Review: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is a splendid fairytale fantasy

When The Great Giana Sisters first hit the scene back in 1987, it became well known for unabashedly imitating Super Mario Bros. Hell, the game actually crossed over into blatant copycat territory. Now, though, the series has stepped out of the shadow of the brothers Mario, and I dare say that Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is a superior experience compared to the latest 2D adventures to star the famous Italian plumbers. What makes Twisted Dreams stand out is the way it takes several tropes that made old school platformers so memorable and rearranges them into a completely refreshing adventure.

The titular Giana, a messy-haired teenager with an affinity for dark clothing, enters a dream world in order to save her sister Maria. She has the ability to switch between “punk” and “cute” forms, in the process shifting dimensions. Each version of Giana has her own abilities and appearances, and throughout the course of Twisted Dreams, you'll find yourself switching between the two on the fly.

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Platforming is slick, and it's a sheer joy to run and jump through this colorful and lively dream world. However, it's important to keep your wits about you and remain tenacious. Twisted Dreams is a tough game, and making the wrong move will often lead to failure. When you shift between forms, you can extend bridges, open doors, and change the direction of moving platforms. The rate at which you must shift dimensions can be a bit hectic and extremely challenging, but when you finally get through a particular challenge, you're left with a feeling of pure satisfaction.

Giana has a few tricks up her sleeve, many of which are more beneficial depending on which form she takes. Dashing allows you to break through blocks and bounce off walls. Spinning lets you float through the sky and trigger specific pads on the ground. As you pull these moves off, you must collect gems, which are then tallied up to allow you access to boss battles at the end of each of the game's worlds. You only need to collect half of the gems, which is something you're likely to do anyway as you progress through stages. A few more of these trinkets are hidden, however, so if you're looking to collect everything, you're definitely going to have to work for it.

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Enemies are practically everywhere, and in order to succeed you need to either defeat them or avoid them entirely. Oftentimes these baddies can be used as platforms to access hard-to-reach areas that house more gems or unlockable concept art. Some enemies can't be touched, so you really need to perform at your best to avoid them. Bosses are especially devious, and their old school reliance on patterned attacks and their massive scale means you need to be aware of what they're going to do next. These encounters can be frustrating at times and really test your mettle. If you played platformers in the '80s and '90s, you might have an idea of what to expect.

The levels in Twisted Dreams are large and will take you a few minutes to get through. Scattered throughout each stage are several checkpoints that are evenly spaced out. These checkpoints really help the game's pacing, as the massive size of the levels would be a bit much without them. Even with the checkpoints, some of the larger levels can begin to get a bit tedious after a while. This is due to their highly challenging nature, which means you may be stuck in certain parts for much longer than you'd like to be.

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Twisted Dreams features a boldly colored art style that's great to look at. Almost every single environment exudes a massive deal of charm and drips with fairytale style. It's enjoyable seeing how the world changes when Giana switches forms, creating two lands that appear to be completely different from one another. Admittedly, the backgrounds can stand out a bit too much, and you may often find yourself thinking an obstruction or hazard is a part of the scenery, only to discover that those spikes were actually right in front of you (and then Giana dies).

The game's music is just about as enjoyable as its graphics, offering a nice collection of rock tunes mixed with some cutesy sounds. Themes are catchy, and hearing the mood shifting along with Giana's forms is especially cool. Don't be surprised if some of the music heard throughout the game gets stuck in your head.

It's interesting that Giana Sisters started off as a Mario clone, only to branch out and become a game worthy of its own recognition with Twisted Dreams. The difficulty may be a bit tasking for some, and the length of the levels is sure to tire a few folks out in later parts, but this is still a wonderful platformer that's just begging to be played. This revival does a lot of things right, and it successfully blends classic platforming tropes with a few modern touches to create a game that's just a lot of fun to play and really easy to enjoy. Here's hoping this isn't the last we've seen of Giana.

[Reviewed on Xbox 360]

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