More often then not, a questionable beginning leads to an even more questionable ending. There are those rare occasions though, where even the most inauspicious of starts, like say, copying the debut of two sensational Italian plumbers, can lead to something... twisted?
Fine, that was a bit of a reach, but then so was Black Forest Games' Kickstarter revival of The Great Giana Sisters. Seeing something worth reviving, BFG took the ball provided by a successful campaign an ran with it, leading to 2012's Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, and now, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Rise of the Owlverlord.
Unlike the tacked on appendage of a name, this stand alone expansion is a short, exquisite excursion into a very well put together platformer. Like the previous outing, players take control of Giana, who by virtue of being a teenager, can shift into and out of dream worlds on her wild quest to... to... well I'm not quite sure what she's out to do. Spanning seven levels, with the last dedicated to a fight with the titular Overlord Owl himself, this is a game that is very much about the journey rather then simply beating the big bad at the end.
While six levels of pure platforming may sound a bit light content wise, they're meant to be played through multiple times through the game's various difficulty settings. In an effort to remain honest, I played through the game on normal, which according to the helpful selection screen they display whenever you choose to play, is a mode that boasts of less dangerous areas and no boss locks. The default, for those wondering, is hard. It is aptly named. In fact, with that being the default, and the mode that serves as a means to unlock the other difficulties, it is the Giana experience. Obviously.
To put it succinctly, Hard found me quite lacking. Even trying to crack through the first level is an exercise in patience and fortitude, which leaves me wondering what kind of sick soul would attempt some of the other modes like time attack, score attack, or uber hardcore, which asks you to play through all seven stages without dying. Die once, and you are sent back to the first level. No passing go, no two hundred dollars.
Pushing past my relative inadequacies difficulty wise, the game played on normal is a thing of beauty. Switching between Giana's two forms is a blast. Each change shifts the level design completely, with colors switches of hard reds and pinks to light, easy yellows corresponding with sometimes drastic changes to the environment. Owlverlord loves to play with you as well, asking you to perform switches at the drop of a hat often while you are already engaged in another action. It can be taxing and requires some serious concentration in the beginning, though once you get caught in the flow, switching quickly between states becomes second nature. The platforming it self is also tight and responsive, and like in other games of its ilk, when you die, you know it's your fault and not the game's.
With such highs achieved, I will mention that the level design itself could often be confusing. Signs litter the landscape, pointing you in both the direction you need to go and warding you off areas that mean death. Even with that help, it's still easy to become lost and overwhelmed, especially when your search for crystals, Giana's equivalent of the Mario coin, takes you off the marked path. I can say though, that I never reached a point where I thought I was stuck, but I did reach a few where I seriously questioned some of the choices I had made in arriving there.
That being said, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Rise of the Owlverlord is an excellent expansion for the series. Quick enough to be consumed in just a few hours, deep enough to keep you busy for days (or longer, depending on the depth of your dive), there is not an ounce of disappointment worth lingering over, and so I won't. Instead, I think I might just try hard again.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!