I was an infant when the original Great Giana Sisters came out and even if I was some sort of super baby with the muscle conditioning and hand-eye coordination required to operate a Commodore 64 I probably still wouldn’t have been able to play it because Nintendo bullied the original developers to take it off the market. This is because it was a massive rip off of the original Super Mario Brothers. Regardless of the lack of nostalgia I have for the name, the kickstarted greenlighted Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is still taking me back to a simpler time when I was content to collect gems, jump on bad guys and avoid falling in holes. I’m pretty sure no game I played back then featured a clearly schizophrenic young girl as the main character though.
The Giana sisters are two twins who are abducted by a gem in the middle of the night and this for some reason causes the two to fuse together and become one person able to switch between each other’s world view. Clearly something has gone terribly wrong with the pair’s parenting as one sister sees the world as a lovely idyllic place filled with birds and turtles while the other sees brimstone and demons. Either Black Forest Games is trying to say something about how psychologically scarring it can be growing up as a twin, or they are preserving the old school platforming tradition of making absolutely no sense. Whichever the case it’s a nifty mechanic and one of the most impressive things about the game is how seamlessly and quickly you can switch between the two worlds. Flowers become rotten mushrooms, houses become crypts, and happy trees become scary trees. It’s a great visual experience but it obviously also affects the way you interact with the world. Enemies will act different in one world or gates and platforms may move in opposite directions. It’s a mechanic that’s used smartly throughout the game, never becoming a gimmick or too obvious, there are lots of nice little ways it’s used but that said I never felt a real “WHOA” moment stem from it.
Giana Sisters gives you the 2 moves and the world switching ability right at the start of the game and then lets you loose in big levels to explore for gems. It’s a basic (but effective) setup that doesn’t add much on top of the original formulae as the game progresses. The obstacles and enemies toughen up but you will always have the same move set to combat them. It’s always entertaining but gets a little samey and doesn’t have the same excitement and variety that, say, Donkey Kong Country Returns has (in my opinion the best 2d platformer ever made). The sameyness is also inherent in the level’s visual designs; there is about 3 different visuals themes (6 if you count the two different world views) throughout the game. Now don’t get me wrong they always look very pretty but variety is the spice of life and I’m a sucker for different themed worlds. Lastly on the topic of sameyness (sorry I’m starting to get a bit repetitive myself) there’s literally only three different music tracks, one for each world view and the menu. Not only is the track selection limited, the songs are pretty crappy too.
So there’s not a massive amount of variety but Giana Sisters does a very competent take on classic 2d platforming. The levels are expansive, rather than tight, strict and rhythm based platforming, and have a real focus on exploration. One of the best design decisions the game makes is saving the gems you have collected from a level, even if you die. This means if you get to a checkpoint and take some leaps of faith to get to a secret area and die on your way back you won’t need to go back and re-collect said gems. It’s a smart move that rewards players for exploring the big levels, rather than make risk taking a chore. The game is also relatively strict on the amount of “gem stars” that are required to unlock a boss stage meaning not only is exploring levels encouraged, its mandatory.
“Gem stars” are the currency required to unlock the three boss levels in Giana Sisters. What’s annoying is that it’s never overtly explained what is required to get these stars. I worked out it’s for a combination of finding all the gems in a level and not dying but the fact that it isn’t explicitly documented at any point (not in-game, in a readme, or on the game’s website that I could find) is a bit frustrating. Of the two bosses I defeated both were outrageously hard and slightly out of step with the difficulty of the rest of the game. Outside of the bosses I did find myself breezing through the game’s levels pretty easily and at 23 levels it’s…not short but certainly not a platforming odyssey. There is however an impressive amount of extra challenges like the insane uber hardcore mode that demands you finish the game without dying.
Giana Sister: Twisted Dreams is a very pretty and competent platformer. The world view switching mechanic is positively gorgeous in action and is always used in a way that adds to the gameplay rather than shoehorning in tenuous gimmicks. I would have liked to have seen a little more variety, and even a few tighter “jumpy” levels interspersed between all the big exploring ones but nonetheless it’s such a charming and fun experience that I’m giving it 4/5 stars.