Three lives! 25 years ago, I wouldn't have needed more than that (Sure! -A random childhood friend). Granted, it would have implied to leave the computer running for several days due to the lack of a saving function as school or family would have dictated certain involuntary breaks. One thing is for sure, though: I would have spent as much time as possible with a Giana Sisters sequel, because it would have to be great, wouldn't it?
Though now that so many years have passed, the enthusiasm has faded a bit, because the close link is hardly there anymore. The game does not even claim to be a remake or a direct sequel of the original. In spite of the visible links, Twisted Dreams actually turns out to be more of a 'best of' of the Jump'n'Run genre as a whole. On the one hand, you will come across all the generic classic elements, ranging from taking out enemies with a targeted jump on their heads, floating, moving or crumbling platforms and deadly spikes to secret passages leading into bonus caves. On the other hand, you will also undoubtedly recognise many specifics of certain classics.
For example, you collect three differently coloured kinds of gems in the levels. This is completely optional, you can just as well progress without paying any attention to them. Until… well, until you reach the first boss level! This is only unlocked if you have collected enough gems in the earlier levels. Hmm, where have we seen something similar? To name just one example: Soccer Kid can also speed through his levels without looking left or right (well, up or down, rather), but then, he will not be able to play the special levels in which he can collect parts of the world cup trophy – collecting those being the actual goal of the game.
Likewise, longer distances will sometimes be passed using a high speed special move (Sonic), you can climb vertical barriers by clinging to them (B.C. Kid) and to get the timing exactly right in particularly dangerous situations, you have to rely on trial & error anyway (Rick Dangerous). Just one thing is missing: The gameplay and graphical variety among the levels as for example found in James Pond.
On the whole, there are 23 levels, split into three worlds, each of which ends with the confrontation of a boss character. That's not really a lot, especially since the levels (regardless of the world distinction) all seem to be falling into three basic graphical sets: outside world, castles and mines. Although there are, for example, differently named buildings in the level titles, the graphical elements are still visibly the same ones.
Black Forest Games might argue that they made twice the amount of levels, in fact, which leads us directly to the unique features of Twisted Dreams. Giana and Maria are not used for serial multiplayer fun anymore (Maria is actually swallowed whole by a huge dragon at the end of the first level – gulp), but the one player can switch between two incarnations of the highly schizophrenic Giana at any time. It's not just the visuals of the player sprite which change, but the complete surroundings as well. One is running through a dark nightmare, the other is similarly trapped in a seemingly friendly candy land which, however, turns out to be not less dangerous. Most of the world will simply be 'switched' in an equivalent way, i.e. sprites and backgrounds will simply be replaced with different skins.
Visually, and also aurally, this twist effect is certainly impressive. While electro sounds organically turn themselves into guitar riffs, little mushroom houses appear on the screen, formerly dead trees grow new branches and new passages open up, while cuddly monsters turn into different ones in a puff of smoke. None of this makes the game any larger or more substantial, though; it sometimes only serves to bring the slowly diminishing brains of the ageing target audience to the brink of information overload ('Is this thing part of the foreground or the background?').
There are a couple of cases where these changes do make a relevant difference at least. For example, some obstacles will appear or disappear and some enemies will change into shapes which are not quite functionally equivalent: Walking aliens, for example, will suddenly become stationary wooden boxes which produce spikes in awkward moments, but which can (the right timing provided) also be used as a stepping stone to jump off from. Also, only one of the two types of ghosts is active per world variant.
The biggest difference which actually makes the twist action worthwhile (this, with a nice dose of self-confidence, is called 'puzzles' in the official press material) is the character's abilities. Each is equipped with exactly one special move: One can twist around her own axis so fast that instead of falling, she can float downwards almost horizontally, allowing the player very good movement control in the air; the other can trigger a powerful head-first jump attack. However, and this is the 'big secret' of many of the 'puzzles': The keyword is trigger. In fact, both girls have both abilities, just that each one of them can only trigger one.
The world switching becomes more important gradually in the course of the levels. Sometimes, the special moves have to be chained directly into one another and in a very small space. These are doubtlessly the trickiest and hardest situations in which less skilled players will die quite a lot (Finally! -An anonymous reader). Which is not really fatal, because Twisted Dreams makes a number of concessions towards the changed gaming ecosystem and player expectations of today. A high density of waypoints (where you will reappear after dying) is only the beginning of this; you also have an unlimited number of lives (not losing too many will at least provide the player with bonus key gems) and some subtle support in the controls, like for example semi-automatic aiming when attacking an enemy of when trying to land on a small platform.
This way, you will quickly get the impression of very good playability through easy and early successes, a slowly increasing difficulty level and new features being introduced from time to time even in the later game still. Twisted Dreams fares very well both in structure and implementation; it can easily be called a logical evolution of many classics. Still, you have to ask yourself what should be the one spark which would make this game rise above these numerous and readily available classics. As mentioned, it certainly cannot be the small overall size and the sparingly developed graphical sets used as backdrops. Likewise, it cannot be the slim range of power-up extras: The only one with an actual relevance is a special kind of gem which will give you an additional hit point; apart from that, there is absolutely nothing. One boss fight every seven or eight levels is also hardly state-of-the-art. And to be honest, as smoothly working the duality of the music is, it really could have been a couple of more songs so that the frequency of repetition would have been reduced a bit.
Anyway, today's adult players, will not progress as fast in the game as yesterday's kids. This is most likely what the makers are counting on, which is why they probably believe they can get away with less effort. At least the 15€ price tag (including the usual 30% 'extra taxation' of Europeans from the dollar price of $14.99) is still fair even for a smallish game which will easily keep you occupied for a couple of evenings. Maybe, some of these market developments are not so bad after all. One thing is certain: If this had been released 25 years ago, I would not have had more than three lives available. How far I would have gotten in the game then, playing it only after a long day at work and between now differently prioritised aspects of life, you can probably all imagine.
This review is based on a pre-release review version provided to us for free by the Black Forest Games.