What a blast (and twirl) from the past!
I had no idea about this history of this one, but it's a fun one. Back in 1987, in the days when direct copycats of popular games were rampant across every platform, a near-port of Super Mario Brothers showed up on the Commodore 64 called Great Giana Sisters. And when I say "near-port," I mean "HOLY @%&$, IT'S A GOOMBA WITH EARS" reactions to figures throughout the game. The mechanics were the same, with jumping head-bops and fireballs and breaking bricks with your head (well, fist, but I still prefer the "hard head" impression), and it had no real character of their own… just the mark of "clone syndrome" that permeated the industry in the early-goings.
Thanks to the beauty of Kickstarter, the developers at Black Forest games were able to pick up the name, sharpen a few things, and try again. Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is the new incarnation of a 25-ish-year-old clone of the greatest side-scroller of all time.
Players take control of Giana who, I think, has a sort of multiple-personality thing: Preppy Giana and Punky Giana. Both of them can jump, but each has a unique trait of their own to explore and solve puzzles. Preppy Giana, surrounded by the dark and drab world, can spin like a pretty-pretty princess to drift over far distances. Punky Giana can shoot something like a fireball, not very far but higher and faster. Switching from the blonde Preppy and red-headed Punky is done at will, either by triggering their ability or pressing the triggers, even in the middle of Preppy's drifting spin (Punky's forward-charge is too quick to make a switch in mid-movement matter).
Every time Giana changes from one form to another, the entire world adjusts: Sometimes new paths open up or close; other times, enemies react in in a different way. And the environments fit the previous incarnation of Giana; namely, the world is dark and angry when Preppy is in mental control, while Punky gets a colorful world reminiscent of Disney cartoons (with more violence, of course). Loading what are essentially two different levels might explain why the load times are significantly longer than I expect for a game of this length. The same goes for music changes between the serene tune behind Preppy and the metal-ish track that follows Punky, which is a much better song. I want to listen to it throughout every stage, save the boss battles, but it's a nice beat.
There are only a total of 26 stages, with the ability to replay in "Score Attack" and "Time Attack" modes and the chance to unlock "Hardcore" and "Uber Hardcore". Three of those 26 are boss battles that are, quite frankly, more of a pain in the ass than they should be. Some become waiting games, and by "waiting games," I mean feeling lucky enough to drift, fireball, or leap into small crevices and out of harm's way until the next opportunity to strike. Sometimes there's just too much going on in a stage to know where you can even stand, like one boss battle where depending on which form you're in, half of the floor is gone and everything is striking at once in an overwhelming pattern. It made me need a stiff drink to feel up to finishing.
Just like the original, there's an entire lack of character to the whole game. Between the preppy and punchy Gianas, only their hair color gives either of them any… anything. And it seems, somewhere in the development cycle, that in order to make up for that lack of character, the game had to be made frustratingly difficult in spots. It's already unusual and feels unnatural to be swapping between skills as much as it's necessary here, but to add to that pinpoint timing in some of the most irritating sections I've ever played—and I'm one of the cats who adores games like Mega Man 9 and 10—is overwhelming.
The level design here is a prime example of the difference between trial-and-error and "that's entirely your fault, dumbass" punishment. There's a reason why players are afforded infinite lives; I once spent about 30 of them on a single section of one level, and even then I had to turn the system off (so I wouldn't chuck my controller at the TV) and try again later only to suffer more pain.
The controls can be a bother, since everything is left up to the player to figure out. By themselves, they're sharp enough; jumping and switching between the two Gianas is quick and responsive, which is good even when it's unclear as to what the stage is calling for. There are signs littered throughout the stages that offer rudimentary instructions on how to progress, but they only offer a vague visual representation and can be a puzzle themselves to figure out. For example, I didn't know I needed to climb up a wall a certain way when it looked nothing like another wall from an earlier stage. I could've used clarity for not just those situations, but for story as well. If it wasn't for Wikipedia, I wouldn't know a damn thing about what this game is even about! (And like the Silence from Doctor Who, when I'm not looking at the Wiki page, I've completely forgotten the story again!)
After playing through some of the early levels, I started to enjoy myself, but when it really got down to the challenging bits, I was left wanting to hurl my 360 out the window. I think Giana Sisters as a whole is nice, with some really colorful and interesting visuals, but it just left me mad more than anything else. It makes me want to see whatever happened to that Mario guy. Now he had a game to build off of.