There was a time, many years ago, when I was really good at 2D platformers. With steel nerves and lightning-quick reflexes, I could navigate any set of obstacles. Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams reminds me of those classic experiences, only it’s much prettier, and I’m much slower than I used to be. It’s a stylish twist on a classic game type, and the best of its kind I’ve played in a long time.
As the name suggests, the game plays out in the sisters’ dreams, with the catch being that each is in her sister’s conjured world. As the punk Giana sister dodges owls while running through a bright forest, the cute sister encounters demons on her way through a graveyard. At any time, the player can switch between the two, changing the state of the dream and elements within it.
Aside from the visual juxtaposition, the cute and punk dream worlds have significant physical differences. When switching between them, platforms will disappear, closed doors open and objects that rotated clockwise will reverse direction. Swapping is a requirement to progress, as is collecting gems scattered throughout each level. Blue gems can be obtained by either sister, with red and yellow only available to punk and cute Gianas respectively.
In addition to inhabiting different dream worlds, the sisters have different abilities. Punk Giana is able to dash in any direction, attacking enemies, destroying blocks and bouncing off walls. Cute Giana can twirl; getting extra height on jumps and floating gently back down to the ground. Frequent switching between the two, sometimes in the middle of a move, is necessary for success.
Levels are large, with plenty of hidden areas to explore for extra gems. As visually appealing as they are individually, the real show is when dreams are switched, and tombstones in a dark, dead forest seamlessly morph into benches in a bright, flourishing field. The transition is exceptionally smooth, as platforms move and bridges disappear without a hitch.
The game looks great, but the music steals the show. While cute Giana has a poppy, light theme in her dreams, the punk Giana has a guitar heavy, goth-style soundtrack. Just like the visuals, when switching between sisters, the music flows directly from one track to the other. The interaction between them is impressive, and it doesn’t hurt that each tune is catchy on its own. I was hooked on the music right from the opening menu screen.
Like many classic 2D titles, Twisted Dreams can be challenging, especially when the platforming requires quick switches between characters. Fortunately, level checkpoints are frequent, and pink shield gems can be found allowing the sisters to absorb an additional attack. Boss levels must be unlocked by earning stars, which are awarded based on collected gems and untimely deaths at completion of normal areas. It was frustrating to finally break through and finish a tough level, only to have to dive right back in for a better rating in order to unlock the boss level.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams looks, plays and sounds terrific. The challenge is balanced nicely with the tight controls and frequent checkpoints, and failure never became overly frustrating. The game also sports some additional game types like time and score attack, as well as hardcore modes for anyone seeking an additional challenge. It’s a pleasure to play, look at and listen to, and anyone who likes the genre should definitely pick it up.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.