The Great Giana Sisters started as the Commodore 64’s answer to Nintendo’s Brooklyn plumber. For fear of getting sued for the unquestionable similarities though, like transforming when picking up a certain item, collecting crystals (instead of coins) and some of the early stages looking like straight up copy pastes of early Mario levels, the game was pulled, but not before it gained a cult following.
It would be many years before the world saw anything of the sisters again, but in 2008 something finally happened when Armin Gessert, programmer of the original game, returned with his new company Spellbound, to create a sequel/re-imagining simply titled Giana Sisters DS. This would unfortunately be the studio’s last game before they went bankrupt and Gessert himself sadly passed away.
Flash forward to 2012 where Black Forest Games, a team consisting of old Spellbound members after that company went under and disbanded, decided to revive their legacy IP. Shelving the game a bit ways into development, hoping to get the necessary funds through the success of their other games, Kickstarter eventually became a thing, and so Project Giana as it was initially called, was launched with a funding goal of $150.000 that would be met 3 days before the end of its campaign.
The game was then first released on Steam and XBLA, with PSN soon following. A port titled Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Director’s Cut was released with all its DLC on the PS4, and here we are now with todays subject of Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Owltimate Edition, which has now finally been released on the Nintendo Switch.
The story in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is as basic as you can get. The sisters are seen dragged into a portal to another dimension, where one is then taken away by a giant malevolent dragon, and it is thus up to the remaining sister to go save her. That’s literally it for the story though, you have your objective, now go kick some ass!
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is your standard 2.5D adventure platformer where you run through one colourful and increasingly difficult stage after another, but with a twist, pardon the pun. In earlier games, our blonde heroine Giana had an alter ego in the form of the red haired Punk Giana, whom she transformed into by grabbing a fireball, essentially making her a female Mario. Punk Giana could then do things Cute Giana couldn’t, like break blocks by jumping up in them and shooting fireballs.
A Platformer with a Twist
Twisted Dreams does things a bit different however, as at any time you have access to both personas of the girl, both rocking special abilities making them equally significant given the current challenge. Punk Giana, who could previously shoot fireballs, has now opted for a more direct strategy as she hurls herself into the enemy or obstacle with a push of the Y button, becoming a ball of fire herself. There are even some narrow vertical shafts that only she can scale by using her ability to violently bounce from wall to wall. Where Cute Giana has apparently found a fondness for ballet, as with the X button she has the ability to, either in midjump or from a stand still, do a pirouette allowing her to hover through the air while slowly descending. During this, you can freely change between the two girls, as some vertical obstacles call for it. Also, at any given time, you can immediately turn into Punk by activating your fire dash or into Cute by activating the pirouette spin, instead of having to hit the transformation button first.
Speaking of transformations, the whole gimmick of Twisted Dreams, is that Giana is not the only one transforming, as when she transforms, so does the entire world around her. When Cute, the world around you is a sinister looking nightmarish drabland, while when you turn into Punk, the world instantaneously warps into a bright and lovely fairytale land, with even the soundtrack changing accordingly. So in the drablands, you are listening to soft synth tunes with Cute Giana, while in fairytale land you are rockin’ it out to some riffin’ guitar with Punk Giana, and I think that contrast makes it a funny gimmick.
But what is the point you ask? Do you just transform for the spectacle? Is it just to collect crystals? No. Like I said, the stages transform with you, and that is sometimes required for progression, for example a bridge for you to safely run over a chasm, will deteriorate in the spooky world and allow you to go beneath it, while some platforms will only be active when you are in one form or the other, and these are just some of many examples. Furthermore, some platforms will be solid for Punk but transparent for Cute, and vice versa.
Crystals… of course!!
During your adventures, you collect crystals and jump on owls, which are this game’s Goombas, some being bareheaded and unprotected, while others wear spiky helmets and are invincible. Even the enemies change appearance when the world shifts. The crystals are divided into three colours, red ones that only Punk can collect; yellow that only Cute can collect; and blue that are accessible to both. These don’t really give you anything apart from bragging rights and being fun collectibles to search hidden areas for, but in previous releases, you needed to collect enough of these in order to unlock the next world, and I am glad they did away with this, as I never liked that kind of restriction in my games. Being able to just finish a stage and overcome its challenges, on its own should be enough for you to get a pass and move on. Perfection should only be there for end game replayability, not required for first time progression.
In the C64 and DS games, since Giana was essentially a Mario clone, becoming Punk Giana allowed you to take one extra hit. In this game however, since you can switch back and forth between the two forms at will, Giana is a one hit wonder at all times adding to the old-school challenge. But hey, at least you have infinite lives.
Not hard enough for ya?
This is not the 80s anymore though, so the devs have included multiple modes of difficulty to suit your playstyle (or level of insanity), with hard being the default mode that also serves to unlock new levels, but an easier normal mode with more checkpoints also being available. Apart from those we have a Score Attack, Time Attack, Hardcore and Über Hardcore. Score and Time are essentially what they sound like, in Score you must collect gems as fast as you can, wherein Time it is all about just finishing the level as fast as humanly (or inhumanly) possible. Hardcore then kicks you in the groins by removing all checkpoints and demanding a 4-star clear in each world’s respective boss level before you are allowed to move on, and Über Hardcore means if you die… you start over from level numero uno!! I imagine if more people knew of this game, it would surely be known as the Dark Souls of platformers, haha.
I don’t know why Black Forest added so many difficulty modes though. I mean, it’s not like the older Giana games were particularly known for their difficulty, but oh well.
The game is divided into chapters, with each ending on a boss fight, whose patterns require some serious memorization if you want to go for that no-death medal.
Rise of the Owlverlord
Yeah… Black Forest Games sure likes their owl puns, don’t they? Rise of the Owlverlord is one of the extra DLC side stories, accessible from the main menu, where by the way, all four chapters are accessible from the get-go. Instead of hunting down the dragon that took your sister, your objective is the pirate clad owlverlord. These levels are a tad more challenging, fitting as this chapter was released after the main game, and it is here that the team reeeeally emphasize their love for spikes.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Along with the Owlverlord, in the Extras menu you will also find a bunch of Halloween and Christmas themed special episodes, that all come with their own exclusive music tracks to get you into the holiday spirit.
The music in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, is nothing short of phenomenal! Some tracks do repeat over multiple levels where I could have used more variety, but then it is good that the overall soundtrack is just so great!
As stated before, you twist the world around you when you change between Cute and Punk Giana, and when you do, the soundtrack changes with it. Twisted Dreams utilizes a concept called dual layered audio, where each stage has two tracks running at the same time, but only one being audible at any given time, resulting in a smooth and seamless transition every time you transform.
The team brought back Chris Hülsbeck, composer of the original Great Giana Sisters, to compose the synth tracks for Cute Giana in collaboration with Fabian Del Priore who worked on the Giana Sisters DS remake, another great platformer with an equally great soundtrack. While Swedish heavy metal band Machinae Supremacy was brought along for Punk Giana’s themes, which are awesome headbanging metal versions of Cute Giana’s tracks mixed with some sweet 8-bit chiptune crunch (…sounds like a cereal…I’m hungry now). Machinae Supremacy, from an early concept, had a fondness for the Commodore 64, incorporating the SID-chip from its hardware into some of their songs, coining the genre that would become known as SID-metal, which is what they used for this game as well.
One of the tracks is even a remix of a dropped song from the original Great Giana Sisters on Commodore 64, that was hidden in the games files, but has now seen new life in what I guess you can call an easteregg for those who know.
The Voice of your Childhood
For the voice of Giana herself, although all we get are grunts and her victory exclamation, we have long time veteran dubber Katie Leigh, best known for her roles as Sunni Gummi in Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears, and Alex in the two first seasons of Totally Spies!, just to name a couple.
She is hardly credited on the internet or the game, not even remembering herself if she was offered to or not, so I took it upon myself, out of curiosity, to track her down by asking the devs who did the voice for their icon. Even she was surprised as to how I even knew.
Visuals & Performance
Visually, the game is an absolute joy to behold, although some textures appear a little rough up close, reminding you that the game is from 2012 afterall. The stages are light and colourful, and even in the gothic setting there are still so much detail to admire, that you can’t possibly notice everything on your first run. I imagine this will be one of those games where you will notice something new every time you play. Black Forest undoubtedly poured their heart and soul into making this the best product it could be, and I think it shows immensely.
I previously mentioned how the stages warp in appearance along with Giana, and when she does, you will notice how smoothly the stage transitions between the two settings. There are no stutters at all, no load times in between not even if transforming rapidly back and forth, this is no horrible night to have a curse, on the contrary it is so beautiful to see that the stage warping is an art in and off itself. How a lush smiling tree becomes a dead one with an evil grin, how a lovely park bench with a heart cut into it becomes an eerie coffin, and how a cozy cottage becomes a spooky looking crypt, just to name a few examples. I often stop up mid gameplay and transform back and forth a couple of times just to take in all the details.
I also quite enjoy the silhuetted load screen transitions when loading a level, that all give you hints and tips while you wait, though some of them are a bit long to read and disappear way too fast.
A minor complaint I have, is that the load time for the main menu is atrocious. I don’t remember if it was that bad in the PS4 Director’s Cut, but being on a cartridge now, and being the supposed “Owltimate Edition”, there is no excuse for this.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Owltimate Edition, is just that, consisting of the main game plus all the DLC and other extras from the Director’s Cut, and even coming packed with 5 brand new levels, 40 cutscenes, and all new music from Chris and Machinae Supremacy exclusive to this release, this is without question the owltimate version of the game to own, and now you can have the great Giana Sisters with you wherever you go too. Doesn’t get more owltimate than that!
The game asks for €29.99/$29.99, which I am aware lies in the deeper end of the spectre, but with excellent gameplay, colourful graphics, the unique concept of switching between two different worlds by the push of a button, and a legendary soundtrack, I truly feel this price is justified. The game may not have hundreds of levels, or even as many as its DS predecessor, but for a kickstarted indie game with this level of polish I think you get your money’s worth. What it lacks in number of stages, it makes up for in length.
I should also mention, that the game was not given to me by Black Forest Games for this review. What I just reviewed was a retail copy that I bought with my own hard earned cash because I love this game that much, so every word of praise I have given are my absolute honest feelings.
Colourful graphics with rich detail
Challenge is hard but fair
Unreasonably long load time upon start-up