Tag Archives: Giana Sisters

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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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 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

Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams DLC: Rise Of The Owlverlord Review

About a year ago one of the best platformers of the past decade came out in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. Now a DLC expansion pack attempts to expand upon the core concept.

PROS: More of everything that made GS:TD a smash hit.

CONS: It’s short. It’s only seven stages.

MAMMA MIA: Like the DLC for NSMBU, this too is a standalone title.

Rise Of The Owlverlord really does build upon the core concept throughout it’s campaign. Once again you will play as Giana as she morphs the world between, light, and dark forms solving perilous platforming puzzles. If you didn’t play the main game, you can still play this as it’s a standalone expansion pack. That means it doesn’t require one to own the base game in order to play it. But be forewarned, it is a rather short expansion so you should really consider this only if you did buy the base game.

What is here though is gold. ROTO expands on the core concept of GS:TD in every way. In a way it almost feels like the lost levels of Super Mario Bros. (SMB2 in Japan). It’s a collection of 7 levels that are designed for the most dedicated Giana Sisters fans. Right out of the gate you will be thrust into a speedrun level. So much comes at you from all sides, from invincible owls, to cannons that fire projectiles, to falling boulders. That’s just the first part of the first stage.

Again there are many secrets, and gems to find for the completionists out there. One of which has over 1200 gems to find in it. Like the base game, ROTO will challenge you to beat stages to completion using the absolute least amount of lives to do so. The better you do, the more stages you’ll unlock. The final stage of course, culminates with the Owls’ sinister leader.

Beating the game on hard will unlock hardcore mode which cuts down on checkpoints. Beating that mode unlocks uber hardcore mode which again forces you to try to complete the game on a single life. Through it all, finding enough gems will unlock concept art as in the original game.

Chris Hulsbeck, and Machinae Supremacy return with a couple of new tracks along with some remixes. Including one which is a pastiche of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movie music. All of the music is pretty great, fitting in well with the game’s locations.

The game also has Steam Trading Card support which was added to the base game a few months ago as well. So die hard fans can also play for card drops, engage in trading with other players, and try to level up Steam badges along the way.

The main problem with this expansion is the short length. For the regular asking price of $5 it doesn’t grant a lot of content when compared to that of other games’ DLC. On the other hand there are certainly games with much more frivolous or even worthless DLC content. Still, one can’t help but wish the game had maybe another two or three stages.

Rise Of The Owlverlord is not a bad expansion by any means. The campaign is a lot of fun, and there is a lot of replay value to be had for those who want to unlock harder modes, or find every last secret in it. But it’s short length will leave many players wanting more. Here’s hoping Black Forest Games will really up the ante in a full blown sequel whatever lies ahead for Giana, and Maria.

Final Score: 8 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.)