Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is the crowd-funded sequel to the original Commodore 64 title The Great Giana Sisters released back in 1987. Some considered the original to be a mere Super Mario Bros. rip-off, and the courts agreed, forcing the game to be taken off the market after Nintendo pressed charges. But the game still gained a cult following and with the power of the internet and Kickstarter, a new chapter for the Giana Sisters was born. Luckily this time around the game stands on its own two feet, but it just can’t seem to prevent itself from tripping up.
The game give us little to no backstory other than two sisters, one cute and one punk, are thrown into a hostile world filled with baddies, spikes and gems … lots and lots of gems. Featuring the usual platformer mechanics, you’ll find yourself jumping over pitfalls and smacking onto enemies. Tending to feel like another run of the mill side-scroller, Twisted Dreams’ unique gimmick is thrown in to mix things up.
You are given control of each type of sister; the cute one can spin and hover, which is useful for gaps and collecting items, and the punk sister can shoot off like a cannon, allowing for quick movement and targeting enemies. What works well here is how the level itself changes with the character; the level design and environment change from cutesy candy gumdrop clouds and lush trees to spikey devil horns and twisted thorn bushes with a pull of a trigger. Along with the rest of the world, the music and enemies also change.
The ability to change level style is also used for level progression, such as elevators moving in one style or doors opening in another. The visual look of the morphing of the world is quite interesting and overall brilliantly done, but when it comes to being used as a gameplay mechanic you’ll find the trick growing dull much too fast. Some parts stick to the game’s 1980s roots and are extremely difficult, with split-second timing and a lot of patience. However it is impressive to see just how much detail was put into world, especially when considering that essentially two versions were constructed per level.
The gameplay is solid with a few flaws that hinder its ability to be considered a shining star in the current world of platforming games. The different abilities, especially punk Giana’s cannon launch move, are unpredictable and become an overwhelming annoyance early off. The wall jump controls feel nearly broken with a successful ascend being nearly down to luck; I can honestly say I still have no idea exactly what works and what doesn’t. The checkpoint system is fairly forgiving, but some sections will still have you thinking “where from?” as you find yourself shot back much further than seems fair. Mix this with some very challenging sections and of course the one hit death rule and you will be sure to find yourself yelling obscenities at this young pair of sisters on more than one occasion.
Each level features a star rating, and collected stars will unlock boss levels for each world. You gain stars by collecting gems scattered throughout the level, and also by not losing many lives during your play-through of the level. Some levels feature over seven-hundred stars and various different pathways to choose from, some of which you cannot backtrack on, which means you will be replaying levels multiple times just to unlock boss fights.
The boss fights are a whole other nightmare. With difficulty spiking immensely, the boss fights will leave you weeping. After so many multiple attempts, finally conquering a boss feels empty and fruitless, which may appeal to some old school platform fans, but I myself did not enjoy. Unlike games like Super Meat Boy whose difficulty is matched with tight controls and trial and error advancements, Giana Sister’s controls feel loose and un-polished, leaving players with a sense of blaming the game rather than themselves.
Visually the game looks great. With vibrant colours and great lighting effects, the art style works great with the game mechanic of twisting worlds. I found myself watching the background while I switched characters repeatedly just trying to notice all the little changes the world itself would make. The sounds are well done as well, with the various effects working well with the game. I only wished the music to be a bit more creative, especially when changing between characters. I would have loved to hear more variance in genres with the music, rather than just the generic heavy metal cover.
Overall Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is a love letter to the 1980s cult classic. Sticking to its platforming roots, the game presents a classic difficulty with a new twist on the genre. While it may not be the best of its class by today’s standards, if you’re looking for a challenging platformer with a new visual twist, you may want to give this title a shot.
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