The Giana Sisters series has had it pretty rough over the years. First released way back in 1987 on the Commodore 64, the game was universally praised as an addictive and challenging platformer. Yet despite this, it soon fell into obscurity after Nintendo drew some direct comparisons to its own Super Mario Bros. series and legal action was threatened against the title. The game was pulled from shelves, heralded as a collectors item and became swamped by the might of a certain mustachioed gaming icon. Fast forward to 2013, and after a spiritual sequel on the DS in 2009, the Giana Sisters are almost back in full swing, with a hopeful new punt at the platforming crown for XBLA and the PSN.
Arriving as a confident new force in the ongoing re-birth of the platforming genre, the Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is a nifty and imaginative reboot, that deserves some long overdue attention from gamers everywhere. Especially from those who love to wallow in their own tears at the hands of a brutal difficulty level. That’s always fun, right?
Well just like the best platformers around, it turns out it can be. Twisted Dreams opens with a short animation, showing Maria being swallowed into a dream world, from which her sister Giana, shortly follows to rescue her from the clutches of an evil dragon. As you progress through the early levels; which steadily introduce you to the gaming mechanics of shifting between dream worlds and using specific jump techniques, you may start to believe that you’re in for a relatively easy ride. However, by the end of the first world when you’re forced to juggle all these mechanics with pin-point timing, you’ll start to notice a pattern of repeated deaths and uncontrollable emotional despair.
What separates the Giana Sisters from other wall-smashingly difficult platformers is its mechanics. At the press of a button you can switch between a vibrant ‘cute’ dream world and a more nightmarish ‘punk’ world, which affects the levels and the enemies around you. Fat, menacing birds turn into devilish creatures, lush green fields transform into dark rocky plains and the look of Giana switches from innocent teen, into a wild punk rocker. In teen form you can collect yellow jewels and perform a twirly jump that effectively allows you to glide, whereas in punk form you can collect red jewels and blast through rocks as a rollicking fireball. It is when these abilities are combined with world-specific platforms and enemies, that the game really starts to shine. Mixing a Sonic-inspired gaming rhythm, with the careful precision of a Mario platformer.
It also helps that the seamless transition between these two worlds always looks impressive. Colours pop from the screen and you’ll constantly switch between the environments, just to see what happens at different parts of each level. The game also spreads out new ideas relatively well, keeping things constantly fresh and entertaining, with alternative paths and hidden collectibles to discover.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams isn’t a short affair either. After the Adventure mode, you can replay levels in Score Attack or Time Attack modes for bragging rights. There is also Hardcore and Uber-Hardcore modes for the completely insane, which force you to restart the entire game if you die at all. Best strap a pillow to your forehead for that one.
Sadly, a few aspects do hold it back from Super Meat Boy-levels of greatness. The difficulty curve whilst refreshingly brutal, can be a little all over the place. Boss fights in particular, undergo a drastic difficulty spike, that doesn’t entirely mesh with the progression that the regular levels create. The controls when moving Giana around, also feel a little too sensitive and not as tight as they should be. It doesn’t detract from your overall enjoyment, but it’s definitely noticeable in tricky sections, where the slightest mis-step will result in a frustrating death.
Despite these minor annoyances, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is still a brilliant platformer, that fully deserves your time and attention. It looks stunning, has some great ideas and will have you screaming profanities wildly into the night. If your favourite games involve the words ‘Mario’ or ‘Rayman’, then you owe it to yourself to try the Giana Sisters. Whilst it isn’t quite in the same league yet, it certainly glistens with potential for the future. Besides, these sisters are doing it for themsel… oh I still can’t do it. Just buy it already!