Tag Archives: Black Forest Games

Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams OWLtimate Edition Review

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Well, it’s been over a week, and I’m slowly on my way back to normal. I feel like I’m being stabbed whenever I cough or sneeze. If I get up or down out of a chair or bed everything is sore, and I can’t pick up anything heavier than 15 pounds for a while. Things were far worse when I first got out of the hospital though, and so it was a nice surprise to find one of my favorite games has gotten a second director’s cut. A super-duper director’s cut. An “Ultimate” edition. A OWLtimate” edition. On the Switch!

PROS: The additions are more substantial than they sound.

CONS: A couple of miniscule bugs. Physical release isn’t very wide.

EARWORMS: The new songs are as catchy, as the rest of the OST.

Well Deviot, you were enamored with the original 2012 release, its expand-alone on PC, and the Director’s Cut that combined both on consoles. Isn’t it a given you would like this too? Why even bother talking about this one? I can already hearing you ask. Sure, it’s no secret I love this game about as much as Mark Bussler loves Truxton. As I talked about way back in the original review, there is so much about the game to like.

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But where most reissues, do a couple of minor things, like clean up some graphics, or add some filters or history lessons  this one does more. The biggest inclusion is the introduction of five new stages. However instead of simply throwing them into a bonus chapter, and being done with it, Black Forest Games has peppered them into the existing worlds. This not only adds the new content into the game, but does it in a way that is going to feel benign to newcomers. At the same time, seasoned veterans will not simply blow through the original stages to get to these new stages.

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The new stages are also very, demanding! In a good way mind you. They’ve been placed near older stages of a similar difficulty level, while at the same time putting in sections that require a mastery of the base mechanics. So they will still feel like a gradual increase in challenge to those who have never played Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams before. But veterans who wish to find every last gem while using the fewest lives possible are probably not hitting one hundred percent on their first attempt either.

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So for those who haven’t played Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams before, and haven’t heard me sing its praises multiple times, this is the gist. Years have passed since the original Commodore 64 game’s time. But the inhabitants of the Dream world haven’t forgotten about those events. So one night as Maria helps her Sister to bed, a vortex opens up, and pulls her though. Giana jumps into the vortex after her, and this is where the main game begins. After being acclimated to the basic controls through a brief section, Giana sees the dragon from the original game swallow Maria whole, before he flies away. So from this point on, you have to go save your Sister from the belly of the beast.

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The meat, and potatoes of the game is this campaign which sprawls four worlds. The first three are the original three worlds (with some new stages peppered in), and the fourth world, the Rise Of The Owlverlord expansion. What really sets this game apart from other platformers is its brilliant use of morphing effects. At the press of a button the world shifts from a bright, cheery dream to a dark, dystopian nightmare. Each stage is filled with puzzles that require you to switch back, and forth between these worlds in order to solve them, and forge ahead. Not only must you get from one end of a stage to the next, you have to worry about your ranking when you do. You’ll be given a star rating at the end of every stage. You can get anywhere from one star to five stars. You have to average around a four star rating in order to open the boss stage in each of the worlds.

 

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So how do you get a good rating? Well the best way is to find as many of the gems in each stage as possible. There are five types, and many of the stages have hundreds to acquire. Blue gems are the standard ones. But there are also red, and yellow gems. This is where the morphing effects come into play, because the red ones can only be collected in the Dream world, while the yellow ones can only be collected in the Nightmare world. Moreover, when Giana shifts the world her abilities change. In the Dream world, she becomes a Punk Rocker, who can dash as a fireball. In the Nightmare world she appears in her trademark outfit, and can slow her fall with a twirl. As you get further in the game, you’ll begin to see where you have to switch between the two forms to get through sections. You’ll also want to have a keen eye for secrets, because it’s how you’ll find the coveted Master gems. These are giant-sized blue gems that are worth around ten gems. Plus they unlock a bunch of concept art!

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You’ll also want to collect the pink colored shield gems when you see them because they allow you to take an extra hit of damage before dying. Keep in mind everything kills you. You have a plethora of enemies. Owls, spiked crates, charging knights, to name a few. But then there are a bunch of obstacles to overcome, and traps to avoid. Saws, spikes, acid pools, boulders, walls that cave in, and then some. There are also moments where an entire section will flood with acid, and you have to go through a gauntlet of obstacles quickly in order to avoid being burned alive. But of course said obstacles will also kill you, so fair warning, Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams is not an easy game. But it does ease you into the challenge. The game slowly introduces new mechanics over time, and you’ll know what you need to do. But it isn’t going to do it for you either. It’s the kind of challenge a lot of old-school games had. Where failure only makes you more determined. Most of the time your deaths don’t feel cheap. When you mess up, you’ll be upset with yourself. Not the game. That said, try not to die more than a few times per stage. Dying less also gives you clout toward getting stars.

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Fortunately, if this sounds too daunting Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams Owltimate Edition, also has a few changes from the initial computer game release that make it both manageable, and involved. Like the previous console iteration’s Director’s Cut, the boss rooms have been converted into stage exits, and the boss rooms are now standalone stages. This makes the run up to a boss a little bit easier in that you won’t have to immediately go into the encounter after a long fought battle through a stage. But at the same time, you’ll still be going into those boss battles, all of which require pattern memorization, and fast reflexes to take down.

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This updated release also has two difficulties, Normal, and Hard. Normal acts as the Easy setting. Some of the sections remove some obstacles, or give players additional aid. Such as putting bridges over spikes, or putting extra shield gems in boss rooms. Hard mode basically plays as the hard mode from the original release. If you manage to clear the four episodes on Hard you’ll unlock Hardcore. Hardcore mode is basically the Hard mode but with no checkpoints. So if you die in a stage, you’ll respawn at the beginning of the stage. You won’t have to grab gems again, but you will be starting over. Of course the point of Hardcore isn’t collecting things anyway, it’s just trying to get from A to B on as few lives as possible. If you can manage to clear Hardcore mode, the game then unlocks Uber Hardcore mode. This tasks you with clearing the entire game on one life. And that means this is also the most difficult version of Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams ever released. At least in terms of this mode. Because now all of the boss encounters are standalone stages, and there are five other stages peppered in on top of those. Good luck to all of the speed runners out there who will be poised to pull that off.

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Speaking of speed running, the game does offer a Time Attack mode where you can play each stage individually, and try to beat the developers’ times. If you can do so, the stage will display a trophy on the stage’s icon. There is also a Score Attack mode where instead of going for time, you’re shooting for a high score. You get big points for gems, and taking out enemies. The game also includes all of the free holiday stages from the PC release, and the DC edition on the PS4/XB1(Digital)/Wii U. These are altered stages from the campaign made more difficult, and reworked with some Halloween, and Christmas decor. It is here you’ll also find an additional tutorial stage that guides you through some of the basic mechanics. I also found it interesting that the game has a surprisingly deep language setting hidden in the options menu. So if for some reason you can’t find this in stores in your area, it makes importing it on cartridge far more attractive if you collect physical games.

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And as in previous releases there are a lot of concept art, and renders you can unlock by finding the Master gems in the campaign. But not only did BFG make another expansion pack worth of stages for this release, they also added in some cut scenes. Now some who have already played the Director’s cut, elsewhere or the Rise Of The Owlverlord expansion on PC may find them familiar. But they’re all new. Except for the ones used in the World 4 stages which are mostly carried over from ROTO. And a lot of them, while still working in a simple, silhouetted, silent film way fill in gaps. You’ll actually get glimpses into the lives of Giana, and Maria outside of the Dream world. And some of it can be surprisingly dark for such an optimistic, care free character. Other clips cover Giana’s search for Maria. Some spend time focusing on Maria, and there is one particularly cool moment where we get to rock out with Chris Huelsbeck!

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Of course, Black Forest Games managed to get Chris, and Machinae Supremacy to come back a third time for a couple of new songs. Once again, these songs shift along with the world as you play. So again, when playing in the Nightmare aesthetic you can hear Chris Huelsbeck’s  New Wave synth compositions, and when in the Dream aesthetic you’ll hear Machinae Supremacy’s SID Metal interpretations. And again, they flow along seamlessly so as you shift back, and forth you’ll be in the same place in either version of the song. It does so much to add to the game’s atmosphere.

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If you haven’t already played the game elsewhere you’ll find the graphics are wonderful. All of the scenery has vivid detail in every little model. Trees, benches, bridges, garden gnomes, mushrooms, and the bones, stones, crumbled structures, gargoyles, and toadstools they shift into are breathtaking. As well as the matte painted backgrounds that add, a nice sense of depth perception to it all. It’s 2.5D after all.  There are a fairly wide variety of settings throughout the game as well. Lush forests, eerie swamps, cold dark castles, and even airships! Again, the level of detail in the textures, and models in the backgrounds is pretty impressive despite the simpler geometry.

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And there are a lot of little touches throughout the game. When climbing bookshelves, you’ll see little pages falling out of books. When you’re twirling your way through the forest you can see leaves blow by in the breeze, and little blue jays fly by in the background. Eventually you’ll run into the gumball machines introduced in Giana Sisters DS. These will put a translucent pink bubble of gum around you, and you have to navigate areas by continually pushing a button while steering with a thumbstick. It’s like Joust. But with gum. There is a lot of creativity on display in this game.

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Plus the characters all manage to have such great details on their models. Giana’s cool little skull has representation on her Punk Rock skirt. You can see the little feathers on the owls. You can see the little buckles on the knights, or the spikes on the blowfish. Even the water sheen on the turtles looks pretty cool. When you get to the dreaded Gurglewocky dragon to save Maria, you’ll even marvel at the level of facial animation on the boss. It’s hard to believe the game is nearly six years old at this point, but it still impresses.

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As much as I’m imploring everyone to check this one out (again), there are a couple of things that keep it just shy of perfection. There are some very minor technical bugs in this release. I ran into one, solitary clipping glitch in my initial run, which made me have to restart the level as I got stuck in a platform. I couldn’t repeat it, so odds are it’s fairly rare. But it was disappointing. I also hit a tiny bit of slowdown in one of the stages in World 4 for about 3 seconds in handheld mode. But the rest of the time, the game seemed to run at or around 60 frames no problem. Chances are it performs better on a HDTV, I never noticed any dips when playing docked. But honestly I played mostly in handheld mode as I recovered from my surgery.

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Frankly, very minor issues considering how great the overall game is. Overall, the performance is very good, and unless you’re an absolute nitpicker you may not even notice it. As it stands I only ever experienced the one hiccup in performance. So having said all of this should you pick it up? Well I suppose it does depend a little bit on the situation. If you have a Switch, and have never played this one on a computer or another console, this is a resounding “Yes!”. This really is one of the best platformers to see release over the past few years. The unique art style to the beautiful graphics, and especially the way the soundtrack is worked into everything. The level design is top-notch, and again, while there is a lot of challenge here, it isn’t unfair, and can become quite addicting. It really does stand out in a way that other modern platformers have not. Everyone should really check it out.

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Having said that, should you buy it again if you’ve played it elsewhere? For some I would definitely say “Yes.” If you loved the previous releases, there’s a substantial amount here for you. Plus we’re talking about the Nintendo Switch, which means it’s also portable. If you’re taking a vacation trip, and don’t want to bring your bulky laptop with you, this is a great version of the game to take along with you. It’s also something you can play a stage of on your commute, or hanging out while getting coffee. But if you’ve played it to death elsewhere, and don’t care about the new content you may give it a pass. But why would you want to do that when Giana Sisters is just so good?

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The issues it has may hold it back from perfection, but the additions to an already great game certainly make it the Owltimate edition. If you’ve got a Nintendo Switch, and love platformers Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams Owltimate edition is pretty much essential. It’s just odd THQNordic doesn’t seem to be giving the physical release a wide one. You’ll need to either go to Amazon or Best Buy (as of this writing) to get it. Otherwise you can get it on the Nintendo eshop as a digital download.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10 (BUY IT NOW!)

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Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back Review

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Every now, and again there will be a remake, or a reboot that just makes you ask yourself “Why?” Sometimes it’s a property that is universally reviled. Other times it’s something that wasn’t so bad it could make a Worst Of list, but not particularly good either. But to the surprise of everyone, someone, somewhere, decided to do it anyway.

PROS: It’s good. Seriously! It’s good!

CONS: Unbelievably short. Recycles a lot from a much more noteworthy game.

RETURN: The game promises Bubsy will.

Bubsy is one such franchise that falls under this scenario. Back in the days of the Super NES, and Sega Genesis, Accolade brought out their own mascot. The hope was they would have a game that could rival the two biggest franchises in the platformer genre. But while Bubsy wasn’t the horror show some folks make it out to be, it wasn’t great either. There were some problems on its quest to out-Sonic Sonic The Hedgehog. It had collision issues at times. It relied a lot on blind jumps that often led to cheap deaths. Every stage had multiple paths, but these paths could be confusing, and sometimes even malicious. Some would take you to traps, others would even go to the beginning of a stage!

A lot of the folks who complain about Bubsy, forget it did well enough to warrant, a sequel, a spinoff for the Atari Jaguar, and another sequel on the PlayStation in the form of Bubsy 3D. Hell, there was even a short-lived cartoon pilot, and a comic book series. But then, the series went dormant. Over time, popular opinion on these games soured, and these days it’s rare to hear anyone heralding any of them as an essential game in the genre. Still, when compared with some of the other Sonic, and Mario clones of the time, the first three Bubsy games weren’t all bad.

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So now around two decades later we have Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back, and; it’s honestly not that bad. In some ways, it’s actually quite good! The new Accolade, (which owns some of the original Accolade’s IPs) hired Black Forest Games to give us this new game. For those who don’t know, Black Forest Games is the studio that gave us the excellent Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, and its expansion pack a few years ago. So Accolade chose a studio wisely.

Bubsy is a 2.5D platformer that runs on the same engine Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams did. In fact, it has a lot of the same hallmarks, and mechanics. No more blind jumps, or awful hit detection. In this new Bubsy, you’ll know your mistakes are on your end. Stages are straightforward, but they do retain the idea of different paths. However there is no longer the brisk running of the old 16-bit games. Bubsy runs along at a slower pace these days. But this isn’t a crawl either. The camera is much better in this game too. No longer do you have to worry about blindly falling into a chasm, or bumping into an enemy.

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As in first game, the Woolies return. Obsessed with yarn, they steal the world’s supply, including Bubsy’s private reserve. So you’ll go across three worlds, each with five stages on your mission to stop them. When you fire up the game you’ll get a brief storybook segment explaining the simplistic story arc. From here you’ll start the game. You’ll see a map with a path through it. Each of the regular stages marked by a red ball of yarn, and boss stages marked by a purple one. Defeating a boss opens the next world, and you’ll repeat the process.

Each stage will give you achievements for meeting three metrics. Not losing any lives, entering a yarn room, and finding every T-shirt. When you’re in any given stage you’ll go around trying to get as many yarn balls, and T-Shirts as possible. You’ll also need to find a certain number of keys, if you want to be able to open the yarn room. The T-shirt mechanic is a little bit different from the way it was in the old games. Instead of having several types, here your first acquired shirt will allow you to take a second hit before dying. Any shirt you find while you’re able to take a second hit, will net you a 1-Up.

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So you’ll go along trying to find the end of any given stage while accomplishing these metrics. You don’t have to meet any of them to complete a given level, but it can help by boosting your score, and the number of lives you have in reserve. Each of the stages will have a variety of Wooly threats. Some of them will appear on foot, others will hover around on jetpacks. Sometimes you’ll find one in a small saucer shooting at you. In addition to the Woolies themselves, you’ll contend with spike traps, water hazards, and even killer sand sharks. A lot of sections with these dangerous environments employ many of the obstacles introduced in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. There are fans that can push Bubsy up if he’s floating above them. There are sections with falling boulders. Near the end of the game, there is even a section where a room fills with lava, before draining it, and filling it again. Even one of the enemy types cribs an attack pattern from the knights in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams.

That isn’t to say the game is nothing more than a re-skin. There are plenty of differences. For instance, the deep, world shifting, and puzzle mechanics are exclusive to Giana Sisters. There aren’t many super secret areas, in the extent of that game. And the focus in that game was a lot more on challenging areas, and secrets than in Bubsy. Bubsy still tries to go more toward the 16-bit games’ feel. You’re going to try to find the fastest route possible unless you want to hunt down every last ball of yarn, and T-shirt, all without dying. Still, after playing Black Forest Games’ flagship franchise, you will definitely notice when one of its mechanics makes an appearance here.

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Visually, Bubsy looks quite nice. The game hits the Saturday morning cartoon look even the old games tried to go for. There are all kinds of nice visual touches throughout the backgrounds. There are even a few clever sight gags if you take the time to try to find them. The same dry comedy, and corny wordplay humor also return from the old games. Every now, and again you’ll see the character break the fourth wall (sometimes literally) with a joke. They even reference some of the criticism laid at the feet of the old games. One example is when the hero excitedly reminds the audience about how falling from beyond a certain height in the old games would kill him. There are also the expected cat themed pun titles for each stage. Boss fights are pretty fun encounters too. You’ll have to learn some intricate patterns in the later fights, but all in all they’re pretty fun.

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The audio is easily the strongest part of the game. They contracted the great Chris Huelsbeck to compose the game soundtrack, and it’s wonderful. Every stage has some catchy, bouncy New Wave, Synth-Wave, and Synth-Pop tracks that stick with you long after you’ve stopped playing. The sound effects are very nice with high quality explosions, splashes, and Saturday morning cartoon effects. The presentation is just great. Honestly, over the course of the game, you’ll have a good time.

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Unfortunately this iteration of Bubsy does have one major issue, and that’s its relatively short length. Part of this is due to the small sizes of the earlier stages. If you don’t make too many mistakes, and you’re not out for every last collectible they don’t take long to finish. The difficulty level is also very, very easy. For most players anyway. If you’re someone who has played a lot of platformers, you can probably clear the game in under two hours time. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, are the large number of lives you can stock up. You start with nine (because you’re a cat.), and if you don’t make a lot of mistakes by the end of a given stage you can have nearly twenty.

The other is in the boss fights. When you die, you don’t start the boss fight over again. You’ll re-enter the chamber, and the boss will have the amount of health it had when you died last. For most people, if you have more than five or six lives, you’ll get through these fights with little issue. Players obsessed with completion may squeeze out a bit more time. If you’re looking to collect every last trinket, maybe you can pull it off in three hours. Ultimately, some people won’t mind this. But most people likely will. If you’re someone in the latter camp, you may want to pick up another platformer you haven’t played yet instead. For example, Black Forest Games’ own Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is one of the best platformers to be released in recent years, and as good as this game is, Giana Sisters is still leagues better overall.

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But if you’re a big fan of the Bubsy games in general there’s nothing really bad here. It’s short, and it borrows heavily from a better game. But it’s still pretty good. Just know you’ll have to spend a lot of time re-playing it in speed runs to maximize your enjoyment out of it. The best audience for this game is probably younger children who are just getting into platformers. It’s got enough challenge for them, with plenty of charm, and atmosphere. Upon completing the game there is a hint that there will be another game in the series. If, and when Accolade brings it out, hopefully they’ll address the short length, and commission some more unique ideas. Bubsy’s latest endeavor isn’t a bad game, but there are a lot of better options in terms of the amount of content, and challenge.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Rogue Stormers Review

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A number of years ago, Black Forest Games had released Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams, an expansion pack, and a spinoff. These games of course were continuations of the classic cult Commodore 64 game. But back in the days of the sisters, Rainbow Arts had also made one game that wasn’t consigned to cult status.

That game was Turrican, a multi scrolling action platformer. It would go on to be a pretty big deal, with sequels appearing on various computers, and consoles. Including the Super NES. Of course not every game in that series would be a Rainbow Arts game. But the first one was. One of the biggest hooks was its jetpack. Something not a lot of games have done as well. It also came out at a time when action platformers were becoming the norm.

Many innovations were happening with arcade style games. A couple of years earlier Konami would release Contra. Before that Atari would merge fantasy RPG mechanics into a top down action game with Gauntlet. Going back farther than that, we can see Robotron would give us a new control scheme. What does any of this have to do with today’s game? Quite a bit.

PROS: Looks gorgeous. Frantic, and fun combat. Cooperative multiplayer!

CONS: Brutal difficulty.

HUMOR: There’s a lot of subtle, and not so subtle comedy. Stabbygale.

Rogue Stormers started life as an Early Access game on Steam. Originally called Diesel Stormers, Black Forest Games was forced to change its name during production to avoid a lawsuit by a clothing company. But regardless of the name change, the game carved out a niche for itself. It stayed in the beta program for two years where it went over a couple of major revisions.

The final game is a combination of action platforming, and rogue like titles. At first glance some might think it is a Risk Of Rain clone with a bigger budget.(If you’ve never heard of that game CheapBossAttack recently did an excellent review of the PSVita version.) But they would be wrong. Rogue Stormers does have some similarities with that game in that it has waves of bad guys, unlockable characters, and some randomized stages. But from there the similarities really begin to end.

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Rogue Stormers actually has more in common with the games I mentioned earlier. At its heart you’ll be playing a twin stick shooter. You move through the game with one stick, and fire with the second. You’ll also be equipped with a jetpack right out of Turrican that will let you hover for a few seconds after you jump. You can also dash along the ground or in the air. So even though you’ll be in the midst of a lot of chaos, you’re also given a pretty great level of control.

Your character also has their own specific special attack. There are five characters in total. Each one with their own pros, and cons. They act as individual classes as in Gauntlet. Just as that game had different characteristics in each class, so does this game. The first character is given a machine gun, and a damage booster. As you unlock more you’ll find an opera singer with a flamethrower. A bar waitress with a shotgun, a warrior with slime themed specials, and finally a sniper. Not only do these characters have different play styles, but they all have their own personality.

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There are two main ways to play the game, a single player story mode, and then there is a Co-op mode. The story mode tosses you into six stages before a final showdown. As in multiplayer, you’re never going to play the same level twice, even though the objectives are in the same order. The game will put you into a randomly generated stage made up of around 9-12 rooms. Every time you play you’ll have a different mix of rooms but with a unique objective for each mission. Because of this, each stage is its own little adventure. You have to explore the stage thoroughly in order to find the end. You can try to rush your way to the end, but if you aren’t very good at classic action games of yester year it isn’t very advisable.

Going through the levels, you’ll find there are a number of portals in rooms. Step around half way into any given room, and these portals will open up. Hordes of orcs, and other enemy types will attack. You’ll find some reprieve after you defeat any given horde, as you pick up health, and experience points. Each of these is important to collect, and this is also one of the reasons why you may not want to rush to the objective too quickly. The game starts you off with only so much health. Taking hits from anything can damage you, and while some small arms fire may not worry you at first, it does add up. You also only have one life per game. One life. Should you die, you have to go all the way back to the start.

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Fortunately, the levels, and enemy corpses are going to drop experience points. You get to keep your level going after deaths, and restarts. Most importantly, filling an entire experience bar will give you a randomly generated perk. You get to keep these perks even after you die, so eventually the difficulty may become a bit more manageable for you as you progress. I’m not very good, but even after five or so restarts, I managed to have a few. The other thing about the single life system is that it will again, hearken back to the 1980’s arcade game feel. Back then, if you ran out of lives you started over. Oh sure, there may have been the odd game that allowed for continues. But your low score was a sign to everyone that you spent a lot more than a token.

This can be seen as or a good or a bad thing, and there are valid reasons from either viewpoint. On the bad side, one might point out that the lack of continues may mean that some players won’t see a lot of what the game has to offer. On the other hand, the campaign is only six stages in length. The meat, and potatoes are really in the gameplay. Personally, while losing can be frustrating, it somehow doesn’t feel completely unfair. It’s an awful lot like a bullet hell shooter in that regard. Again, I barely beat games like R-Type, Abadox, Gradius, or Contra when I was a kid. When I did it was after hundreds of attempts, and continues. But there was a lot of fun to be had in that challenge, and I think there is here too. Considering that you do get some perks, and other characters you get to keep once you’ve unlocked them, it does get easier.

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That being said, this is still a pretty difficult game. Most players aren’t going to burn through it in 20 minutes. But stick with it, and you’ll feel vindicated when you finally complete a mission, or defeat a boss. In addition to perks, characters, XP, and health pickups, the game does have a number of awesome weapons, and items you can use during a play through. There’s the awesome spread gun, that feels right out of Contra. Handy for taking out small mobs, or dealing big hits on bigger enemies. There are portable land mines. There are cool remote turrets. There are attachments to your primary guns that cause extra damage to enemies.

All of the game’s weapons are fun to use, and feel useful. While you might find you like using one pick up over another, you’ll never feel the secondary weapon you have is worthless. Some of them might work on one particular type of enemy better than another. But everything is still very effective. You just need to take your time, experiment with weapons, and learn how they work against each obstacle. Once you become proficient with a few of these items, and discern some of the enemy patterns things can become quite addictive.Deaths go from rage quitting to “One more game.”. I also have a word of advice for you; always pick up gold drops.

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Gold drops are another important utility in the game. Each stage will have a hidden shop room you can use to buy temporary buffs for your character. You can find gold any number of different ways. Most commonly, you can raid the corpses of fallen orcs. But there are treasure chests, that have gold, and other items too. Some require a key, usually found by exploring. There are also red colored chests, and lottery machines you can use your gold on. I wouldn’t advise the red chests, as there’s a high chance you’ll actually lose health. But the lottery machines will often give you a secondary weapon or more gold. Secondary weapons can also be found by freeing prisoners peppered throughout the land. If you do choose to go spelunking for the shops, make sure you grind as much gold as humanly possible because some of the better items are pretty pricey.

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Multiplayer also makes the game a lot more palatable, as this gives the game more replay value. Basically, the co-op mode can be played online or offline. Up to four people can play together, and it’s everything in the story mode just with your friends or strangers. Offline co-op is one of the best things about Rogue Stormers. So few games have couch multiplayer anymore. Especially on the PC. It makes this game again, feel like being in an arcade in the 80’s or 90’s. Which is great. The rogue like elements actually help it in this regard. Were this a fully traditional experience, like Turrican or Contra, or Commando players could memorize where everything is going to hit them from after a while. Seeing how they recycle rooms here that can still happen. But you also have the rooms in different areas each time. There’s always a chance to be caught off guard.

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Rogue Stormers also has a story, though it’s pretty cut, and dry. We meet an evil orc, named Hector Von Garg. He convinces the kingdom of Ravensdale to turn against the Rogue Stormers, before enslaving everyone. Now the heroes fight to dethrone him. Throughout the game you unlock bits of story lore which come in the form of newspaper clippings. The story isn’t much to write home about, but the art, and character designs most certainly are. Everything feels new, and yet familiar. Sometimes things look right out of Warcraft III, with the exaggerated looks of the orcs, and yet the game has a lot of its own style. There are clearly influences from Warhammer, but again everything still has a distinct look. From the orcs in hot air balloons, to the magic squids you can fly. Backgrounds have the gloomy, dreary atmosphere you would expect in a war-torn fantasy world. The little details in the environments give this game a nice dose of personality.

The soundtrack, and effects are also really worth a listen. The mix of electronica, rock, and orchestrated music fits the dystopian environments brilliantly. It almost feels like a sci-fi film at times, which is probably fitting considering some of the steam punk influences with some of the game’s antagonists. Composer Jonathan van den Wijngaarden brings the same quality of work to this game, as he has in many a big budget title. The results are fantastic. If you’re a fan of ambient orchestration you might want to nab the soundtrack.

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The game also has a pretty respectable level of options for you to tweak. You can change your resolution, window size, and even a number of lighting, and texture quality settings. As well as change the level, and type of anti aliasing. I would have liked to have seen some more of these options available rather than general sliders for categories. But Rogue Stormers is still a cut above other games in this regard. On the plus side you can use any number of control options. I tested the game with a Steam controller, Xbox 360 controller as well as my trusty G402 mouse. All of them worked flawlessly. While I would still recommend you use a controller, if you don’t have one, you can still be effective with  a mouse.

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Performance is pretty good overall. Though I found in my case sometimes things would chug along at maxed settings during major explosions, or if a large number of enemies appeared in certain rooms. Dialing things down slightly did help. To be fair, I was also running the game while I had a lot of other things running on the machine. Nevertheless, If you are on an older machine, consider turning off the FXAA, and SSAO, it won’t look too much different, and you may avoid some of those drops. Other than that everything ran very smoothly, and performance was really nice. The requirements aren’t absurdly high either. Minimum specifications are almost a decade old as of this writing.

 

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While the combination of bullet hell shoot ’em up, action platformer, and rogue like elements may not sound like they’ll gel to some, here they do. Rogue Stormers is a lot of fun to play, especially with three friends. It probably isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it is something I recommend picking up. Particularly to anybody who loves golden age arcade games like Robotron, or fans of those old action games on the computers, and consoles of yesteryear. Although Rogue Stormers veers that way, fans of rogue like games still might want to check it out anyway. It does use the chosen elements of that subgenre very well. Even if you’re not one for any of those types of games you may want to give it a look. It’s different enough from either it still might just appeal to you.

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The only thing keeping it away from sheer impeccable status are the lack of online players, and a couple of very minor things akin to nitpicking . Like being forcibly warped to the other players if you disagree on where to go, or the sometimes finicky flying squid. Really nothing major. Of course if you don’t have friends over very often the lack of online players might be a sticking point. But, if you can convince a few of them to nab a copy, or you’re able to plunk down a little bit extra for a two-pack, you’ve got one of the most entertaining multiplayer experiences of the year. Online or offline, Rogue Stormers is a cult game worth joining. A very difficult one. But so was Demon’s Souls.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Giana Sisters 2D Review

In a way this almost feels like cheating. It’s all of the stages from Giana Sisters DS on Steam. Why not just refer you to my Giana Sisters DS review? Because there are a number of things that have changed for better, and worse.

PROS: It’s the Nintendo DS game. On Steam!

CONS: It’s the mobile port of the DS game on Steam.

SAD: Still waiting on a re-release of the C64 original.

Between the time Spellbound folded, and remnants founded Black Forest Games, there was one developer who swooped in, and got a license to port Giana Sisters DS to the iPad named Kaasa. The company updated some of the visuals, and replaced a substantial amount of pixel art with updated hand drawn art. Eventually Black Forest Games would have full ownership of Giana Sisters again, but that didn’t eliminate Kaasa’s claim to their DS update. So this release is a port of a port of a game.

Content wise, the game is almost exactly the same as Giana Sisters DS. The artwork does resemble the original version, though the sharp, clean look of everything may disappoint some players. The game itself follows the same path as the original DS version. You’ll start out with a cut scene of Giana losing her gems in a nightmare, and re-entering the land of dreams to reclaim them. From there you’ll see a map screen for each world. Beating each stage will unlock the next stage, and eventually the next world.

Giana Sisters 2D has 8 worlds with 9 stages in each. Each stage also has a bonus stage that can be unlocked. Bonus stages tend to be collection stages, where you can hunt down gobs, and gobs of gems. Every 100 gems nets you a 1-up. Each world has a locked icon. If you can find all of the red gems in each of the 9 stages you’ll unlock the bonus stage. In the original DS version of the game, you also needed to unlock every bonus stage in order to unlock the retro stages.

Retro stages work a little different in this version. Here, you can simply choose to play the retro stages. Keep in mind that these are the DS versions of the Commodore 64 levels. So they have the added secrets, and alterations of the handheld. This means that you won’t be seeing the classic dragon, and spider bosses either. So while it is a nice nod for long time fans, it still isn’t the same. You’ll certainly want to play through them to complete the game, and have a fun time doing so. But don’t go into it expecting the C64 classic either.

Now while the game does have everything the DS version has, there are some oddities, and troubles that keep it from meeting the DS version’s high bar. Again, for some, the updated graphics will ironically turn them off. There is something to be said for the intricate, detailed pixel art of the original game. That isn’t to say Giana Sisters 2D is a horrible looker, it isn’t. Considering the iPad background it has, it’s one of the better ports. But there will be a vocal group of people who won’t like the change. Graphically, the only technical complaint you may have are the rare lines you can point out around certain tiles at times. It isn’t enough to distract you from playing, but it is noticeable.

The other problems the game has are related mainly to bugs. I have yet to find one that genuinely breaks the game, but they are annoyances that impede the enjoyment somewhat. Sometimes the game will show the wrong stage number going into a level or even load the wrong level. Backing out the map screen, and selecting the level again fixes this, but it is a pain when it happens. Achievements sometimes don’t unlock until after you’ve exited the game. Black Forest Games is looking into the issues, but for now, these are things to consider before jumping in. Fortunately the core game play is still here, offering the same challenge, and feel of the DS original. Even Fabian del Priore’s tunes are back to bounce along to the bump, and jump game play.

Also keep in mind, if you’re coming into this game after playing through the excellent Twisted Dreams, the experience is different. Giana Sisters DS was a direct sequel to Great Giana Sisters, and so you’ll be experiencing something closer to a Super Mario Bros. experience. Not a complete clone, but the inspiration is there. That said, the game has a few tricks that became staples of the series in Twisted Dreams, most notably the bubblegum machines. Eating gum gets you into giant bubbles you can pilot through dangers in certain stages. Conversely, if you played the original Commodore 64 game, and missed the DS sequel, know that things are beefed up. Especially in the vein of enemies, and tricky jumps toward the end of the campaign.

Ultimately, Giana Sisters 2D is worth purchasing if you don’t already have Giana Sisters DS. Getting the Game Pak for the DS these days is pretty tough, especially in the United States, where it saw a very limited run. As of now, the DS version goes for its original MSRP loose in most cases, and even more if you find one complete. Giana Sisters 2D is a convenient solution. But do know there are some minor issues as of now.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Giana Sisters Dream Runners Review

Black Forest Games gives us a bite-sized  Giana Sisters based off of a recently added multiplayer mode for Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams. Is this another underground classic for this underground series?

PROS: This game is a lot of fun.

CONS: But only if you have friends to play it with.

ON FOOT KARTING: The first noteworthy attempt since Mad Dash graced the original Xbox

It’s no secret that I like The Great Giana Sisters. First taking Super Mario Bros style platforming to the Commodore 64, and other home computers throughout Europe. Then decades later on the Nintendo DS in a sequel. Then it took an entirely different direction in its third installment Twisted Dreams, and its expansion Rise Of The Owlverlord. After these titles, Black Forest Games moved onto its current Early Access project Dieselstormers. But every so often it has given its core Giana fans something to sate them. For awhile they were free bonus levels, and recently a Multiplayer mode for Twisted Dreams.

Giana Sisters Dream Runners is a standalone multiplayer only game based on the earlier Twisted Dreams multiplayer. In this game you are given a decent number of levels that can be played with up to four players. You can do this online or offline. The object is less like a traditional platformer, and more a Kart racer. But don’t go into this expecting something like Wacky Wheels. These are still 2.5D environments you’ll side scroll through. Racers have to run through the courses for several laps. There are power ups you can gain, similar to Mario Kart. You can use these to slow down or take out other racers temporarily, giving you the chance to outrun them. There are a fairly wide variety of these items. One spawns three owls to attack other players. There’s a spring that shoots mines at everybody. Another one targets each player with lasers. There’s even a homing meteor! Not every item is a weapon. Some give you a quick warp a few meters ahead, or a more powerful roll attack to get through some of the enemies or traps easier. The game also adds a dash mechanic where pressing down lets your character do a baseball slide under low hanging traps. You’ll want to master this.

If you can manage to outrun everyone else the person you’ll get a star. The first player to get three stars wins the race, and you’ll go back to the race selection screen to pick a new stage to race on. The way you outrun the other players is a bit systematic. Eventually the furthest behind will fall so far behind they go off-screen. When this happens, a thirty-second time limit lets the remaining three players know they’re going to have to dig in for the top spot. When the timer runs out the person currently in first gets that precious star. It should also be noted, that the Twisted Dreams button layout doesn’t translate to Dream Runners. That’s because not only do you now have a weapon button, but the light/dark mechanic has changed. It is still here, but instead of changing on the fly, there are now floating spheres you touch in the courses to make that happen. It adds a strategy in that it can change sections of the track, giving players another avenue to confound, or elude the competition.

Over time you’ll unlock additional Giana Sisters characters including some of the series’ notable enemies. Each character has some advantages or disadvantages, but all seem fairly balanced. It’s a pretty cool game that combines kart racing mechanisms with speed running. On its face, the game is exceptional, and gives you everything it advertises. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you there are a couple of big problems with Giana Sisters Dream Runners.

The biggest problem is the fact that you cannot play this game with less than two players. Well actually you can. But you won’t want to for very long. There are bots you can put in, you can even assign three of the four players as bots. The bots can be challenging, but since every round is a single race, rather than a circuit there isn’t much incentive. On the plus side, you can give each bot its own difficulty, but ultimately nothing beats the fun of trash talking your friends in a racer. This is really the sort of game where you want to play with at least one other person. Playing with three people is the most ideal though since there is a lot more back, and forth near the top.

The final problem is the game’s online mode. Net code, and stability seem fine. The problem isn’t so much with running into lag, rubber-banding or warp despite a low ping. No, it’s the lack of players. You might wait a while for an opponent to show up in your lobby. For whatever reason, many of the people who own this one, aren’t playing online. At least not as I write this. Again though, if you have a few friends with a copy, Online mode can be just as enjoyable as playing locally. In spite of these issues though, I’m not going to tell people to skip this game entirely. The underlying game is wonderful. It gives speed runners the challenge of making it through a difficult course, and gives kart racing fans the items, and mind games they love. If you loved the soundtrack in the last game, and its expansion, you’ll enjoy it here too. Some old songs return, with some crafty remixes of others. Giana Sisters Dream Runners is a really good game. It’s just saddled with some baggage that will unfortunately hurt single players. If you have a group of friends who are willing to play something different with you however, pick up a few licenses, and have at it. Especially if you enjoyed any of the other games in the series.

Final Score: 7 out of 10 (For fans who have friends)

Giana Sisters DS Review

I can FINALLY rest easy. Those of you who have followed me from the beginnings of this blog know I’ve really enjoyed Armin Gessert’s platform jumping game series. You’ve seen me review the original Commodore 64 game, as well as Twisted Dreams. The last entry in the dormant series. But before that game, and its expansion pack, Rise Of The Owlverlord was another Giana Sisters entry. On a console which may surprise you.

PROS: It’s a Giana Sisters sequel! Updated graphics. New game play conventions.

CONS: Difficulty spikes.  No two player mode. Limited touch screen application.

GREAT GIANA SISTERS: The original game’s stages are an unlockable Easter Egg.

As you probably know by now, the original Great Giana Sisters was pulled due to pressure from Nintendo of Europe back in 1987. It became a cult classic. But 24 years later, we would be shocked to see the sisters on a Nintendo product. Giana Sisters DS came out in 2011, and was series creator Armin Gessert’s final game. (He passed away not too long after the game was finished.) A lot of people have never heard of this game, especially state side, where it had a very limited release. By publisher Destineer, who was normally known for releasing budget titles based on licensed IP, and porting popular games to the Macintosh. The release was so limited in fact, their web page (which is still up at the time of this writing) doesn’t list it. Only a handful of outlets even sold the game, and most of them were online only. Suffice it to say despite being released as a budget title, at a budget price, Giana Sisters DS is fairly rare.

The European version saw a wider release, and even today you’re more likely to see that version in online auctions over the US version. The game is identical in either case. The EU version has language options as well, so if you live in the US, and get the EU version you can still navigate the menus easily enough. The Nintendo DS also had no region locks, so you can run the European version on an American DS, or vice versa. If you are fortunate enough to find a copy of Giana Sisters DS you are in for a treat.

Giana Sisters DS is not a remake of the original Great Giana Sisters. It is an original game in the series, though it certainly has plenty of nods to the original game. The game fires up the same way the Commodore 64 original does. GIANA SISTERS DS scrolls across the top screen composed of the game’s many tile sets. Visually, the sprites, veer closer to the Commodore Amiga version of Great Giana Sisters. Everything in the game is bright, and colorful, and has a look that echoes the Amiga’s amazing visuals. It’s all replicated here very well. But once you begin the game, the similarities begin to end.

The original game had 32 straight levels. It was often compared to Super Mario Bros. which also had 32 levels. But that game divides the levels into 8 worlds, each with 4 levels in it. Giana Sisters DS changes the formula to be a bit closer to Super Mario Bros. in terms of level numbers. There are 9 worlds. Most of the worlds have 10 levels in them, along with a hidden level or two. The game also implements a new rule on its gem system, which you’ll need to follow if you want to see these Easter eggs.

As in the original game, Giana finds herself falling into a dream world. the object here once again, is to get from the beginning to the end of each stage without losing all of your lives. But there are a number of changes that differentiate it from Nintendo’s platformers. Again you’ll be collecting 100 diamonds to earn 1-Ups. Again you’ll be fighting owls, bubbles, bees, worms, and the rest of the cast of enemies. While you’ll still be jumping into blocks for diamonds, and power ups, you’ll be shocked. Because there are no longer multiple power ups from blocks. The double dream bubbles, homing bubbles, time stopper, and other extra power ups are no more. Getting the Punk ball now includes the ability to shoot dream bubbles in addition to breaking blocks. But that isn’t the only change to the formula. Giana Sisters DS eschews The Great Giana Sisters one hit deaths. Now after getting the Punk ball, a hit will revert you back to normal. These changes are both good, and bad.

They’re great in the sense that people new to the series won’t be frustrated. But they’re bad for series veterans in the sense that the initial challenge in this sequel is much lower than the original game’s. But that doesn’t mean this game is any kind of cakewalk either. Giana Sisters DS has a difficulty jump when you get around half way through the game. It is here the game implements a couple of new mechanics. One of which was also carried over to Twisted Dreams. The first of these is a soda bottle. Some later levels have a vending machine that will drop a bottle of soda. Tapping the soda icon on the touch screen will shoot a temporary stream of cola. This can be used to destroy blocks, as well as get rid of certain obstacles. For example, there may be a set of diamonds behind a column of bricks. Using the soda will allow you to get to them.

The second mechanic is the bubble gum power up. This also appeared in Twisted Dreams. This allows you to fly around in a chewing gum bubble to get to items previously thought impossible to take. You can use this one of two ways. The first is to use the built-in microphone in the DS. You can blow into the microphone to give the bubble momentum. Most players aren’t going to do that. This brings up the second method which is to simply press the jump button as many, or as few times as you need to. This power up allows for all kinds of crazy puzzle stages, and the game delivers those in spades once this mechanic is introduced. You’ll find yourself going off of the beaten path for red diamonds. In the process you’ll find the red diamond is surrounded by spikes that all hang above a bottomless pit.

The challenge really increases in the final two worlds. So if you’ve never played a Giana Sisters game, and pick this up remind yourself of this fact. The first half of the game is pretty easy. The stages seem short, enemies aren’t put into a lot of positions, and you might find yourself breezing through the early goings. By around the third quarter the game becomes a manageable challenge. A few jumps might cost you lives. A rocket launching bee, hovers right in front of a platform you need to get to. A red diamond is hidden in a more perplexing way. But the final leg gets pretty hard. The kind of challenge fans of 1,001 Spikes, or Super Meat Boy crave. So as you learn new skills, you’ll need to perfect them if you hope to beat the game.

As I mentioned before Giana Sisters DS introduces some hidden stages. The way you find these is through collecting. In addition to the normal diamonds, there are red diamonds. Each level has a certain number of them in it. If you can find all of them in a level, the exit flag will turn from blue to red. If you can exit every level in a world with a red exit flag, you’ll unlock a padlock on the map. Tapping this will load a bonus level. Most of these give you a challenging map filled with diamonds. Of course there are still obstacles to avoid just like the regular levels. But if you can get to the end of these levels with most of the diamonds, you’ll have a lot of 1-Ups in reserve. Which you’ll definitely want. Because there is a secret level for those who can beat the game without using a continue. On top of those bonus stages, there are super secret levels that require you to find warp blocks to gain entrance to. These work like the warp blocks in the first game. But instead of advancing you further, these bring you to super secret stages. Some levels also have portals in them that lead you to secret areas within the level. Sometimes you have to find these areas because they contain those important red diamonds. There are also flowers you can find that act as checkpoint saves. If you lose a life, you’ll spawn at the last flower you touched. The flower check points also retain a record of whatever red diamonds you’ve found. However, you’ll have to re collect any normal diamonds.

Don’t fret if you don’t find all of the red diamonds right away. The game will let you replay any stage by tapping on the level’s location on the map. Not only does finding all of a level’s red diamonds turn the end flag red, but the flag color is signified on the map as well. So you can go back to any level marked with a blue flag to replay it in the hopes of getting all of the diamonds. Again, the challenge really heightens by the last few worlds. Expect some stages to have ten red diamonds in them. Many of them hidden in very tight spots that either require the most precise jumps ever attempted, or a lot of guess-work. Sometimes they’re hidden behind foreground objects, or backgrounds. Sometimes they’re guarded by several enemies or death traps. The final leg of the game can prove difficult. But it’s a fair level of punishment. When you fail, you know it’s generally your shortcomings rather than a bug or collision detection gone awry.

Each world also has a boss level where you’ll contend with the Gurglewocky, Giana, and Maria’s dragon nemesis. In this incarnation he has to be jumped on anywhere from three to nine times. This isn’t always an easy task, as each time you fight him he throws new moves into the mix. But like the best platformers you’ll have to learn his patterns to put him down. Kill him, and it’s on to the next world. Speaking of Maria, she isn’t in Giana Sisters DS. Sadly the game doesn’t have a two player mode this time around. It’s one of the minor nitpicks some will have as you could play alternating turns in the last game, but not here. Nevertheless, you’re still going to enjoy the game playing solo.

Once again, the audio doesn’t disappoint. While Chris Hulesbeck didn’t pen any new songs for the game, Fabian del Priore (who also collaborated with Chris Hulesbeck, and Machinae Supremacy in Twisted Dreams) remixes many of his classic Giana Sisters tunes, replete with some Commodore SID impersonations. In addition to that, he wrote a lot of original tunes that share the same spirit as Chris Huelsbeck’s original songs. They fit the atmosphere very well, and with the excellent sound effects create a sound that is definitely descriptive of Giana Sisters.

Giana Sisters DS is an excellent sequel. It builds on a wonderful platformer by adding in new mechanics that work in its favor. It also feels like an evolution in the series, especially since many of the new conventions were carried over to the third game. It bridges the gap between the original, and the latest game very nicely. Not only is it an excellent sequel, and an excellent platformer, it’s one of the best games in the DS library. Aside from a difficulty spike or two the game doesn’t have much to complain about. Though some will miss the inclusion of a two player mode. But with few, if any major bugs, solid control, and splendid level design, Giana Sisters DS is a cut above most DS platformers.

There are also optional challenges for perfectionists to shoot for, such as beating the game without using a continue. There is even a super secret way to play all 32 stages from the original Great Giana Sisters.  Suffice it to say, Giana Sisters DS is a game that should be in any retro game collector’s library. Especially those who love video game history. Finding a copy might prove difficult, especially if you go after the US release. But it is going to be worth every second spent tracking one down.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Reposted Review: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams

 

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(Originally posted on Retro Retreat)

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.)