Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
The journey of the Giana Sisters series is a fascinating piece of gaming history—originally little more than a rip-off of Super Mario Bros., its similar nature supposedly led to a lawsuit that saw the 1987 platformer pulled from stores. Fast-forward many years later to see the sisters resurrected on the Nintendo DS of all places bearing few similarities to Nintendo’s biggest mascots, followed by a successful Kickstarter campaign to get another title off the ground. That success has brought Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams from Steam to the XBLA marketplace—a game that now marches to the beat of its own drum while capturing timeless qualities that make for a good platformer.
Twisted Dreams begins with the standard plot of one sister getting kidnapped by a dragon and the other having to adventure forth to rescue her. The remaining sister has the ability to switch between personalities—cute and punk—that affect her abilities as well as the landscape. Beyond the cosmetic change, switching between the personalities is key to passing through the challenging levels.
Cute Giana twirls in the air, slowing her descent and allowing her to carefully maneuver at the same time while Punk Giana hurls herself through the air as a ball of fire, cutting through obstacles and enemies all the same. They both get equal usage, although Punk Giana is more adept to taking out enemies than the Cute one is. Backgrounds shift along with Giana’s mood: switch to Cute for a dark, scary atmosphere and switch to Punk for cute and bright. Each is accompanied with a change in soundtrack—one synthesizer, the other rock—that brings to mind music from the ’80s, so players are always able to tell which personality they’re playing as.
Players lulled into complacence by easy platformers such as New Super Mario Bros., or used to ones that have long since traded in their jump boots for guns ala Ratchet & Clank are probably not going to take to Twisted Dreams. This is the epitome of an old-school, hardcore platformer that throws nonstop hazards at the player, requiring a mix of precise timing, luck, and old-fashioned endurance for a lot of do-overs. Dying occurs so frequently it can become numbing with the only penalty being a lowered score that might rile those aiming for the top of the leaderboards, but not make much of a difference to anybody else.
Checkpoints are peppered throughout each level, meaning you’ll rarely have to go more than a sequence or two of platforming to get to the next one. Getting to the end of the stage isn’t the only thing required to move forward. Boss stages require a certain amount of crystals to unlock access, which might lead to a little backtracking if players ran through previous levels without acquiring many crystals. Crystals serve as the sole collectible in the game and come in four colors: red for Punk Giana and yellow for Cute Giana respectively, purple for extra health, and blue for better rankings.
Getting as many crystals as possible ratchets up the difficulty another notch. Beyond just having to dodge the various traps and enemies, getting crystals requires exploration and the guts to make a few extra tricky jumps. The good news is that even if you die, once you’ve taken a crystal you don’t have to worry about making that jump again. But with crystals being off the beaten path, it can be very easy to lose track of where you’re supposed to be heading, especially if it’s a particularly large and open level near the latter stages.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is the type of platformer ripped right from the ’80s that anyone who appreciates a challenging game is going to love. It’s a relatively lengthy platformer that has plenty of extra modes for those looking to do a timerun or try things on an even harder difficulty. Fun and frustrating in equal measure, Twisted Dreams blends (rather than borrows) elements from Super Mario Bros., Sonic, and the essentials of many classic platformers that makes the experience feel fresh in an era when the genre has lost its bite.