As you begin Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, you are treated to a trippy opening sequence featuring to cute little girls. When one of the sisters is sucked into a magical vortex that suddenly appears, the second sister heroically jumps in too to save her sister, and so begins your journey.
The main mechanic in Giana Sisters is your ability to switch between realities. In one reality, your character is as cute as the environments that surround her. Your signature move in the light reality is a cutesy twirl that lets you descend slowly through the air in an arc – very useful for picking up gems and soaring over gaps. Everything is colorful and lovely, and even the enemies look way more like chubby birds than any sort of actual monster. That isn’t to say there is no danger in the light world. There are plenty of spiky plants and pools of acid to send you back to the beginning – they just look cute and cuddly while doing it.
A push of the R2 button sends you into the darker reality. Everything in both worlds is in the same position – enemies, environments, et. – but their look changes vastly. Your cute character morphs into sort of a goth girl, all darkness and harsh edges, much like the world that now surrounds her. Your killer move in the dark world is an explosive dash, essential for taking out enemies, breaking apart bricks and rocks, and dashing across gaps. The aforementioned chubby bird enemies are now ugly demons, the flowers and trees are skeletal remains, and everything looks quite menacing.
This switching mechanic is used very well in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. Rather than being merely a matter of aesthetics or preference, deftly switching between worlds is an absolutely essential skill to master. One of your main goals in the game (other than getting to the end of each level intact) is gathering the gems that are scattered throughout each level. You’ll also need to skillfully jump from one tiny platform to the next, while menacing obstacles of all sorts lurk below, just waiting for your every mis-step. The kick here is, not all of these things are visible in both worlds.
What results is some frantic switching back and forth, in order to collect all the gems – and avoid death. Many times you will need to jump on a platform, jump again while switching worlds mid-jump to ensure that your next platform will appear before you land. It is incredibly difficult at times – and oh so gratifying when you nail a particular hard portion. It is very reminiscent of times spent mastering the first Mario games as a kid, in a good way.
Thankfully for those of us who need more than a chance or two for the more challenging parts, Giana Sisters has a fairly generous checkpoint system. Pass by one of the treasure boxes hidden throughout the worlds, and a flag pops up to mark your spot. Of course, this isn’t always in your favor – if you get through several particularly difficult parts, and then miss one and fall you may find yourself accidentally re-triggering an old save spot. On top of the checkpoint portion, you are also given as many chances as you need. The amount of times you die in a level will count against you in the stars awarded at the end of it, but it’s well worth taking your time to completely master a level and then repeating it if more stars are needed. You’ll need each and every one of the skills you’ve learned as you advance in the game.
In addition to the campaign mode, there are several other modes available to gamers who want replay value, including time trial and score attacks modes, and for the masochists among us – hardcore and uber hardcore, which have you completing levels without any deaths and completing the game without any deaths, respectively. Levels in these modes are unlocked by completing them in the campaign mode, offering variety and a chance to test your newly acquired skills.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is an absolutely gorgeous game, with challenging play to match. The environments, in both realities, are a pleasure to look at – and even loading screens are like a piece of art (although you may spend more time looking at them than you’d like). This is a game that takes a few simply learned mechanics and uses them masterfully to make a game that is challenging, unique, and just plain fun to play.