Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Owltimate Edition Review (Switch)

Five years on from its original release on Wii U, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is doing the fashionable thing and making the jump to Nintendo Switch. Now with a fancy new Owltimate Edition tagline and some extra content, this 2.5D platformer is looking to bring its creative brand of leaping and running to another generation of Nintendo fans. But is this another soulless port of an ‘old’ game or an attempt to revitalise a piece of software and make it relevant once more?

Successfully Kickstarted – and then released on Nintendo’s previous hardware in 2013 – the original version was made as a spiritual successor to the infamous Super Mario Bros. clone The Great Giana Sisters (which launched on the Commodore 64 in 1987) and a sequel of sorts to 2009’s Giana Sisters DS. Rather than just rolling up a modern reimagining of the same mechanics, German studio Black Forest Games took the basic platforming premise and added in a new ‘phasing’ feature that transforms the world around you at the touch of a button.

With your sister Maria is abducted by a nefarious dragon called the Gurglewocky, it’s up to you – in the diminutive shoes of her sibling Giana – to leap into the Dream World and rescue her from the winged beast. Giana also happens to possess two very distinct personalities, and each not only changes how she looks but completely transforms the levels you’re exploring. When she’s ‘Cute’, our heroine sports blonde hair and jaunts around levels bright with sunshine, with colourful mushroom houses and twinkling oceans to boot.

One moment you’re bounding through a verdant forest, like something straight out of The Smurfs, then you hit ‘ZR’ or ‘ZL’ and instantly turn that level into a nightmarish version of itself as Giana goes ‘Punk’. Houses become ruins, trees become skeletons and friendly boats become terrifying galleons that loom ominously in the background. Even the soundtrack changes, moving from a sickly sweet score to a full-on metal showcase (courtesy of Swedish outfit Machinae Supremacy). These changes are instantaneous, with scenery shrinking and warping without a moment’s delay, but it does more than just inform the game’s incredibly pretty 2.5D aesthetic.

Switching between Punk and Cute will affect a huge array of platforming elements, ranging from platforms that rise and fall depending on your current form to balloons that change colour and behaviour. Even enemies transform as you switch, with Angry Birds-esque avians becoming flying demons to slow pufferfish that morph into much faster jellyfish. Water-based areas will fill and empty as you jump between either state, enabling you to reach new areas as you progress.

Black Forest Games (which was formed out of the same studio that made the previous entry on DS) doesn’t stop there, giving you an impressive selection of abilities beyond mere jumps. You can hold ‘X’ to leap into the air and spin, which enables you to hover across gaps or fall in a certain direction in order to collect gems. You can press ‘Y’ to dash, which can be used to kill enemies, smash blocks and ricochet you between walls (perfect for dashing up a vertical corridor, for instance).

It’s just the right amount of agency that – when paired with the clever phase-changing mechanic – makes exploring every nook and cranny of its 40 levels a real treat. Since the twirl move is tied to Giana’s Cute side (and the dash to her Punk persona) you also have to juggle the fact these moves also cause the level to phase, adding another variable to consider when you’re navigating crumbling platforms, gates and enemy variants.

While the power to switch between two different versions of the same environment has been replicated many times since, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Owltimate Edition is still as fresh and exciting to play as it was on Wii U. The addition of all the game’s DLC – including all the Halloween and Christmas-themed levels released over the years – is a welcome inclusion, as are the new animated cutscenes which play out between each level; all of this gives the package a welcome extra polish. You even get some new music tracks as well, although the Cute ones by the normally-faultless composer Chris Hülsbeck are so corny we kind of wish he hadn’t. And when you sprinkle in all those extra modes – including Score and Time Attack variants and some Hardcore settings for you masochists out there – there’s plenty of replay value should you fall for its charms.

Conclusion

Five years on, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is still the same creative and colourful platformer it was on Wii U, only now with a few extra levels and some much-needed additional polish. While its phase-changing gimmick isn’t as special or unique anymore – the likes of Guacamelee and co have riffed and improved on the concept in the years since – there’s still plenty to enjoy here. With 40 levels to beat, plenty of challenging boss fights and a wealth of modes, you get plenty of bang for your buck – even if the soundtrack can be rather hit and miss.

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