Review: ‘Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams’ – Platforming With A Twist

At the core of Black Forest Games’ puzzle-platformer “Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams” is a clever concept: you play as both the “sweet” and “punk” Giana sisters, able to shift back and forth between different versions of the same world, each shift changing the enemies and some level details (the challenge is knowing when to shift, you see), all based around the usual gem hunt in order to progress to the boss level of the three worlds of “Twisted Dreams.” Oh, and the Cute sister has a glide move allowing her to extend jumps and slow her descent while the Punk sister has a Sonic-style dash good for getting some extra verticality and busting through walls.

So why did I have so little fun hopping between worlds as “Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams” makes its Xbox LIVE debut?

You might know some of Giana Sisters’ origins, beginning as they did as ripoffs of Mario and Luigi back in the NES days and pretty much consigned to copycat prison for nearly 30 years before Nintendo authorized the release of a DS followup in 2009. In both games, as with its modern followup, our heroine(s) can only escape the dream world by obsessively collecting gems.

This isn’t “Limbo” with some deeply-personal narrative told through classic gaming or “Fez” with its ever-deepening meta-narrative–“Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams” is strictly functional in its presentation and its world–what you see is what you get, and what you get is largely charmless (if mechanically inventive). Black Forest Games should be commended for finding a smart mechanical evolution for a forgotten also-ran, and when you’re shifting between sisters in the middle of a jump so you can collect their color-specific jewels or blasting through a level with a mad dash, “Giana Sisters” is absolutely spot-on.

But its lack of precision (or touchiness, I can’t be sure) means that you’ll die and die again attempting to over correct for the weightlessness of the two characters. Plus, anything involving movement at a diagonal is a nightmare with the 360 controller (no fault of the developers on that one), so you might want to look into a retro friendly controller if you decide to check it out.

Mostly, it was just fatigue from the meticulously-produced but utterly charmless world, assembled from rough ideas about what kinds of levels should be in a platformer. Of course, as an homage to the sometimes stark classic platformers of the past, that should be okay, right? In theory, sure, but in practice, it made each of the overlong levels feel like more of a context-free, strictly mechanical slog.

I know I’m faulting the game for being well-made and being bored by that. But “Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams” stops at the its very smart mechanical twist–which is a shame. With a bit more investment in the worlds, this could have been a game worth dreaming about.

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