Well, it took me a sizable period of time to get through this game, but there you have it, and this time, we’re starting with a bit of history. Most people probably don’t know who the Giana Sisters are, but they were conceived as basically a copycat of Super Mario Bros., with their first game on the Commodore 64, “The Great Giana Sisters”. It was so much like Super Mario Bros., in fact (the tagline for the game was even “The brothers are history”), that it got the creators in a bit of legal trouble, and there were no Giana Sisters games for a while. Finally, Giana Sisters DS was made for (obviously) the DS, and then came this game, made by Black Forest Games and released cross-platform in 2012 for the PC, Wii U, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. I have the PC version, for the record. In fact, I think this game was what convinced me to get Steam in the first place; it was, to my knowledge, the first game I ever owned on it, though I have no idea what the next few were. This one is noticeably different from any Mario game I know of, except maybe Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. It’s still a 2D platformer, but this time, there’s a twist: Giana can switch between a “cute” form and a “punk” form, and depending on which form she’s in, her abilities and elements of the level will be different. This is the main gimmick of the game, or really, the only gimmick of the game, and it will be used for everything from making platforms appear and disappear to determining which kind of ghosts chase you to activating or deactivating spike traps. It also changes the scenery; Cute Giana will be platforming through a spooky land of nightmares with piano and xylophone music, while Punk Giana romps through a colorful, idyllic world with rock music. (Clearly, Giana is in her edgy teenage phase, and she may be doing some psychoactive drugs as well.) Beyond that, it’s pretty basic in its layout; Giana’s sister Maria was kidnapped and eaten by a big fat dragon-like creature called the Gurglewocky, and Giana has to rescue her, going through 3 worlds and 23 levels to reach and defeat him.
The game is…okay. There are worse sidescrollers out there for sure, but the game makes a huge difficulty spike at 1-6 and never really lets up, and I’m not much of a fan of platform hell-style games (which, actually, most indie 2D platformers seem to be these days). The levels are also super long. I don’t mind long levels per se, but these are kind of ridiculous. The only reasons it’s bearable are because you have infinite lives and you get quite a few checkpoints during the levels. Unless, of course, you’re playing on Hardcore, or worse, Uber Hardcore mode, which might as well be named “For people who have no life/have gotten rid of every other video game they own” and “For people who are actively opposed to the idea of ever having a life/are trapped on a desert island with nothing to do but play this game”, respectively. The levels are full of instant-death spikes to an extent that even VVVVVV and the fortress stages in Mega Man X6 would raise an eyebrow at. And don’t even get me started on that horrible bubble gum powerup. I guess the levels that are relatively sane aren’t half bad, though, and the last two levels surprisingly aren’t that nasty.
Gameplay: Decent to frustrating
When a game is as difficult as this one, it needs things to lessen the impact of that, to give the player something to enjoy besides just relentless challenge, like the occasional breather level, some story, good music, or at least nice scenery to look at. And I feel like the designers of this game might have spent a bit too much time making this game hard and not enough time on the other aspects of it. The world-switching gimmick, meanwhile, is one of those things that seems interesting and novel at first, but then they kind of run out of creative things to do with it before the game is half over, and then it kind of gets in the way at times. I will say that I think the castle levels tended to be among the better ones, with a slightly higher frequency of unique stuff and more interesting setups.
Story: Excuse plot of the ages
This game has about as much story as one would expect from a classic-style 2D platformer, which is to say, just about none. (Someday, if I ever get into game design, I will make a 2D platformer that actually has a decent story.) I’m only really bringing it up because even by those standards, I was actually kind of disappointed. Once you rescue Maria, you’re treated to a still silhouette image of the two sisters atop a pile of gems (at least, I think it’s a silhouette? I don’t remember for sure, but I’m certainly not replaying the final level to find out) with the credits rolling over it…and that’s it. I thought we’d at least get to see, like, an animation of them hugging each other and walking home or something. My goodness, even Mega Man 2 had more of an ending scene than that, and that game came out in flipping 1988.
Graphics: Well, the actual graphics are nice…
I quite like the graphical style and environments of this game, especially in Punk Giana mode. It has a kind of “modern 2D” aesthetic that actually reminds me a fair bit of Donkey Kong Country games, with some nice backgrounds to boot. The problem is that—and this kind of overlaps with gameplay—there isn’t enough variety. Every level in the game can pretty much be described simply as “outside” or “inside”. There are slight variations, like how a couple of the levels in world 3 are mostly up in the sky, the world 2 boss level is sort of a rocky beach-ish environment, and there’s at least one “castle” that’s actually outside, but for the most part, every level in one of those two categories pretty much looks like every other level in that category.
The music is kind of subdued and mostly not all that memorable, even in punk mode. And while there is at least more variety in the music than there is in the environments, it still falls short; there are only five different tracks in the game for levels (or ten if you count the “cute” and “punk” versions separately, but I wouldn’t). The length of the levels doesn’t help; when I die for the fiftieth time in a level after having spent the last 45 minutes in it, that two-and-a-half-minute loop overstays its welcome by a long shot, and it might well do so even if it were actually catchy.
Positives: Pretty backgrounds, an interesting main gimmick (even if its novelty does wear off pretty quickly), and some decent, if tough, boss battles. Also, thank you, Black Forest Games, for having a lot of checkpoints and no lives.
Negatives: Homogenous scenery and music and some pretty crazy difficulty, often well past the point of being fun. And with how long the levels in this game are, the more annoying ones can become quite a slog.
Final score: 4
This is one of those games that I really wanted to like a lot more than I did. It’s my favorite genre, it’s an indie game, it’s a new entry in an obscure series…but I don’t know. I’m glad that I got to play it and maybe glad that I managed to finish it, but I don’t particularly want to play it again. There’s an expansion pack for it, Rise of the Owlverlord, as well as a possible sequel announced, and I’m not sure if I’ll be getting either of those either. The design is kind of a turn-off, mainly in respect to difficulty; I feel like other difficult games that I’ve played and enjoyed generally did a better job of keeping things fresh and interesting. Still, though, it’s not a bad game, and if you have the patience for it, it can be enjoyable.