The Great Giana Sisters was a platformer very much in the vein of Super Mario Bros. that is mostly famous for being a lot like Super Mario Bros., so much that Nintendo politely asked them to take it off the market. But as everyone knows, pulling a game from the stores only makes it that much more desirable, so a cult appreciation for the adventures of the Giana Sisters soon formed thanks to the great gameplay and excellent, widely remixed soundtrack. Indeed, this cultish adoration for the game translated into a successful Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight campaign for current license holder Black Forest Games, providing enough funding to finish this modern reimagining of the Giana Sisters. Now, was it worth the wait for those of you who grew up with the ol’ Commodore 64? Well, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams certainly has some merits, but it also has enough critical flaws to make it a frustrating experience.
In Giana Sisters you play as the titular Giana, who jumps into a twisted dream world after her sister is kidnapped. Using her own inner conflict, Giana can twist this dream world using her own inner dualism. This is expressed by an interesting game mechanic where a simple tap of a button swaps Giana between her cute mood and her punk persona. This swap impacts the world around you, extending bridges, retracting spikes, and such, but it also gives access to a different method of double jump. Cute Giana daintily floats through the air, while punk Giana catches fire and bounces off walls. The dueling jump mechanics are actually quite ingenious, allowing for a variety of cool jumping challenges and tricky maneuvers you wouldn’t be able to use otherwise.
The major side effect of switching personae is that the world around you changes far beyond the basic mechanics. Playing as cute Giana places you in an orange horror world full of skeleton bones and demons. Popping over to punk Giana switches everything to a bright, cute style full of adorable owl beasts and lush greenery. This change in background is typically seamless, showing off the graphical prowess of the engine through the dynamic shifts between worlds. The backgrounds themselves are fantastic even without the swapping, full of detail and greatly varied between environments as you progress through the game. It’s all supported by a soundtrack of remixed Giana tunes, with cute Giana’s retro music coming from original composer Chris Hülsbeck and the heavier, metal-twinged soundtrack provided by Machinae Supremacy. Like the backgrounds, the soundtrack shifts perfectly as you twirl and smash your way through each level. If you’ve played the original game, you can definitely spot many homages in the audiovisual design, but even those unfamiliar with the Giana Sisters will appreciate the excellent presentation.
Unfortunately, it all falls down once you get into the actual game. Giana Sisters is hard. Brutally, unfairly, frustratingly hard. There’s a clear sense that the team at Black Forest saw the popularity of hard platformers like Super Meat Boy and decided to emulate the style, but didn’t catch how to balance brutal difficulty with clever game design. Even with a moderate amount of platformer skill, later lengthy levels take thirty to forty deaths to clear. This should be smoothed over with the checkpoint system, but most of the time the checkpoints are spread out far too thinly to provide any sort of compromise, instead padding things out with annoying backtracking. Making things worse is the cheap mechanics and downright awful hit detection, which add far too many digits to the overall death count. Unfair design is one thing, with cheap death traps that are nigh unavoidable unless you know it’s coming, but dying after jumping on or fire-balling an enemy presents an entirely different level of frustration. These glitches could be slightly ameliorated by allowing more than one hit before death, but instant kill platforming is trendy and Black Forest just had to include it. Indeed, they even threw in an iron-man mode where dying resets the entire game. That alone is a sick joke in a game where dying from hit detection issues or cheap traps is incredibly common.
But all this is overshadowed by the awful decision to gate content. Each level rates you out of five stars, with three coming from gem collection and two from death count. These stars would total together and unlock the boss of each world if you collected enough. Yes, in a game that thrives on cheap deaths and contains far too many glitches, progress is blocked unless you beat levels without dying as much. In any brutal platformer, just scraping through a challenging segment should be a reward, no matter how much effort it took, but Giana Sisters requires you to do it again and again for no sensible reason. That would be simply asinine gating for anyone without the reflexes required by the extreme difficulty, but it’s made even worse by the aforementioned buggy collisions. Instead of rewarding the player for finishing the challenge, Giana Sisters tries to artificially inflate an already aggravating experience, with all these problems stacking together to create a perfect storm of enraging elements.
Final Verdict: A very pretty game with neat ideas overshadowed by aggravating gameplay and poor design decision. With shoddy hit detection, sparse checkpoints, and stupid artificial gating, this is a game only for those willing to rage through the challenges. Fixing two of those three issues would improve the game immensely, but for now it just feels like missed potential.
This review is based on a review copy of the GOG PC version of Giana Sisters: Twisted Dream provided by Black Forest Games.
- Visually Impressive
- Some Fun Ideas
- Poor Level Design
- Aggravating Gameplay Elements
- Artificial Gating