Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams Review (Xbox Live Arcade)
Posted by Marc Morrison on 04.11.2013
411maniaís Marc Morrison explores the dualistic world in this whimsical, yet flawed platformer. Find out what he thinks inside.
Title: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
Publisher: Black Forest Games
Developer: Black Forest Games
Rated: E for Everyone
The genre of platformers isnít exactly a popular one these days, especially on the 2D front of things. Gone are the days of a million different Mario and Sonic clones coming out, with notable characters like Bubsy, Aero the Acro-Bat, Keith Courage, Ardy Lightfood are coming out every other week in some desperate cash grab for kidís money. Nowadays, we pretty much got a slightly stale 2D Mario game coming out every few years, or some masocore game like an infuriating Twisted Pixel game that has a superb setup, but actually playing the game makes you want to break the controller in half. Well, Giana Sisters fits into the masocore platformer genre; itís just missing elements that actually make it a good really good game.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams comes off the heels of a successful Kickstarter campaign that launched last year. The goal of the Kickstarter was to revive the Giana Sisters name after their previous developer (Spellbound) folded after making a DS game. However the lineage goes back way further than that, with their being a Giana Sisters game on the Commodore 64 that was, for all intents a purpose, a direct Mario Bros clone. I mean that literally, down to specific level designs, question mark blocks, and having the two female characters being sisters, as opposed to brothers. This Giana Sisters game gets away from the Mario side of the gameplay equation, but thatís not necessarily a good thing.
The crux of the game has you moving your character around the levels, collecting diamonds, solving some light puzzles, jumping on enemies to kill them, and the like. Honestly, itís all pretty bog standard for this type of game. The unique aspect comes in the form that your character can alternate between personalities, one is a blond, and the other is a red-head.
Each personality has her own powers, and the world changes whenever you do the character switch, RT on the controller. The blond has a small spinning hover jump that you can use to float around the environment, while the redhead has a fireball-dash maneuver that lets her attack enemies, or bounce of walls to get up a bit higher. If you hold the dash button down in a tight environment, the redhead will dash between the walls, jumping around them like a bouncy ball. You can change between the characters mid-action, so if you need to be the redhead when spinning, you can do so just fine, and vice versa for the dash move. You can also press the button for the power, X for the Dash, Y for the Hover jump, as another character, and she will automatically switch into that personality and do the action.
The environmental changes add another wrinkle to the game. When youíre playing as the blond, the environment is a twisted landscape, full of darker colors and scarier looking enemies. When playing as the redhead, the landscape looks like something from Candy Land, full of green pastures, and quaint giant mushrooms. The music also changes when you switch, with the redhead having a punk/heavy metal motif, while the blond has pianos playing and is a more docile affair. Itís a weird dichotomy the game has with the redhead having a picturesque land driven by heavy guitars, while the blond has a nightmarish landscape with soothing music.
There is a point to the character switching, aside from the aesthetic look of the game, the world changes around you. If you come to a gap as one character, if you switch to another, a bridge will be extended outward. Or the gate that was locked in one world might be open in another. This extends into moving platforms as well, with you having to jump between them and keep alternating the characters to keep them moving. They also do the Outland trick of having platforms that are incorporeal to you as one character, but they have substance as the other.
The big thing you do in the levels is collect diamonds, and there are a LOT of them to find. Diamonds come in three basic flavors, with two extras ones on the side. The blue diamonds can be picked up by either character, the red diamonds can only be picked up by the redhead, and the yellow diamonds can only be picked up by the blond. Opposite colored diamonds canít be picked up by the girl, but you can see a faint outline of them, and if you switch, they can then be collected. A lot of platforming comes in the form of jumping off a high ledge, doing a hover jump to collect some yellow diamonds, slowly falling to the ground as you pick up blue diamonds, red diamonds and yellow diamonds as you alternate between your two forms.
The two special diamonds come in the form of a pink star-looking jewel that acts like a Super Mushroom. The character has insta-death, if she touches an enemy, or level hazard, sheís toast and reloads at the checkpoint. The jewel gives you a slight glow around your character and lets you survive one encounter with something that might kill you. The other special Diamond is a huge blue diamond that when collected unlocks a piece of concept art in the gallery, and also adds 10 diamonds to your overall diamond count for the level.
Certain levels have some gimmicks, like being full of water, or having locked doors that you need to collect keys for, to unlock them. Most of the levels have a lot of hidden paths, but the basic goal is the same (run to the right). The enemies you face are fairly easy, but a few of them do trip you up, due to the game not really explaining how they are different from one another. Once you finish a level, youíll get a screen telling you how many diamonds you collected, and how many times you died, where you can get up to five stars, for how well you do. For a time, this game is a solid piece of retro-style platforming action.
Now here are the problems I ran into which kind of ruined the game for me:
1. Difficulty Spikes -- The game has some bizarre difficulty spikes, even in the first world. I had 2 deaths in the 3rd level, 13 deaths in the 4th level, and 68 deaths in the 5th level. The game gets hard VERY quickly, much more so than Super Meat Boy, or Rayman. Iíll be honest, I havenít finished the game due to the punishing nature of some of the later levels, and how drawn out they are.
2. The Trine 2 Effect -- Trine 2 was a GORGEOUS game that blew most people away with its glow effects and overall style. An issue in that game was that the background detail was so impressive it was hard to make things in the foreground actually stand out so you occasionally missed things. This game has the same issue only the things you miss usually end up killing you. A prime example is these deadly plant things in the levels. For one character they simply donít exist, but for the other they do and touching them kills you. The thing is, the plants donít stand out at all from the foliage in the actual levels, so often times youíll run into them by accident and just get annoyed by them. This gets exacerbated when youíre on a moving platform and the plants are all around you.
3. Loading Times and Restarting -- Frankly, I have disk-based games that load up faster than Giana Sisters. To get into a level takes around 40 seconds or so, and thatís if the game is cached. If not, itís around a minute. The game also has no ďRestart LevelĒ or ďRestart CheckpointĒ option, so if you fouled up in a level, you need to exit out of it completely, and then reload back into it. Super Meat Boy style loading, this game does not have.
4. Havok -- To the gameís credit, it does have a physics engine. The issue is, itís poorly done on the 360. The big example is when youíre playing as the redhead and you come up between a LOT of boxes. What you do is, you hold down the dash button, and she bounces between the walls of an area smashing up all the boxes in sight. The game canít keep up with this action though, so the framerate chugs like crazy when doing it. Normally the game does run solid enough, but I had a few instances where it dropped into the teens for a few seconds as the rest of the game tried to keep up with the fast dashing.
5. Nothing is explained -- I literally have no idea what happened in this game. It starts off with two girls in a bed and a diamond falling to them, opening into a portal, one girl being caught in it, and the other girl chasing after her. Thatís the ENTIRE setup for the story. For a majority of the time I played this game, I thought that both girls had fused into one, which would explain why she can change her hair color. But no, the first level, the first goal is caught by a dinosaur and taken somewhere. They donít explain how your character can change, why she has the moves she does, or what is going on in the slightest. I had to look up on Wikipedia that the one youíre playing as is named Giana, and the other is named Maria. This issue of little information applies to the game as well, with only a scant few hints done in a weird fashion. The earlier mentioned pink star-jewel? They never mention that it adds to your life, I just stumbled upon that myself.
The game does look good, but too good in spots, look at the Trine 2 issue. Everything has a decent look to it that is well detailed. The enemies could use better details to them and different types. The way the world changes is the highlight though with you able to do it at any time and the game keeping up with that action. The dual idea of having a bright, cheerful place mixed with an atmospheric, moody world is a good concept. They should have spent a bit more time on what is actually going on with the elements you can act with, rather than creating such beautiful areas that mean nothing to the game.
The noted thing (from above) is how the music changes when you shift characters. The base composition for the music is decent enough, but it can get slightly repetitive when youíve spent 15 minutes on the same level, just adding to the frustration of it all. The sound effects donít stand out much in the game, but fit fairly well. Thereís not a lot of voice acting, by which I mean, only the occasional yell or grunt.
The game has some amount of replay value, if youíre so inclined. The game has an online leaderboard for you to compare yourself against other playing it. There is also a bevy amount of modes that you unlock as you play/complete the game. These include Score Attack (collecting gems), Time Attack (get through the level as quick as possible), Hardcore Mode (no checkpoints) and ďUber Hardcore ModeĒ (you only get one life through the entire game). There is also the gallery where you can view concept art that you find in the game.
The game looks great, in either world
Some levels are inventive, as are the power usage
The dual music is solid
Technical issues like loading times, or no restart level/checkpoint
A very uneven difficulty curve will frustrate players
Hard to differentiate between background and foreground elements
While on the surface it seems like an easy platformer, this game will test your patience to no end. It has a few tricks up its sleeve but not enough to justify the price tag. The technical/gameplay problems are a bit more serious which drags the game down. Wait for it to go on sale, or try and grab it on Steam, which might fix some of the technical issues.
The game looks nice, but the game engine canít keep up with it at speed. The highlight is the transition between each character.
The first few levels are actually a lot of fun, but later levels get bogged down by them being too long and challenging. The dash move is fun to use, though.
Slightly repetitive music aside (due to level length), the music is good, and the sound effects fit in the world fairly well.
Leaderboards, multiple game modes, and a fair amount of collectibles to find in the game can extend the length out for a while.
Once you make it past the 4th level in the first world, the game becomes a chore. They introduce a few mechanics later on, but itís not enough to spice up the level length or numerous deaths.