own catchy hooks, and melodies you will find yourself humming long after you’ve stopped playing. But that’s not all. Swedish Metal band Machinae Supremacy was brought on after their cover of the original game’s theme music became famous a few years ago. Here they have their own versions of every song in the game each with it’s own bombastic, hard rock overtones complementing the original song’s composition without corrupting it. Moreover, the game changes between the two styles along with the scenery whenever players shift between light, and dark worlds which only increases the mirror universe feeling of the entire game.
With all of the praise being piled on I’m sure some are wondering if there is anything negative to say about the game. Well, no game is flawless, and Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is no exception. The difficulty in some sections (Especially the final boss) is going to turn off some. While those raised on Mario, Sonic, and classic Mega Man will persist, endure, then feel accomplished those who don’t appreciate challenge may shy away. Sometimes there were a few cheap deaths but not enough to dissuade me from playing it. There were also a few very minor instances of slowdown toward the end of the game in my play-through. Shutting down my PC, and rebooting after a few minutes seemed to solve it. But players should probably not run anything other than the Steam client, and the game to ensure the best performance. Also as a SPOILER ALERT: I should mention the ending is a bit underwhelming.
But in the overall scheme of things these problems are fairly minor. This is easily one of the surprises heading in to holiday 2012, and with any luck at all will hopefully make Black Forest Games a well deserved profit as well as a developer to be reckoned with.
If you’re always pining for good platformers with good production values in an age where noteworthy ones are becoming rarer you owe it to yourself to buy Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10 (BUY IT NOW!)
(Post review edit. The game is also now available on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii U, through their respective digital storefronts. Black Forest Games has also updated the game with an EASY MODE. This should alleviate concerns some may have with the game’s difficulty levels.)
(Post review edit. The game has been bundled with the Rise Of The Owlverlord DLC expansion pack as a Director’s Cut. It’s available on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 digital storefronts. A physical disc version has been released for the Wii U in North America, and on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC in Europe. The Director’s Cut is expected to appear on the North American Nintendo eshop for the Wii U some time in 2016.)
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