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Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, WiiU, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Black Forest Games
Release Date: Sept. 28, 2018


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Switch Review - 'Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams - Owltimate Edition'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 27, 2018 @ 12:15 a.m. PST

More than 20 years ago, The Great Giana Sisters made jump-and-run/platformer gaming available for home computer users all over the world.

Buy Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams - Owltimate Edition

Developed in Germany for the Commodore 64, the original Great Giana Sisters is an interesting relic. The game bore a striking resemblance to the original Super Mario Bros., and that meant it stopped existing not too long after its release. The result was that it became a bit of a cult legend for its rarity and its soundtrack. It languished in obscurity for a few years before being rebooted. The most successful of these is probably Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams which, irony of irony, even came out for Nintendo systems. Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams - Owltimate Edition for the Switch is the full version of that game, including all updates and bonus levels, including a variety of holiday-themed levels.

Giana Sisters follows Giana on a quest to rescue her kidnapped sister from the forces of evil. In most ways, it's a fairly traditional platformer. You can hop around and bounce off enemies, and generally, the game shows a lot of its Super Mario roots. That's basically where the similarities begin and end, though. If anything, Giana Sisters reminds me more of old-school Sonic the Hedgehog games with an emphasis on collecting, speeding through levels, and find hidden items in the environment. It also helps that the core mechanics reward speedy play that uses natural abilities over collecting power-ups in the way that a Mario game does.

Giana has two forms. One is the "nice" form, where she's a cheerful blonde character who can activate a spinning whirlwind jump that gives extra height and allows her to hover. The other is a "naughty" punkish form who can bounce off walls and ram through enemies. You can swap between the two at will, either by pressing a dedicated swap button or pressing the button tied to that character's special move. You can even swap between the two while you're in the middle of a special move, which is necessary to unlock some of the game's secrets.

Swapping doesn't just change your abilities, though. Each of the two Giana forms exists in her own reality. One is bright and cheerful, and the other is dark and demonic. When you swap from one to the other, the environment changes to match the protagonist's current look. This isn't just a cosmetic change, nor is it instant. Gates may raise or lower as you swap, elevators may climb or drop, environmental hazards may activate or deactivate, and so on. Most platforming involves constantly swapping between the two forms to take advantage of their abilities while altering the environment around you.

It's a very simple gameplay mechanic that ends up being a lot of fun. It flows smoothly and seamlessly, and the game is clearly designed to be something that both casual players and speedrunners can enjoy. Finishing a stage on its own is enjoyable, but doing so in a smooth unbroken mix of hops, bounces and shifts makes you feel incredibly cool, even when it's not that challenging. The game offers time attack challenges, which emphasize how smoothly the game allows you to chain together abilities to finish stages quickly.

The stages are pretty detailed and lengthy — arguably too lengthy at times, with some levels wearing out their welcome long before the end. Part of this is because the game wants you to collect crystals, which are scattered throughout the levels. Some crystals can be collected by either form, while others require you to be in a specific Giana to get them. There are also hidden crystals that unlock concept art and other bonuses. This means there are a lot of hidden secrets and easily missed things through the game. None are really worth getting unless you enjoy the act of collecting, but as far as collect-a-thons go, it's pretty enjoyable.

On the one hand, this makes the stages feel meaty. Every stage has secrets, hidden objects, and out-of-the-way paths that encourage exploring and poking around. In that way, they feel like old-school Sonic the Hedgehog levels. On the other hand, it feels like a chore to replay the stages. If you miss crystals and are aiming to unlock everything in the game, it means replaying the stage and trying to puzzle out what you had missed. In one early example, I missed a hidden path that required bouncing into the top of an enclosed tunnel because I had accidentally bounced off the bottom. It was minor but still annoying.

Still, by and large, it's a fun platformer to play. It's accessible and simple and contains enough depth that it rarely overstays its welcome. There are enough stage-specific gimmicks, such as trampolines and elevators, that you'll regularly run into new and engaging things. The boss battles are a welcome treat because they strongly encourage players to think outside the box. The title doesn't reinvent the genre, but since it's enjoyable and exciting to play, it certainly carves out a nice little niche for itself.

Giana Sisters is a pretty lengthy game for its price tag. It's not going to last forever, but it has a fair number of stages and multiple difficult levels, including score attack and time attack options. One of the issues with the game is its difficulty levels. In theory, the game offers a bevy of difficulty levels to choose from, but in reality, it's basically the same difficulty level with more punishments upon death. That isn't necessarily a huge flaw, but the game clearly felt like it had intended it to be more of a selling point than it is. I'd rather have seen fewer difficulty levels but more significant differences between them. As it stands, there's no real difference between Hardcore and Uber Hardcore except time wasted, especially on a system without real achievements.

Giana Sisters is a nice-looking game. It isn't particularly eye-catching, but it has some excellent art design that lifts it above average. The way the levels shift between one another and the subtle changes to everything, from background environments to enemy designs, help make it feel distinct. One area where Giana Sisters shines is in its soundtrack. The music is excellent, shifting seamlessly as you change between worlds, and there's top-notch music in both worlds. I found the soundtrack to be a standout, and it did a lot to make the game fun.

All in all, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams - Owltimate Edition is a well-made and enjoyable platformer. It doesn't break the mold, but it does what it does very well. It's easy to pick up and a lot of fun to play. There are some minor flaws here and there, but nothing really drags down the game. If you're a fan of old-school platformers, then you'll likely enjoy Giana Sisters. It's not quite on par with some of the greats, but it's a comfortable and fun romp for players of all ages.

Score: 8.0/10

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