If you imagine combining the competitive nature of something like Mario Kart with fast paced platforming, then the end result would probably be Giana Sisters: Dream Runners. A promising looking local, and online, competitive multiplayer from Black Forest Games, Dream Runners is set to arrive on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC this summer. Its basic premise; to run laps of a pre-selected stage whilst trying to get the better of your opponents, whether they be other players, or AI bots.
It’s a simple enough concept that provides surprising depth, once you get your head around the games various mechanics. As unlike the aforementioned Mario Kart, Dream Runners obviously doesn’t have any rules or mechanics that are already ingrained within the social consciousness of the gaming community. We all know what red shells, banana peels and gold stars do, but for an original game like Dream Runners, that same sense of familiarity won’t be there for anyone picking up a controller for the first time. Of course it’s not the game’s fault, it just means things take a little bit of getting used to before you start to figure out the various tricks necessary to start winning matches.
Star pick-ups are a perfect example of this, as not only make your character invincible when used, they’ll also force all other players on screen to use whatever power-ups they have available. It’s not a massive change, but its impact on matches can be. Seeing that your opponents have just picked up some rather tasty items and being able to effectively make them waste said items by using yours can be the difference between winning and losing. That’s just one of a number of charmingly odd, and surprisingly well-thought-out, power-ups available from game to game. All of which serve to slow down your opponents, or speed you up.
But what’s the point in hindering your opponents? Well should you manage to pull far enough ahead of the player in last place then they’ll fall off the screen, get dropped from that particular lap, and be forced to wait until the remaining players complete a full lap before getting the chance to respawn. It’s something that enables each match to feel frantic and tense straight from the word go, as players desperately scrap to gain as much ground as possible and avoid getting left behind. Where other competitive racing games have moments of tension, rising and dipping over the course of a race, Dream Runners is nothing short of a constant barrage of chaos. Nobody’s ever safe out in the lead with the remaining players left fighting to be the best runner up, you’ll always be both running from the screen’s edge and a hairs width away from winning all at the same time. Just how Dream Runners has managed to balance this is a testament to the skill of the game’s developers.
That being said there is a few areas in which Dream Runners need improved upon. A common occurrence at the end of lap respawns is for returning players to drop in facing the wrong direction, meaning by the time they’ve turned around and started going the right way there’s a good chance they’ll have dropped too far behind, and end up waiting until the next lap to respawn once again. This and the general problem of signposting was the bane of my time with the game, as although the art style is lush and vibrant, the pace that you’ll be running through stages can make it difficult to identify exactly which way you’re supposed to be going. The end result being that players tend to end up getting lost a little too easily. Perhaps it’s something that will be addressed by the time of the game’s full release, but as of yet, going the wrong way was my - and the majority of players I came across - most frequent cause of failure.
Even so Gianna Sisters: Dream Runners is still on course to be an excellent title, and should Black Forest Games ensure this misstep is rectified before release then it could be the ideal summer multiplayer game to get players through the traditional drought. Despite still being in the beta testing phase it’s already a well-polished experience. From the preview I tested there were very few instances of bugs, glitches, or major problems of any sort. Something that bodes well for its eventual release in a few months’ time.