True to most 2D platfomer conventions the plot is quite simplistic. The player controls Giana as she searches for her sister Maria who has been kidnapped in the Dream World by a dragon. This provides the simple impetus for Giana's journey through The Dream World which she has the ability to manipulate shifting her persona between a cute girly girl that inhabits a halloween inspire iteration of the dream world and an edgier punk chick who traverses a variation of the Dream world that is more colorful and cheery. Giana's personas also have different special abilities. The cutesy Giana has a graceful twil jump that allows her to glide through the air over extended distances while the punk Giana can launch herself forward as a fireball. Swapping between these personas and mixing up moves to traverse the environment in integral to surviving Giana. The persona shifting in Giana Twisted Sisters is similar to the time shifting mechanic in Sonic CD except that it can be performed on the fly and you are in no way limited to how often or how many times you can shift.
Black Forest Games does a commendable job making the most of this gameplay mechanic. The shifting mechanic also adds a puzzle element to the game. Figuring out which sisters maneuvers will allow you to best proceed through an area is the central puzzle theme. It's fast paced and never leaves you scratching your head for long but keeps you mentally engaged with your surroundings. Platforms will apprear in one dimension that don't appear in another, platforms move in a certain direction with one persona while moving in another with the opposite persona, enemies change completely requiring one persona to defeat the enemy while the other can use the defeated enemy as a traversal tool... There is almost always something new in Giana Sisters
While Giana Sisters starts as a cakewalk the difficulty ramps up quickly as you are required to shift dozens of times to complete small stretches of levels. Some areas require you to cacoon yourself in bubble gun and float through razor sharp crystals, others require you to run through a gauntlet of obstacles while being chased by a wall of fire. Boxes can be pushed to create raised platforms and some levels have a more open design that require Giana to collect several keys in an undetermined order to open a passageway to a new area. These challenges are remixed and recycled into devilish combinations late in the game.
It's backdrops are colorful and layered with detail. The juxtaposition between the dimensions is natural and entirely seemless. It is easy to spend time shifting between dimensions in some areas just to see how objects in one dimension are translated in the other dimension. Large hollowed out tree trunks in the cheery dimension become massive reptilian skulls, wells become rotted tree stumps, owls become horned demons... Texture resolutions are high and effects for things like water are far from generic with cloudy patches and bubbles. It is unfortunate that most of the same elements are reused for much of the game. Assests from the first level are found in great abundance in later stages and while I appreciate a 2D platformer that doesn't fall into fire, ice and desert level cliches, a greater degree of variety would have been appreciated.
While perhaps one of the most obscure franchises to be resuscitated in recent memory Giana Sisters proves itself to be a worthwhile and enjoyable experience. It's colorful, challenging, and makes excellent use of a handful of mechanics. It is perhaps the best mix of platforming puzzles and reflex based gameplay on the market. While the limited soundtrack and small pool of art assets can make the last portion of the game a little less invigorating than the first, it does little to take away from the excellent gameplay. If you have conquered Donkey Kong and saved princess Peach a dozen times from the clutches of Bowser than it's time you considered shifting through Dream Land as teenage hero Giana.
Posted: November 25, 2013