The older gamer among us may remember the C64 game, The Great Giana Sisters, a platforming title developed by Time Warp Productions way back in 1987, it was a game that saw no follow ups released until 2009 when a re-imagining of this original release saw its way onto the Nintendo DS. Black Forest Games inherited the licence after the demise of Spellbound Entertainment, and took to crowdfunding the raise the $150, 000 that they needed to finish development of Twisted Dreams, the last and most advanced entry in the series. The developer had dreamt up the novel concept of transformations, which began solely with the characters before soon spreading to encompass the entire world. This feature appears to be the cornerstone of their latest effort, Dream Runners, along with – I presume – a particularly unhealthy love for the Sonic the Hedgehog multiplayer…
If one can cast one’s mind back to Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 on the Sega Mega Drive, you’ll recall that Sonic Team added a competitive two-player mode in which gamers competed in races, in Sonic 3, this meant that the two players battled across one of five wholly original courses, collecting power-ups and vying for position. This is certainly not a million miles away from what Black Forest Games have done with their latest Giana Sisters effort, except that this is not an additional extra, but rather it is the full extent of the game. Albeit, it is a rather modestly price one.
Naturally though, things here are somewhat more advanced than Sonic Team’s efforts, for a start, the game caters for four players who can take part in either local or online games, whilst solo players can compete against CPU controlled bots with variable difficulty levels. Likewise, there are nine maps included with the game, these are fairly expansive and include numerous obstacles designed to slow down competitors caught unawares, and these are obviously further enhanced by the fact that levels in which the races take place are all transformable. Scattered throughout each level are switches that convert the level from one form into another, there are tons of these strewn around so the game always manages to keep you on your toes as various pathways open and close, and platforms simply fade away to nothing.
The game begins with four playable characters, all of which are simple variations of Giana herself, whilst extended play opens up the possibility of unlocking additional creatures, such as an owl or a knight. Of course, all of these have exactly the same abilities to ensure that the gameplay remains as balanced as possible, allowing each and every one to run, jump, dash, twirl (spinning around allows the character to reach previously unimagined heights), slide (perfect for avoiding those pesky obstacles that jump simply won’t dodge) and last but not least, there is also a Gem Boost. In every level, there are small sections of gem covered areas, running through these allows your character to top up their gem meter and unleash a substantial, if short lived increase in speed, which could very well prove to be the difference between victory and defeat.
As if that wasn’t enough though, there are also numerous power-ups that can be used to give you the edge over the competition, as one would imagine these simply need to be run over or jumped through in order to be collected, and are then unleashed upon your unsuspecting foes with a simple press of a button. These can allow characters to switch places, fly forwards at high speed (though environmental obstacles can turn this power-up on its head should it be activated in the wrong position), drop obstacles in front of pursuing players or attack the other characters with such over the top ordnances as meteors. Though sadly, such abilities are not presented with much in the way of spectacle.
Graphically speaking, there isn’t much in the way of charm to the designs, which doesn’t really make up for the shoddy texture resolution, and although it does fly past at a fair pace, this is an undeniable weak spot in the game, but it does manage to make up for this shortcoming elsewhere. The soundtrack is composed by Chris Huelsberg and Machinae Supremacy, a legendary Swedish band who combine metal, alt rock and chiptunes! Yes, I said chiptunes! Needless to say then, the music contained herein is a definite highpoint for the game, from the bubble-gum pop of the loading screen and results menu to the harder edged, more guitar driven compositions that accompany the on-screen action, the composers have undoubtedly done a sterling job here, and plaudits most go to them for that.
However, whilst there is no denying that the core gameplay behind Dream Runners isn’t too bad, particularly when supporting local four player sessions, there really isn’t an awful lot to it, it‘s a bit like buying Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and only having access to the competitive two player component. I don’t know what plans that Black Forest Games have in store to expand this core experience beyond what is already available, but quite frankly, some extra maps aren’t really going to cut it. What Dream Runners is missing is an entire single-player, world morphing adventure to extend the game beyond a mere ten minute multiplayer session to something much more viable, but then, what can one really expect for just £7.99?
Dream Runners is certainly not perfect too, with all four characters running along at same time, it becomes all too easy to lose sight of the one that you’re controlling, which can make the experience a rather frustrating one, particularly if you’re leading at the time. Also, I have had issues with the game incorrectly determining that I have been disqualified from a race after storming into a nearly insurmountable lead. And, on top of this, I personally found that as the courses increased in their complexity, my enjoyment of the game – particularly when competing against the computer – took something of a downturn, as I regularly lost sight of character, leaving me hammering the jump button in a vain attempt to identify myself among a throng of water hazards and moving platforms.
All in all, Giana Sisters: Dream Runners is something of a tough sell, it’s reasonably enjoyable to play (at first, at least), but it certainly won’t hold anyone’s attention for very long, of course, should Black Forest bundle this together with the remastered version of their award winning Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams for a bargain price, you might just be looking at one hell of a bargain. Until then though, there are more rewarding gaming experiences to pick up first.