by Christopher Coke
reviewed on PC
Important note. In this review, Chris noted that the narrative in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is cursory and only briefly described. As a result of this, the review reflects the misunderstanding that the player controls both sisters. In fact, players control only one and alternate between her two starkly different personas. The potential for confusion is worth particular attention and is made more likely due to the expectation set up by the game's title. As others are bound to struggle with the same confusion, we have decided to leave the original article untouched. The change in context has no impact on the overall work or specific points of review.
The Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is a duality of concepts. It reaches out to games decades old and then nods slyly at others from the last few years. It is at times, painfully difficult and at others tediously easy. While it is sometimes an exercise in frustration, it is frequently a fun romp worth repeating again and again. Perhaps this is all fitting for a game whose playable character is actually two playable characters of starkly different tones and ability. The question, then, is which one of its sides wins out. Without reservation let me make one thing clear, The Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is an experience I don’t think you should miss.
The Gameplay Sisters
Twisted Dreams, developed by Black Forest Games, is a direct sequel to the 1987 cult classic The Great Giana Sisters. Unlike its predecessor, however, it is not a direct clone of any other game. Twisted Dreams is about building on what works – including using Kickstarter as a means of funding – and for the most part it succeeds. Where the original came under fire for eye-roll worthy impressions of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros., Twisted Dreams is about memory rather than mimicry. At times, the game still recalls the red-suited plumber, but it also echoes 2009’s Trine or the Lode Runner’s of the mid-1990s.
But here is the crux of it: The original game was never pegged for being fun-fun. As a matter of fact it was quite the opposite, with most critics praising the gameplay and down-scoring the “me toos.” Twisted Dreams does what good games do best: it builds on what works and leaves what doesn’t alone. All of those reminders during gameplay only serve to enhance an already tight platforming experience.
As you might infer from the genre classification, Twisted Dreams plays like any other platformer. The game staves off the mediocrity by simply being inspired. Character control, from movement to abilities, is fun and precise – except for when it isn’t, but I will explain that in a moment. Level design is extremely well done, beautiful to play through, and offers replay value for multiple playthroughs.
The main character (well, two main characters) controls tightly and just as you would expect her to. This is important in a game that requires pitch-perfect timing to meet its toughest challenges. When you begin the game, you start off as one sister but are quickly introduced to the ability to switch to the other with a single button press. The sisters are thematically very different. One is beautiful and blonde with a special ability to twirl through the air with ponytails and extended arms to helicopter her to safety. The other is dark and gothic, and her special ability is to shoot through the air like a fiery missile or ricochet through closed corridors like a bouncy ball from hell.
Mastering the sisters is important because switching between the two literally changes the level around you. While you’re blonde, the world will be a brown and sorrowful place, enemies will be demons and monsters, and all around will be the surroundings of decay. As the goth, levels transform into green and flowery forests filled with fat birds and butterflies. It is a funny take on playing through a teenager’s worst nightmare. More importantly, however, is that certain parts of each level are only available to a single sister, indicated by a translucent cutout of whatever will come into form for the other sister. To access all that each level has to offer, the player will need to switch often. Bridges often proceed from out of nowhere; hazards sink or rise from the ground, presumably waiting for the one either cheerful or morose enough to pass.
Changing characters also transforms the musical score. The music in the game is already excellent being layered, catchy, and multi-tonal, but each sister has her own version for each level. Blondie’s is atmospheric and keyboard driven, mystic and cautious. Goth-girl’s is aggressive and driven, powered by intricate electric guitars with distortion and overpower set to HIGH. While music might seem like a small element in an otherwise greater game, in this case it really helps drive the unique experience of playing each character.
Excellent level design, tight controls, wonderful audio and fun, addicting gameplay.
Can be frustratingly difficult at times, several technical stumbles, unexplained story.