Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is older than I am. Ancestrally, at least – The Great Giana Sisters launched in 1987 on Commodore 64, Atari ST, the Amiga and a few other, old platforms. The publisher, Rainbow Arts, was immediately embroiled in scandal for the game's similarity to Super Mario Bros. It was pulled from retail and eventually the IP shifted to Spellbound Entertainment, which released Great Giana Sisters DS in 2009. Spellbound went bankrupt in 2012 and many of its members re-formed as Black Forest Games with the Giana Sisters IP in hand.
On August 31, Black Forest's Kickstarter for "Project Giana" earned $186,000 of a requested $150,000, promising fans a modern, direct "grandchild" of The Great Giana Sisters. Now, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is the second game to launch on Steam through the latest crowd-sourced initiative, Greenlight. After 25 years of refusals, bankruptcies and a shifty legal foundation, the only thing that matters is if the game, in the end, is worth it.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is worth it. Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams adds a... twist to the classic platforming formula, even compared with the one it used back in 1987 (seriously, what did the dinosaurs look like?). Twisted Dreams is two games blended seamlessly into one – literally, each level, action and setting has two designs, depending on which form Giana takes. Players can switch between "cute" Giana and "punk" Giana, each of whom has separate abilities and resides in a disparate dream world.
Cute Giana has the ability to twirl and float through the air like a maple seed, while punk Giana can shoot in any direction as a devastating fireball. Strangely enough, cute Giana inhabits a spooky, demon-infested world, and punk Giana's universe is filled with fluffy birds and bright flowers. Most levels require a mix of each Giana's skills to complete, but large swathes can generally be completed with the sister of choice. I know it's not polite to pick a "favorite" child, but I find myself favoring punk Giana, at times to my demise.
Still, I rush into each section at full speed, with fingers poised to strike over the jump and attack buttons, hoping I can dodge the floating enemies and leap over the pools of acid in time, and knowing that I probably can't. When I die and respawn at a checkpoint (which I do, often), my first instinct is to do it all again as quickly as possible, without a moment to consider the path ahead of me or plan my movements through the gantlet. I'll re-start an area 10 times before my mind catches up with my fingers and I pause to consider my actions.
Black Forest clearly knows how to make a platformer that requires more than sheer luck to complete, and how to incorporate strategy into a linear path.
Punk Giana lends herself to this self-destructive play style, allowing me to barrel through enemies and platforms without thought. Only when I stop do I sometimes realize a more gentle approach would complete the level with ease, and I switch over to cute Giana and float my way past every danger.
Apart from a second, calmer play style option, Twisted Dreams has a fail-safe for sloppy level completion. The final realm in each world has a lock on it that can only be opened with stars. Stars are earned at the end of every level depending on, in part, how many times Giana dies to get there. If I reach the final level of a world and my stars only fill the lock half-way, I know why, and I can meditate for a few minutes before replaying levels with serenity in my mind to earn more stars.
Even though The Great Giana Sisters never made it to the NES, the franchise hails from an era of two-button console controllers, and I find Twisted Dreams appropriately plays best with a gamepad. Actions with a controller are smooth and intuitive, which is not only an accomplishment, but a necessity for a game that has players swap between two different players, abilities and environments rapidly (and dozens of times) in each level. That those environments and movements are beautiful in their own right, even in transition, is a bonus.
The soundtrack contains music from The Great Giana Sisters composer Chris Hülsbeck and Swedish metal chiptune band Machinae Supremacy, and even the switch between retro pop and heavy rock SID-chip beats flows in a way that catches my attention and brings a smile to my face. Even as I shoot directly into that fat, adorable bird and die. Again.
This article is based on a download of Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, provided by Black Forest Games. Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is available on PC via Steam (through Greenlight!) now for $15.