I confess to never having heard of the original Great Giana Sisters for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. I suspect that I am not alone in this fact, given the series’ sordid history with its being pulled from the shelves for its similarity to Nintendo’s flagship Super Mario Bros. I will say that, regardless of its history, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams should be toted as an excellent example of what side-scrolling platformers still have to offer gamers today.
The Director’s Cut, released to the PlayStation Store and the Xbox Marketplace in early December, features the original Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams as well as its stand-alone add-on Rise of the Owlverlord, additional holiday-themed levels, an optional, more agreeable, difficulty for the uninitiated, and all of it running in 1080p at a smooth 60 fps.
"Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams should be toted as an excellent example of what side-scrolling platformers still have to offer gamers today."
There is a story here, of sisters and rescue, of dreamscapes and teenage rebellion, but it is more of a touchstone, included almost only because it is expected to be. Where Giana Sisters really shines is in its precise and engaging gameplay. What starts with jumping on monsters heads and collecting colorful diamonds, ends in elaborately choreographed combinations of dashes, spins, bounces, and dimension altering transformations from princess to punk and back again.
Twisted Dreams plays like an historical document, cataloging all of the highlights in side-scrolling games of yore. You have the jumps, bounces, and collectibles that make up the staples of the genre, but included with these are throwbacks to some of my favorite titles. You have the dashing madness of games like Rocket Knight, and the much-loved wall jumping of the Mega Man X titles, not to mention the occasional underwater excursion harkening back to Donkey Kong Country. All of this could fall flat in the hands of the wrong people, but Black Forest Games clearly know what they’re doing and use these tried and true mechanics to make for an exciting title that sets itself apart from the sources it is clearly drawing from.
"Black Forest Games clearly know what they’re doing and use these tried and true mechanics to make for an exciting title that sets itself apart from the sources it is clearly drawing from."
Most notable of Twisted Dreams’s game mechanics is the ability of its main character Giana to switch from “Cute” to “Punk,” essentially transforming herself and the entire level along with her. Certain things, like platforms, bumpers, and springs, may only exist in one realm or another. Similarly the collectible yellow and red diamonds that are the games score system may only be collected by either Cute Giana or Punk Giana respectively, meaning that as you progress through the game’s harrowing dance of traps and monsters you will need to be constantly switching between the two if you intend to collect all that each level has to offer.
From the look and theme of the levels, to the music, even to the color of my DualShock 4’s light, everything in the game changes alongside Giana’s mood and it makes for an awesome challenge. The game’s puzzles were less of the “Push these things where they have to go” variety and more in figuring out when exactly you need to switch it up, often times having to do so mid-flight. Couple the already maddening experience with some enemies not being present in one dimension or another - or completely changing their behavior as you change moods - and Twisted Dreams presents a constantly engaging and fun ride.
"I found my time with the game incredibly enjoyable, in the way that rushing home from school to blow out my Super Mario Bros. cartridge and chug Mountain Dew always was."
A common downfall of side-scrolling platformers is how linear they can be. If you’ve played the game once, you’ve played it all. While Giana Sisters is no twisting and mesmerizing web of possibilities untold, it did surprise me with the openness of some of its levels. There’s much to explore here, from hidden rooms, to alternate routes to get to that final, waiting, door. It’s not the most dramatic factor in the game’s success, but it’s a nice touch that didn’t go unnoticed, nor unappreciated.
While Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams could be toted as “old hat,” it is certainly a damn fine hat. I found my time with the game incredibly enjoyable, in the way that rushing home from school to blow out my Super Mario Bros. cartridge and chug Mountain Dew always was. Playing through this colorful, ecstatic, world reminded me how long it’s been since I’ve played a video game, something that presents a challenge in bright colors and fanciful characters with no pretensions. It may not fit into the established paradigms of what we’ve come to expect from the medium in this new generation, but Twisted Dreams is a welcome reminder of the fun that can be had with a simple and well-executed premise.
Review by: Jeff Ellis | Reviewed on: Playstation 4