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Game Review

Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Martin Watts

A real dream game

When The Great Giana Sisters was released way back in 1987, it quickly became notorious for its remarkable similarities to Super Mario Bros. So much so, in fact, that it attracted the legal attention of Nintendo and was swiftly withdrawn from sale. The franchise later re-emerged in the form of a DS sequel in 2009 and while it proved to be quite good fun, it was again far from original in its premise.

So it comes as quite a surprise that the latest instalment in the franchise, Giana Sister: Twisted Dreams, is one of the most unique and original platforming games released in years. Developed by Black Forest Games – which picked up the rights to the IP after previous owner Spellbound Entertainment went bankrupt – the title features a game-changing mechanic that drastically enhances both its gameplay value and visual presentation.

The plot in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is quite surreal. One night, Maria – the sister of Giana – is inexplicably pulled through a portal to the Dream World, where a rather large dragon kidnaps her. Just before the portal closes, Giana manages to jump through and becomes Maria’s only hope of being rescued. Luckily, Giana possesses a rather unique power and can use it to transform not only herself, but the entire Dream World around her.

The way in which this is visually portrayed in game is nothing short of stunning. At the press of a button, each in-game assets instantly transform to reflect one of two versions of the same world – seeing the scenery change instantly without any slowdown is quite a sight to behold. In her natural form, Giana exists within the nightmarish half of Dream World, which sports a grim, hellish aesthetic and an array of satanic creatures. It’s horrid – as you’d expect from a nightmare – and Giana’s cute and innocent demeanour contrasts quite vividly with this. Hit the switch, and the roles reverse; Giana becomes a punk rebel and the world is suddenly filled with all kinds of lush and colourful objects. Gone are the devilish creatures roaming the environment, instead having transformed into adorable owls and bunny rabbits. It’s all wonderfully realised with 3D visuals that perfectly portray two distinct, yet creative art styles. As is the case with the visuals, the style of music changes according to which realm you’re in, and it really boosts the overall mood of each one.

Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams may not tell a particularly thought-provoking story, but its presentation does embody some pretty in-depth ideas. Giana’s transformation is very much representative of her personal journey into adolescence, with her rebellious side kicking in when needed to wreak havoc on anything stupid enough to stand in her teenage way. Again, this is in no way reflected in the story, but the way in which it is presented through a very unique gameplay dynamic is absolutely sublime.

The ability to alternate between worlds is also the core aspect of Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams’ gameplay and it works beautifully. In her natural form, Giana is your standard platforming game character: good at jumping (thanks mostly to her hover ability), but otherwise quite vulnerable. Turning into punk Giana enables you to use a fiery dash attack to blast your way through enemies and certain walls. However, that’s not to say that the punk segments are any easier and, rather, the real challenge actually comes from learning to masterfully switch between the two variations.

Each world is filled with its own hazards, switches and platforms that don’t exist in the other, and it frequently sets you up with tricky chasm- and enemy-filled gauntlets that require impeccable timing when it comes to making the transformation. Moreover, the game enables you to instantly switch worlds through or during a move; for example, using punk Giana’s dash attack when in normal form will still activate the move and change her and the environment. This adds a considerable amount of depth to the gameplay, and you really need to understand your entire move set in order to navigate the incredibly complex set up of some stages.

That’s the thing when it comes to Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams; it looks cute on the exterior but it serves up an utterly vicious challenge. While it isn’t quite as sadistic as Super Meat Boy or Cloudberry Kingdom, dying in this game is a regular occurrence. The level design is exceptionally tight, meaning that any deaths you incur are always your own fault, and only through precise control and execution of advanced techniques will you get further. Thankfully, a rather forgiving checkpoint system has been included so that if you die you usually don’t have to go too far back. If you’re a fan of challenging games, then Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams will likely be your thing, although it’s worth noting that your in-game progress is dependent on your performance in each level. You’re scored according to how many gems you collect and how many times you die. This feature artificially lengthens the game – no doubt because it’s a rather short experience – and can prove quite frustrating when you’re forced to replay difficult stages multiple times.

Unfortunately, the experience is marred by two technical issues. The first is that the game suffers from unusually long load times. Individual stages take a fair amount of time to load, a problem which seems inherent to many Wii U games as of late. The other issue relates to the GamePad. Off-TV play functionality is supported, but a bug currently prevents any sound output from the controller. Black Forest Games is aware of the issue, however, and it’s possible that a fix is already on the way.

Conclusion

Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is an admirable effort that provides an innovative, entertaining and highly challenging experience. Its art style is superb as a result of the world-changing transformation feature, which has an equally impressive impact on the gameplay. While the rather gruelling difficulty won’t appeal to everyone, there’s a fair checkpoint system for the determined player and lives are infinite. The difficulty level and technical issues aside, the game triumphs in what it aims to do; the Giana Sisters franchise may have started out as an uninspired rip-off of Super Mario Bros., but this latest effort very much proves that it has become a unique, fascinating and rewarding experience in its own right.

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User Comments (44)

Bilko

#6

Bilko said:

Really keen to pick this up, but the PSN demo felt really sluggish and jerky. Quite disappointing. Is the Wii U version the same?

MegaWattsAdmin

#8

MegaWatts said:

@Bilko I can't comment on the PlayStation version as haven't tried it, but it seems smooth on Wii U. Not 60 frames per second by any means, but very playable for a platformer. The load times are pretty long though.

ToniK

#10

ToniK said:

I played the original on C64 some time ago :) I'm considering buying this. I just have so many games that I haven't finished or even started yet.

felix330

#11

felix330 said:

Good review. Just a little bit of nitpicking: Blackforest games didn't just buy the IP from Spellbound, they basically are spellbound. They just changed their name and decided to go indie, so this giana sisters is made by many of the people involved in the original game. :)

Dr_Corndog

#12

Dr_Corndog said:

I want to play this mainly because of the legacy of the original. But it does look good on its own merits.

KDR_11k

#13

KDR_11k said:

@felix330 How many people were even on the original "team"? There's Armin Gessert who died in 2009 or so and was probably the one link between Spellbound and the original game, Chis Hülsbeck who did the music on this (along with Machinae Supremacy) and Manfred Trenz who went to Factor 5 AFAIK.

MathRaph

#14

MathRaph said:

This is probably going to be my next purchase on the eShop... But I just have too many games waiting to be played. I haven't even open the wonderful 101 yet.

ricklongo

#15

ricklongo said:

Yes! I've been eagerly waiting for this one. Should help me satisfy my insanely-difficult-2D-platformer needs until Tropical Freeze rolls around. Of course, it has to be released in the American e-Shop first. :/

A pity it's apparently an overly short game, though. How many hours are we talking here?

bofis

#19

bofis said:

I wonder how much of the load time issue can be fixed with an update like the audio issue. The most-recent purchase of mine, Ducktales, is maybe one o the faster-loading games on WiiU, especially the short amount of time it spends on the spalsh screen before starting in on the logos.

Katzii

#21

Katzii said:

I'd hardly call the original Giana Sisters game "uninspired". Okay, it was a blatant rip-off, but it was still pretty good going.

This game is definitely far more punishing than the others in the series, but I've been having a great time with it on PSN.

BakaKnight

#22

BakaKnight said:

Just added to my wishlist.

Soon or later I will download it probably, looks like a very interesting and fun game!

sinalefa

#24

sinalefa said:

I may get this one later on, whenever it comes to NA, of course. Rayman Legends comes in a few days, I ordered Luigi U, so that will keep me covered regarding 2D platformers. Cloudberry Kingdom will be waiting too.

luminalace

#25

luminalace said:

It's a very good game but boy does it get hard quickly. The first boss was quite difficult (I died many times) and the switching mechanic is a little confusing because certain moves also auto switch but regardless it's a beautiful and original platformer!

SparkOfSpirit

#26

SparkOfSpirit said:

I'm glad to hear this was good. Their Turrican game should definitely be one to look forward to!

Can't wait for the NA date!

WiiLovePeace

#27

WiiLovePeace said:

Great review! I'll be picking this game up when I can after the 'no sound in off-tv mode' bug is fixed. Sounds like great fun :-D

Lan

#29

Lan said:

For people who like the metal music in this game, it's by Machinae Supremacy. They're a legit band with a lot of 8-bit style sounds in their music, really good stuff in my opinion. Few free albums on their site, and they have their music on Spotify. I highly recommend them.

Kifa

#30

Kifa said:

I am strongly considering getting the game soon, as I really don't care about off-TV mode anyway. And this review only makes me want it earlier. ;)

Also - somehow the screenshots in this review refuse to load. O.o

MAB

#31

MAB said:

Yeah I have finished it already because it's a bit short and way too easy... I prefer NSMBU ;)

MegaWattsAdmin

#34

MegaWatts said:

@Retro_on_theGo - it's hard to say as I had to go back through some of the levels. Between 6-8 hours depending on whether you're a wally like me, maybe more?

@WinterWarm - funnily enough, Fractured Soul was the first game which game to mind when playing it! Of course, you're not shifting between screens, but the need to alternate is very similar!

unrandomsam

#36

unrandomsam said:

(Should be able to play it like rocket knight adventures on the megadrive you have the right move. Not possible because of the poor framerate / controls. You can play it slowly but doing so is boring).

WaveBoy

#39

WaveBoy said:

@unrandomsam

this. it makes the game look pretty nasty in motion... don't be fooled by those pretty screen shots you guys. :p I've only played the demo, but that was enough for me.

AyeHaley

#40

AyeHaley said:

One thing; they should add a retry button...You have to go through those loading times again and again.

SKTTR

#42

SKTTR said:

I think unlocking everything in Giana Sisters (Überhardcore-Mode) is even harder than unlocking everything in Cloudberry Kingdom (Masochist dificulty). But even as a pro gamer I was never satisfied by such insane difficulty levels.

However I have plenty of issues with the game.

1. The levels are too big and difficult: Unusually big and difficult for a Giana Sisters game, and just way too big and difficult for Time Trial Mode. There we have the second problem.

2. Since the levels are so big and difficult you can easily screw up your time and need to restart. But there's no instant replay feature. You need to reload the stage from scratch. This leads to the next problem.

3. Long loading times. 40 seconds per level I think. It would be ok if this game wasn't so unforgiving. But more than two deaths and you can say Goodbye to your perfect rank, reload! Sometimes it's more staring at the loading screen then actually playing.

4. This game is a collectathon nightmare. Hundreds of diamonds in each stage and no indication of where to find them in the big stages. While this can be positive as well-hidden diamonds are rewarding, it's not when you have to collect them all in one go and at the same time not use up more than 2 lives! It's brutal!

5. On top of that, diamond collector completionists have to write down notes! There is a screen tells you the total amount of diamonds in the level. Problem is it's a result screen that only pops up after you beat the level. The good platformers like Mario put such information right next to the level, or at least in the pause screen, for convenience, but good look finding all diamonds when you forgot how many there are!

6. It's a minor thing but why not putting Time Attack and Score Attack as additional objectives in the Normal Mode like many platormers do? Why are these separate modes?

7. Why have one girl use their ability with Y and the other with X? I mean, they could both use the same button, as they can't do anything with the other button anyway.

In this form Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is a bit of a disappointment. With a bit more polishment it could have been a hit.

6/10

Nukarmer

#43

Nukarmer said:

@SKTTR I just finished the game yesterday on Normal and it was a blast! I'm far from being a pro gamer, I just know a good platformer when I see it. Maybe you shouldn't play Überhardcore-Mode, eh?

in any case, imho, everybody who likes good platformers, is able to find a proper difficulty level to play through this game - and that's one of its multiple good sides.

I agree with you just on one point - a player should be given the possibility to know how many gems he must collect before he completes the level. oh, and the final fight with the dragon was really tough, but that could be just me and my skills with the Wii U gamepad ;)

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