It looks like sibling season where game review columns are concerned. In the last column, I had a look-see at the excellent ‘Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons’ and this time, it’s across the gender fence to check out ‘Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams’. No negative marks if you haven’t heard of this one before, since it’s a sequel to a 1987 platformer called ‘The Great Giana Sisters’, which was a fairly blatant Super Mario Bros clone. There was a spiritual sequel of sorts in 2009 called ‘Giana Sisters DS’ made by Spellbound Interactive, which featured original developer Armin Gessert. Unfortunately the game, while not too badly received, didn’t become a cash cow for the company, and Spellbound went bankrupt shortly after.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. Key members of Spellbound got together and formed Black Forest Games from the ashes of their previous development home. Figurative ashes, that is — they didn’t torch their former offices to collect the insurance payout, as far as I can tell. They turned to a brand they were familiar with, beginning work on a new game with the Giana Sisters IP, and only when it was considerably deep into development did they realise that they might have cut things a bit too tight. Fortunate for them that it was mid 2012, and crowdfunding was an established tactic at that point.
The Giana Sisters project was pitched on Kickstarter, and the combination of the idea and the fairly developed gameplay on display was convincing enough to comfortably hit its $150,000 asking target. From then on, there was no drama and the game launched some months later.
While Brothers was a single player co-operative platformer, Giana Sisters could loosely be defined in that same ballpark, but some mechanics are obviously distinct. The premise is that two sisters, Giana and Maria, have their night disturbed when a dream portal opens up in their bedroom and whisks Maria off. Giana dives into the nightmare just before it closes and then the chase is on. While this game may not be an outright clone of the Mario games like its predecessor, it certainly doesn’t mind using all the tropes. I was half expecting a ‘Your sister is in another castle’ message at the end of each world, and not in a self-aware way like Braid does it either.
Now the core mechanic is that two distinct aspects of Giana’s personality are portrayed separately — one cute and girly, and the other a goth/punk hybrid — each of which has individual powers, and you can switch between them at will. To make it an interesting contrast, the punkster’s world is all bright and cloyingly colourful, while the bubbly one has to run around in a nightmarish landscape. Little Miss Sunshine’s power is a spinning jump that gets a little elevation and then hovers for a while, giving you a decent amount of hang time. Giana Ramone, on the other hand, launches herself as a destructive fireball, capable of taking out grunts, destroying flimsier objects, displacing slightly more resilient ones and bouncing off walls.
The cool thing is that the environments dynamically morph when you switch between worlds, so logs turn into skulls of giant beasts, trees grow tortured expressions and overhanging boughs become shriveled clutching fingers, among other great touches. And the switch isn’t just cosmetic, facets of the level are altered when you change over, and you can start a power as one girl and continue that motion even after switching characters, as long as it’s a continuous move.
So it becomes a tag team excursion, as you switch back and forth between the girls to get headway through the level.
One of the most enjoyable features I found was how even the soundtrack changed across worlds. So there are two tracks, one orchestral and one heavy metal, but both synced perfectly so that the audio switch was seamless. Of course, a few times I stayed in the punk’s world longer than I ought, just so I could hear a ripping guitar solo come to a close, but no complaints.
It’s a fun platformer that provides a nice diversion. It may not be as inventive or have as much impact as Brothers, but that’s a high standard to live up to.