Welcome back, readers! For our first Indie Wonderland of the futuristic space-year of 2013, I figured I’d take a look at a game I’ve had lounging on my to-play list for a while now: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, by Black Forest Games. This modern re-imagining of the apparently infamous Atari game The Great Giana Sisters (which I’d never heard of before) obtained its necessary funding through Kickstarter in August of last year, partially from me, and was released to the general public sometime in November of that year.
There’s really no particular reason I haven’t played it yet. I was busy, I guess. But this week’s column finally rectifies that.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, probably like medium. Mechanical, high-ish.)
The very first screen prompts me to choose between keyboard or controller controls. Forever? Fearful of locking myself into the less-rich option, I reach over and hit the Enter key. I may never find out what wonders the controller world would have held.
Let’s see, whadda we got? A very cheerful Play! option, Credits, Extras (leading to a few bonus levels)… Gallery, huh? Dare I reach for the low-hanging fruit and comment on the type of game that usually has a ‘Gallery’ option prominently in the main menu?
No Options menu that I can find. But that’s not actually that weird: Giana Sisters (dropping the subtitle as per my modus operandi) has one of those options-packed launchers. You probably know the drill.
Play! is nested, concealing five more choices: Adventure, Score Attack, Time Attack, Hardcore and Über Hardcore, about which the umlaut tells me everything I need to know. Everything that’s not Adventure is locked, though, so I guess I’ll be doing that.
Upon selecting the option, the menu fades. The background image, a slightly moving silhouette of two children sitting back-to-back on a bed playing video games, takes over. Some things happen that probably don’t make too much sense to either of us, so in order: a gem of sorts appears, the kids grab it, a swirly portal appears in the ceiling, it sucks in one of the kids, the other jumps in after them.
Swirly portal travel effects on the wall, who’s the first level of them all?
Alright. Right off the bat, I’m somewhat impressed by how this game looks. Impressive level of detail in both the fore-and background, quite a few colours that aren’t brown, and the blond-haired character I assume is me today stands out nicely. The neatness of the graphics falls apart a bit if you look too closely, but it’s quite the effective mood-setter. I like the music, too, though I’ll never ever be able to articulate why.
An arrow prompt tells me to go right. I go left instead, because screw you, Dad. Straight into an impassible wall. Okay, fine. Controls seem simple enough: arrows to walk, arrows to jump. The handy sign that you can see in that screenshot there tells me to jump, which I do, but it doesn’t really accomplish anything.
None too far to the right are floating blue gems, like the ones I saw in the cut-scene. I pick them up, half-expecting more swirly portals to emerge in the ceiling. But since I’m technically outside, I guess, that’s not happening. I pick them up anyway, because shiny. There’s a counter in the top left corner, the only UI element I’ve seen so far, that increments with them, so they’re probably important. The counter is actually showing blue, yellow and red crystals, so I know what to look out for.
Oh! And there’s also a bunch of platforms and blocks that teach me how platforms and blocks work in what I assume to be these Twisted Dreams. It happens automatically, because I’m too distracted by the prospect of grabbing shiny things to notice I’m being taught something.
More walking, more jumping. Several drops are clearly marked with giant Skull-and-Crossbones signs, so I assume I’m to stay away from those. I also run into a little red devil creature, patrolling left and right and generally ignoring me, and jump on its head to knock it out as per a nearby sign’s request. The sign actually seems to request that I jump on a giant owl instead, but there aren’t any of those handy that I can see.
More walking, more jumping, more gems. Giant gem! This is apparently one of the Master Gems mentioned in the Gallery, which means that by grabbing it I’ve unlocked One (1) Picture. I’m a little afraid to go back and check, so let’s forge forward instead.
Near a broken bridge, I get cut-scened into watching a massive, fat pink dragon. Holding what’s either an oversized Trolls doll or my sister. He looks at her, then at me, then back at her, then eat her whole and flies off.
The bridge is broken, but who cares? I can just jump over it.
Hey, look, a weird sign. Yellow Giana… Red Giana. Hey, look, a button prompt. Hey, I wonder what will happen if I press A.
Alright, I won’t pretend to be surprised at this: I actually already knew about this mechanic, as it’s the game’s main gimmick and one of the more prominent things over on that old Kickstarter page. Giana, the titular character of this game, has the ability to switch pretty much at-will between two worlds, gaining a new look for herself in the process. Let’s call them ‘Scary World’ and ‘Cute World’. It seems odd at first that Giana’s all calm-happy-blonde in Scary World and red-haired-punk in Cute World, but I actually even know some of the fluff: because Giana has some unorthodox tastes, she’s happily content in a world made of devils and skeletons and horror stuff. However, cute stuff makes her angry.
I’ve remarked on the graphics before, but let me say again that this transformation is really impressive. Here, offered without comment:
The dual-world gameplay seems to play into Giana’s adventure in a few ways. The most obvious one is the occurrence of physical changes like that bridge: Scary World bridges are broken, but Cute World bridges are whole. On the flip side, Cute World wells are fully intact, but Scary World wells are dilapidated and allow passage.
A second element is the promised yellow and red gems: only blonde (‘yellow’) Giana can pick up yellow gems, and only redhead (‘red’) Giana can touch the red ones.
Finally, there’s the two Gianas’ special powers. Yellow Giana can do a spin jump with the S key, which launches her into the air a bit and gives her a slow, controlled descent. Red Giana, on the other hand, can launch herself into a short-ranged fireball, bouncing off walls and generally reducing enemies to a puff of smoke and feathers.
Completing the first level sends me to a level select screen of sorts. I can count… about twenty-seven levels, give or take, divided into three tiers. I’m not entirely sure what this means, yet, but I assume I’ll find out.
For now, let’s dive into the second level, which actually explains how Giana’s powers work (although tutorial prompts and handy signs are no match for button-mashing and keyboard layout savvy). See you on the other side!
Pages: 1 2