Great Giana Sisters: If you're over 25 you've probably heard of it, but may never have played it. Way back when, in the late 1980s, Nintendo threatened it's publishers with legal action if it wasn't withdrawn from sale. Tsk! Evil corporations, eh? Well, no, not so evil; the game was an incredibly shameless copy of Super Mario Bros. The legal lockdown combined with the fact that it was the only way you were ever going to play Super Mario Bros on anything other than a Nintendo machine, led to the game gaining cult status. I'm (well) over 25 and I played the hell out of the original on my Amiga (not the apparently definitive C64 version though - being a Spec Chum, I avoided those infernal lumps of plastic like the plague), and loved every minute of it. Not just because I was sticking one over Evil MegaCorp Nintendo, but because it was a darn good game too. I should probably point out now that Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is nothing like Mario.
Twisted Dreams sees you playing as Giana, out to rescue her sister, Maria, from a dream world in which she's been imprisoned by a dragon. To rescue Maria, Giana – as is typical of so many teenagers these days – has to enter the dream world and work her way through various themed levels. She can also – as is typical of so many teenagers these days – manipulate these dreams between Cute and Punk styles (Giana herself actually changes in reverse – cute looking in the punk world, and punky in the cute world). Switching between these two styles changes not only the graphics and sound, but also alters the layout of the levels; opening up a previously barred path for example, or making a bridge disappear. This provides some excellent environmental puzzle opportunities and is the game's Big Gimmick.
Giana also has different abilities depending on what world you're in. In the cute world, she can perform a dash attack which can be used to kill enemies and get around the place (you can string dash attacks into multiple enemies to get to hard to reach places); in the punk world Giana can twirl like a helicopter – doing this provides fine control when falling and can be used to glide gently down hazardous descents. The twirl ability is probably my favourite thing in the game as it provides some rare moments of tranquillity in the otherwise fairly frantic levels.
The two worlds both look gorgeous and it's worth switching between them just to see the changes (phat_chopps tip o'the day: make sure you set the refresh rate to 60mhz in the options, otherwise you'll get a bizarrely limited set of resolutions and your eyes will think it's 1989 again). Lush trees become twisted, cute knights become cute skeletons, owls change into flying demons – a lot of thought has gone into the differences between the two themes and it's noticeable. Alas, the same can't be said for the soundtrack – it and changes from twee to rock when you flick 'twixt the styles. Both are cack.
For me, platform games live and die on one thing: the controls. And Giana Sisters succeeds beautifully here. The controls are fast and responsive making bombing about the place highly enjoyable – you press jump, you jump. No delay. Flick between the worlds and the game doesn't break step. It's all – actually, mostly – highly satisfying. The only problem I had was directing the spin attack. Sections of the game where you had to spin off multiple enemies were fairly difficult and became maddeningly frustrating in places. On the whole though, it's very precise and has just the right amount of inertia on your character.
The levels are well designed – they give enough scope for trying different routes and utilising your special abilities, but they got a bit long in places. Some sections are also hugely frustrating – requiring the aforementioned precise spin attacks linked into other special moves that needed perfect timing. Fail these several times in a row (there's no death, you just get marked down for how many times you die) and you'll have a forehead shaped dent in your monitor.
The one major flaw, for me, and the one that did eventually end my progress, was the fact that to access the boss levels (and therefore to progress in the game) you needed to obtain a certain amount of stars in the preceding 5 levels. You get stars for collecting gems during the levels, for not dying, and for the speed you complete the levels. This meant that on the harder levels I was only getting 1 star and, needing an extra 2 or 3 more to unlock the boss level, led to me replaying the frustrating levels time after time. In the end I just gave up – it was too much for me and my short fuse. Throw in the fact that the boss fights themselves are utterly dire and it just wasn't worth the strain on my poor old heart.
Without this, I'd have bombed through the game and then sank my teeth into the unlockable game modes (time trial, hardcore, etc.), and had a right royal time while I was at it. Instead I just gave up, which is a shame as Giana Sisters really does have a fair bit going for it.