Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams Review
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On 11/16/2012 at 01:10 PM by Travis Hawks
Did a franchise started as a Mario rip-off surpass its “inspiration”? No. No, it did not.
Definitely for the hardcore only, but with a few tweaks and patches could be truly amazing.
Somewhere during the creation of a game, there seems to be a point where the design team must ask itself, “Should we make our game longer?” Sometimes this might result in the addition of compelling new content, but so often it results in revisiting the same places you’ve already been to collect more thingamabobs. This very decision is what ruins Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. Your forward progress in what could be a wonderful game is stymied until you can perfect your collection of MacGuffins without dying in levels you’ve already completed. It’s a real shame too, because without this unnecessary padding I wouldn’t have noticed the game’s glitches or gotten as frustrated with its inconsistent responses. Most importantly, I wouldn’t have gotten so sick of playing it.
It’s somewhat understandable that Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams’ developers felt like their game might seem a little on the small side. There are only three worlds, which probably appear scant at first blush, but each world has a bunch of levels, and each level is pretty meaty and long. These aren’t the short, tight Super Mario levels you might be used to – each level is a lengthy journey with plenty of hazards to trip you up and numerous glowing diamonds to gather. Collecting all of the diamonds and making it through all of the treacherous landscapes rely on the game’s biggest mechanic – swapping between light and dark worlds.
The light/dark mechanic is definitely Twisted Dreams’ defining feature, and it’s set up to work really well. Not only does every last piece of dirt in the world switch from a cheery candy coated wonderland to a creepy fungus-infested world of decay, but making this switch affects the way you interact with the level as well. Moving platforms change directions, wells become open pits, and deadly spikes shrink back into the soil making travel through the world a test of quick responses and puzzle-solving. In addition to flipping the world from dark to light, you also have a twist move that allows you to slowly float downwards and a blast attack that quickly zips you across gorges and destroys enemies.
In some attempt to make things easier, the twisting and blasting actions are linked to swapping between light and dark worlds, so that pressing the button to blast through an enemy will simultaneously swap the world’s status – except when it doesn’t do this at all. You’ll be working on some complicated way to climb from platform to platform that requires you to blast upwards and sometimes the dark/light swap will happen with each blast and other times it won’t, leading to many unfair deaths of the little Giana sisters. To remedy this, I tried delving into the settings and set it to separate these two actions so that I would always have to press a separate button to swap worlds, but that just totally messed up other buttons that were working fine before. So, I was forced to struggle with the unreliable controls as provided and struggle I did.
Making it through the first world was a challenge, but was still generally enjoyable. It wasn’t even too difficult to repeat a few levels to gather more diamonds to unlock the final level. World two was a bit more difficult, but not maddeningly so, and then I hit the world two lock out. You would think that eking out a few more diamonds from those same levels would be no big deal, but man it was tough. This is when the inconsistent controls really started to chafe, causing my death count to rise, and with it any chance of unlocking that final level of world two. I also got stuck in walls, had enemies kill me when I was fairly far from them, and many other injustices that point to a lack of thorough play testing by the developer. It was during what I swore would be my last time to play this damn game unless I earned one more star that I finally succeeded. What an overwhelming feeling of joy and hatred I had at that moment. Playing world three without concern for gathering all of the diamonds was fun again and new mechanics were also introduced, but it was too late; I already hated this game.
The art style, though quite beautiful, doesn’t vary enough to give each level its own vibe – without looking carefully all levels look the same. Maybe this is a nice change from what we’re all used to with lava levels and water levels being used willy-nilly for the sake of variety, but after staring at the same scenes time after time, I was ready for something else. The music also takes this sort of subtle difference approach, where different levels have different tracks, but it’s hard to tell without paying close attention. This didn’t annoy me as much as the graphics, partly because I kept being impressed by how the music transitioned from its dark and light versions so smoothly, similar to the much praised musical transitions in Monkey Island 2.
There are so many almost-great things about Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. It’s too bad that they didn’t focus on getting the controls to function properly and made the mistake of padding up the game’s length with difficult collect-a-thons. During my first few hours playing, I was enjoying myself and able to appreciate all of the interesting ideas present and even wishing we could see similar innovative thinking in the semi-stagnant Mario series. Then as I replayed many of the levels again and again to attain required perfection, I realized that if I had to choose, I’d much rather have devs put their efforts into getting the mechanics and precision nailed rather than really wowing me with other innovations. Most of all, I wish designers would let their games be their proper length and not artificially pad them out and ruin them in the process.