Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams was always fighting an uphill battle. The series has long been marred by claims of plagiarism since the 1980s, and during a time where every developer seems to be jumping on the Kickstarter bandwagon, it seemed that a lot of pressure was riding on Black Forest Games’ debut title.
Thankfully the studio has risen to the occasion, because Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is one hell of a platformer.
Players fill the role of Giana, a teenage who has been separated from her sister Maria inside her own dreams. Giana has to find her sister and somehow escape the torment of her own mind. The interesting thing is that now she’s hit those teenage years, she much prefers the gothic setting than the nightmarish, super cute dreams she used to love.
“Learning when to switch between the worlds and abilities becomes second nature after just a few minutes of gameplay, leaving you to wonder why no one has tried it before.”
Changing the dreamscapes at will is not only the core mechanic of Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, but is the essential ingredient that makes this platformer so exciting. Players can simply switch between Giana’s cute dream to ferocious nightmares in an instant, changing the landscape, the enemies and Giana’s persona and abilities. “Cute” Giana doesn’t mind the presence of hellish demons as she twirls her way merrily through the world, while “Punk” Giana detests the bright and colourful owls and sunshine, fire-dashing her way to victory.
It’s far more than aesthetics and abilities however; changing the dreamscapes is often essential to solve puzzles or access hidden areas to find more dream crystals. Learning when to switch between the worlds and abilities becomes second nature after just a few minutes of gameplay, leaving you to wonder why no one has tried it before.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams manages to find a happy medium between accessibility and challenge. Newcomers will slip right into the action without any substantial learning curve, while veterans will find hours of enjoyment to be had finding all the dream crystals, secret areas and treasures hidden throughout the 23 stages. With the inclusion of Time Attack, Hardcore and Uber-Hardcore modes, there is more than enough content to keep the most experienced gamer at bay.
If you have a gamepad, you will want to dust if off for Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. The controls are perfectly responsive when using an Xbox 360 controller to command the action, however certain sections can often become frustrating when using a keyboard. Keyboard gameplay changes the timing and feeling, which can lead to some cheap and nasty deaths. It doesn’t break the experience, but if you have a gamepad available, use it.
It surprises me how often I am praising the soundtrack when reviewing indie games, but Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams delivers a great audio experience. Chris Hülsbeck, composer from the original Giana Sisters in the 80s, has returned to deliver an array of new compositions that strike a nice balance between modern and retro sound. His unique style fills the speakers while playing in the twisted world, yet when players switch to the cute world, they are treated to a metal rendition of the same composition by the band Machine Supremacy. It may sound like a strange mix, but it truly needs to be heard to understand just how awesome this small, interactive play has on the audio experience.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams joins the likes of Trine 2 when it comes to outstanding visuals, delivering stunning intricate details as players switch between the two dreamscapes. Everything from the grass and platforms to background castles and enemies turn before your eyes in such a satisfying way, it creates the illusion of a dream perfectly.
There are a few minor shortcomings when all is said and done. Often the environment will come to life and cause death when changing between dreamscapes, which is all well and good, yet when players have no indication of what is waiting for them on the other side, it can feel a little cheap. There are also some minor inconsistencies between enemy models where some will fit the gritty nature of the world perfectly, and others come off feeling a little too outrageous. A single playthrough without exploration will only take you five to six hours, yet considering the price tag and multiple game modes, that shouldn’t be a major worry to anyone.