Giana Sisters: Dream Runners Preview
The Great Giana Sisters had humble beginnings as a German knockoff of Super Mario Bros. on the NES. Since then, Giana Sisters has become a successful franchise in its own right, and the story continues with a competitive 2-D multiplayer platformer. Up to four players can race against each other, platforming around obstacles and attempting to outrun or outsmart the opposing players.
Multiplayer matches can be online or local although none of the multiplayer servers were populated during my sessions so the stability of the online servers could not be tested. However, local servers run silky smooth and much of my time was spent technical glitch-free. Aside from the very occasional framerate drop, Giana Sisters: Dream Runners puts its best foot forward when it comes to visuals.
Backgrounds change dynamically as players run through specific checkpoints on each map. The markers will drastically change the environment in an instant, transforming the background from a dark jungle to a raging blizzard or a plethora of other backgrounds. These environmental shifts do not have any bearing on the gameplay but it nice to see the surroundings undergo such dramatic changes, especially since the maps themselves are not particularly long.
The nine maps in the game each have a neat atheistic, ranging from a traditional jungle-style level to a land dominated by fire and tornadoes. Unfortunately, none of the maps are that long and feel more like racing courses than classic platforming levels. All the maps loop naturally, so skilled players could see multiple cycles of the same map before the end of a round. This definitely adds a dull, repetitive element, but it can be somewhat forgiven in light of the exceptional content in each level.
Maps have numerous obstacles and quick platforming puzzles but they are also host to a number of power-ups that can either give a character an advantage in the race, such as the ability to switch places with another character, or give others a disadvantage, such as a power-up that can slow everyone down considerably for a brief amount of time. Using these abilities can be a last chance at avoiding death or put you in the lead, leaving other competitors in the dust. Truly, in these moments friends are turned into enemies and some of the best gameplay can happen as everyone executes their powers in succession – all in attempt to gain an advantage in the race and prove platforming dominance.
Giana Sisters: Dream Runners does not approach racing in the traditional sense. The camera is centered around the character who is the farthest ahead in the race at any particular moment. As the characters move through the environment, the camera scrolls from side to side to follow the lead player. If a character falls too far behind the lead player and is close to the edge of the screen, death will ensue if the camera moves beyond the character’s position. In this way, the game is truly about screwing over opponents in an attempt to force them to fall behind enough for the camera to push them into oblivion.
The ultra-competitive nature of the game led to some tense moments but only after a fair amount of time was spent on my part, learning the maps while getting embarrassingly beaten by the A.I. bots. Racing through the environment at high speeds does not give the best view of the obstacles ahead. Quick adjustments are always a necessity, adding to the white-knuckled racing environment. Sliding under a tornado, transforming into a flaming ball and then blasting forward to push your opponents off screen is immensely satisfying. However, these moments came only after spending a considerable amount of time stumbling around the map, attempting to figure out how to jump correctly on a water wheel or float around spiked crystals. For this reason, the game may not be the best for local multiplayer as those who have no familiarity with the environments will likely nearly always be beaten by someone who knows the obstacles ahead. Online multiplayer will hopefully flourish to become a scene where players with deep knowledge of the maps’ intricacies will be able to compete on a high level and enjoy the purity of screwing over people on the internet in multiplayer games.
Five characters can be part of the competition although all of the characters control in the same way and have the same abilities, so there is no functional difference between them. A four player race, especially, has a tendency of leaning towards chaos where characters often literally blend together. Particularly problematic in tight spaces. This can often lead to unwarranted death as my eyes would follow the wrong character after we all clustered together. Additionally, the objects in the environment are essentially rubber pads as rushing into a wall at high speeds will actually bounce a character backward like a pinball. The characters control very well otherwise, so the rubbery physics are a little jarring when everything else is so precise.
Giana Sisters: Dream Runners will hopefully be a great online multiplayer game where true platforming skill can be showcased. The maps leave a little bit to desired, especially in terms of length, but the fun gameplay, tight controls, and power-ups make up for the shortcomings in level design.