Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is excellently designed, with striking visuals and tight platforming that's thoughtfully conceived. It's old school, challenging, and bizarre – but it's also unique, which is a remarkable feat considering the series' not-so shameless origins.
For the younger among you, the titular siblings' original adventure was released on the Commodore 64 back in 1987 as an almost identical platforming romp to Super Mario Bros, landing developers Time Warp Productions in a spot of legal lava. Its revival came in the form of a Nintendo DS title in 2009 by developer Spellbound Interactive, but this latest iteration is the result of a successful Kickstarter in 2012 by newcomer Black Forest Games. As with so many other ports on the platform, this PlayStation 4 release represents the definitive edition.
In its new form, Giana Sisters couldn't be further from its Italian inspiration, featuring an aesthetic more akin to recent Rayman titles than Nintendo's beloved mascot. Environments are meticulously detailed and stunningly rendered, painting a picture of oddness, cuteness, and hideousness that gives it a wonderfully compelling uniqueness.
With one half of the sisterly double-act sucked into a world of dreams and devoured by a crimson dragon [Hate it when that happens – Ed], Giana bravely follows intending to save her. What stands in her way are devilishly challenging platforming sections, where the protagonist must toggle between personas to change not only her abilities but the very world that she's travelling through.
With a press of a button, Giana can switch from her cute and sweet self to her punk and hard alternative. When cute, the world is full of decay, darkness, and a sense of evil and dread, accompanied by a rock soundtrack. Meanwhile, when punk, the world is adorable, bright, and cheerful with an upbeat soundtrack.
Each world hosts dangers and obstacles, and by shifting between them these can be overcome. Additionally, cute and punk Giana have different abilities, with cute being able to spin and slowly float down towards the ground, and punk being able to smite enemies and smash obstacles with a dash attack. Combining abilities while shifting personas, and therefore the world, enables you to forge a path through to the end of each level.
It's not the most original mechanic, but seldom is it implemented this spectacularly. Shifting worlds instantly affects flora and fauna, shredding lush trees to dead branches and turning vicious enemies into comically fluffy animals, or vice versa. Furthermore, the clever ways that the environments change will tax your platforming skills, so it's really gratifying when you pull off a manoeuvre with success.
The presentation remains impressive throughout, but this can backfire a bit. For example, traps are littered across levels, and among the vibrant and busy world, they can blend in a bit too much. It's also easy to get caught up admiring the background rather than concentrating on the platforming, making an already challenging game all the more difficult. These are minor niggles, however, as it's the title's steep difficulty that will put most people off.
Indeed, as simple as the mechanics are, the level design is supremely demanding. Devilishly tricky platforming puzzles involve shifting personas on the fly to avoid dangers, and for some it's going to be overwhelming. Fortunately, generous checkpoints help to alleviate a lot of the frustration, although the boss fights are another question.
In order to save your sister, you must defeat several big baddies, whose levels can only be unlocked once you acquire enough gems. These sequences are excellent, over-the-top spectacles, but are also supremely difficult, demanding true mastery of the mechanics.
Completing the story only takes a handful of hours, but there's plenty more to do once it's over. Hidden gems are scattered across levels, beckoning the adventurous and brave. Meanwhile, a Score Attack mode challenges you to complete each level as efficiently as possible, while Hardcore removes the aforementioned checkpoints, and Uber Hardcore gives you a single life with which to complete the campaign.
Lastly, there's Time Attack mode, which tasks you with completing the game's levels as quickly as possible, but the inability to immediately restart works against this option, leaving it feeling a little bit like an afterthought.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams' duality system is expertly implemented, and it transforms this once poor imitator of a property into something unique. Levels are designed to push you to the limit of your platforming ability, with the mastery of persona shifting being the key to success. It may be a bit challenging for some, but it's fair if you're willing to invest some effort, resulting in a surprisingly strong platforming experience.