Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Rise of the Owlverlord PC Review

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It was around this period last year that we were introduced to the return of the Giana Sisters, a couple of girls who had originally starred in a Commodore 64 game called The Great Giana Sisters way back in 1987. They had a stint on the Nintendo DS, but were eventually brought to the PC through Steam and other digital stores with a new look, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign ran by the developers, Black Forest Games, which reached a total of $186,158 and allowed the team to finish off developing Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams.

Not satisfied with leaving the tale of the sisters as they are, the studio went back to development, using feedback from fans and new ideas to create an extension to Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, dubbed Rise of the Owlverlord, a standalone title for a cheap price of £3.99 that builds upon the core ideas of last year’s game and shows how the studio has taken the mechanics and reworked them to create a challenging – but fair – game that constantly keeps the brain going and the adrenaline pumping, and, best of all, it never stops being fun.

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For anyone who is a fan of Twisted Dreams, you’ll be able to get straight into the flow of the Rise of the Owlverlord, since this is the same style of gameplay as the previous title. For newcomers, the game is a 2D platformer (with 3D models) built around switching between Giana’s cute and punk persona that converts the world around Giana to represent  the different themes – one in the nightmare world and one in the dream world.

If you have no experience with the previous game, then don’t worry, as you don’t need to go and play that to teach yourself, because the developers have thrown in a tutorial stage that quickly gets new players up to scratch with the mechanics of Rise of the Owlverlord. Existing players will already have the knowledge, since there are no new abilities for Giana. After completing the tutorial, newcomers will be well versed in switching between cute and punk Giana with the click of a button and using her returning abilities, such as her cute persona’s skill to helicopter glide, similar to Dixie Kong from Donkey Kong Country 2, or punk Giana’s take on Sonic the Hedgehog’s talented homing ball skill, where she spins into a ball of fire and shoots towards an enemy. Not one single move feels left out, as each one is constantly used throughout the game’s level design. The heavy use of all of Giana’s move set makes it easy to forgive that there aren’t any new abilities for her.

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There’s no emphasis on story, it’s very Mario-esque with the setup – an Owl dressed as a pirate traps you in a cell and leaves you hanging off a small hill. As Giana, you break out and must eventually find this bizarre Owlverlord and put him in his place by overcoming the game’s seven main levels. It may sound short, but you have to remember that this is a cheap standalone title that builds on everything from Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, including fixing the difficulty progression. The shortness means the game is challenging from the get go, but the pacing feels better, as it doesn’t suffer from those crazy spikes of difficulty that some had issues with in the previous game.

Each level feels intelligently designed, as it takes what players should have adapted to from the last level and uses it in the next in a fresh way.  For example, cute Giana has the ability to hover, and in one level you are required to hover above fans that are blowing air to get across a dangerous death drop. In the next level, this mechanic is used again, but now you have to hover while switching between Giana’s personas, so that you can make your way through different coloured obstacles that would otherwise kill you. This is done often, making the game a constant progression of exciting twists on Giana’s abilities.

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Every level is heavily grounded around Giana’s powers to shift between worlds. The main goal is to acquire the various coloured gems that are scattered throughout each level. Blue gems are neutral, meaning anyone can pick them up, while red gems require punk Giana and yellow gems call for cute Giana.  Switching not only lets you pick up gems and pass through matching coloured enemy fire unharmed, but they also change the theme of the world.

Cute Giana’s theme is that of a twisted level filled with death, decay and monsters, while punk Giana’s subject is that of being a colourful and flourishing world, with fluffy enemies that look cute on the outside, but are still intent on killing you. This also plays into the gameplay, since some enemies will stop or move slower in one dimension, such as the snails, but then transform into speedy critters when switching to the other persona. The same goes for doors and lifts. One door might be locked in one world, but then opens when you switch to the other. A swamp might be drained in one dimension, but will flood when Giana transforms, helping you get across a difficult path. There are a lot of smart gameplay elements that makes Rise of the Owlverlord standout, not only compared to Twisted Dreams, but also in a genre that’s had quite a great line up of platformers this year.

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Some people will undoubtedly have an issue with the game’s length, and while it took me just over an hour and 35 minutes to beat the game on normal, that didn’t include finding all the gems hidden away in each stage or the artwork for the gallery feature. There’s more to unlock after finishing it on the normal difficulty. Hard mode is available, which makes the levels even more challenging, but also removes some of the checkpoints, which are rather generous placed around in normal mode, creating a sense that even though you’re dying a lot, it’s not frustrating or irritating to the point you get angry at the game thinking it’s conspiring against you with each death.

Beating levels in hard mode unlocks them for time attack and score attack modes – both self-explanatory. The last two modes, Hardcore and Über Hardcore, are what serious fans will snap up. Hardcore means you have to beat the level in one run, as there are no checkpoints. Über Hardcore takes this a step further by making you restart the whole game from level one if you die. That’s not something for me, but for some twisted and masochistic people, they will no doubt gain gratification from such a ridiculously challenging mode. The game is priced accordingly to the content available and isn’t a problem, but, due to how well the level design is in this game, I do wish there was more of it to get through.

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Rise of the Owlverlord is a beautiful looking platformer that seamlessly switches between the two realms without any hiccup. Watching the level renovate itself in front of your eyes, such as plants spouting to life or thorns retracting themselves into the side of cliffs, is a beautiful sight, thanks to the striking graphics and detailed texture work. The graphic style is similar to Trine 2, and while Trine 2 is still the benchmark when it comes to gorgeous looking side-scrollers, Rise of the Owlverlord doesn’t sit too far behind it with its use of exuberant colours and the curiously themed levels. The music is pleasant on the ears, and changes theme to fit with the personality of cute and punk Giana, but I do wish there was more, as it can get repetitive hearing the short selection of tunes included.

Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Rise of the Owlverlord is a great game, especially for those looking for a platformer to challenge their reflexes. It’s a difficulty that isn’t soul destroying, but actually fun, as the game tasks you with mastering its controls to overcome it. Anyone can get into this title, and with a low entry price, new players can test the waters to see if they enjoy what is on offer in exchange for minimal harm to their wallet. Existing fans will eat up the challenge delivered by these new levels, as those are the best stages the series has ever featured. It’s going to be interesting to see what Black Forest Games does next, because Rise of the Owlverlord demonstrates that the studio has a knack for creating enjoyable, challenging platforming games.

8/10

by

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Version tested: PC

Developer: Black Forest Games

Publisher: Black Forest Games

Genre: Platform