Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
Always the bridesmaids, the history of the Giana Sisters is a story of the underdog. The Commodore 64 original could be credited as little more than a stilted Super Mario Bros. clone, a derivative take on the flavor of the week, shelved by lawsuits from Nintendo. It was that derivative; it truly was Mario Bros. in drag. And despite all of the odds against it the franchise has held a fanbase who grew up Commodore and have now brought about an unlikely revival through a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year.
Independent German developer Black Forest Games have taken up the revival work, bringing in the right kind of new energy to the long-stagnant brand – and for the first time – have provided the Giana Sisters the means to stand on their own four feet. They have grown into their roles, no longer just a footnote on a platform with more to offer. Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is a legitimately modernized platformer.
Rather than taking to the route of imitation, whereas the New Super Mario Bros. has become softer and more forgiving, the New Giana Sisters is nails. Even the initial play through is way difficult despite fair checkpointing but then there are hardcore and uber hardcore modes made available for the most diehard and obsessive types.
The defining feature is switching between the sisters on the fly. This is cued by an awesome switch in the soundtrack by Chris Huelsback (famed for his compositions on Turrican among other core ’80s-era titles) along with transformations in the background, enemies, and platforms which play into the mechanics to surprising affect. One sister’s a sweet redhead, floating through the air in withheld spins and the other’s a punk that dashes through blocks with a fire-spinning attack. The only significant elements maintained are the collectathon nature of the platforming and poorly conceived character art. The sisters remain unlikely as mascots and that’s perfectly forgivable in a new era where the concept’s largely been abandoned.
The enviornments look up to snuff with some of the best 2.5 works of the day. There’s only occasional sputtering but otherwise they are largely well designed and provide supple splits and twists – the kind that might’ve been more common back when the Sisters first premiered. And while the background art contrasts to each sisters personality, this largely means the variations are in the form of sweet-and-cuddly and some kind of hellscape. There isn’t much more to it and while well implemented, this a primary disappointment.
Black Forest Games have created the right kind of reboot. Twisted Dreams brings back an unlikely product of a derivative time and gives it unique life. It’s a positive early argument for Kickstarter revivals and while it still works in known quantities, it provides a hellishly difficult and sweet platformer that finally provides a non-ironic reason to enjoy the Giana Sisters.