Also On: PC
Developer: Black Forest Games
I really, REALLY wanted to like Giana Sisters Dream Runners for a few reasons. The biggest one being that it is another revival of a classic franchise that I actually enjoy playing. The first revival, “Twisted Dreams”, was a welcome remake of the original classic and with this new entry, I really had high hopes that the series was going to evolve beyond a basic platformer. Sadly, what we got was a concept that doesn’t really work any way you look at it.
Dream Runners is not a standard platforming game like the others in the series. Instead, it is a 4 player race around a 2D play field that constantly repeats until one racer leaves the other racers behind. All of the “tracks” are decorated with pastel colored backgrounds, but you won’t be able to spend much time admiring them, as everything will be speeding by. All nine stages are unlocked from the beginning with the only incentive of beating them is the promise of an extra playable character that really doesn’t differ from the 4 available sisters.
The racing mechanic consists of simply staying ahead of the other racers on the screen. This means you will be spending all of your time trying to stay on the extreme left or right, depending on the course layout. The races can drag on for quite a while, but when the last place runner is left behind, a countdown begins letting you know that the lap is almost over. All you have to do is be in the front of the pack before the timer hits zero and you win the lap.
Scattered throughout each level are switching gates that function like the Dream Switching mechanic from Twisted Dreams. Once a runner enters these gates, the entire level is switched from light to dark (and vice versa), opening new parts and closing others. This serves to trick other runners into falling into a trap and falling behind. Also in the way are various enemies from the Giana Sisters universe that slow you down when you run into them, and bizarre weapons you can use to slow down your opponents yourself.
In theory this all seems like it would require skill and quick thinking, but in reality it all depends on luck and a large amount of coincidence. While this style of racing has worked for other games, it really doesn’t translate well to a 2D platformer. One mistimed jump and you lose the lap fast, while constantly hitting enemies and getting bombarded by other players special weapons can result in a quick, painful loss of the entire race.
Playing with 3 friends in the same room is OK for a short time, but if no friends are available you will want to play exclusively online. Playing with CPU bots is not recommended at all, as you will NEVER win a race. No matter what skill level you set a bot to, they always seem to know the tracks and quickly race to the front before you can even find your character onscreen. At least playing with friends or online, everyone has the same chance to win a few races. However, online play was severely lacking at the time of this review. I managed to have a few races, but not as many as their should be for a game like this, so the majority of my play was with friends.
Controlling is an exercise in patience. Between the strange inertia and overall slipperiness of the characters, it will take time to get a good rhythm going. You can use a dash attack on enemies that might be in your way, but that can also bounce you into last place if not timed properly. Picking up gems that are scattered throughout the level will allow you to get a small speed boost if you are running behind, but even at full strength it doesn’t last long or help very much.
On many occasions, button presses didn’t register quickly, resulting in a unnecessary hit or loss. Some places require you to make quick wall jumps while everything is moving too fast to properly position yourself, while other places need you to twirl jump blindly with a leap of faith. If you manage to get the hang of the control, it can get somewhat enjoyable for a short time, but the work you have to put into it almost doesn’t seem worth it.
Graphically, Dream Runners is definitely a pretty looking game, but since the action on screen is zoomed too far out, you really don’t get to see much. All of the backgrounds and some of the animations look alright, but everything moves by so fast you really can’t enjoy anything at all. Nothing looks particularly bad or out of place, it’s just not presented well. Sound consists of some mellow tunes that sound pretty good. Nothing you would want to listen to outside of the game, but very fitting for in-game actions. Most of the characters voices sound like strange grunts and weird laughing, but since every character behaves and plays exactly the same, it’s to be expected.
Like I said earlier, I really wanted to like this game, playing through it extensively just to find any redeeming qualities. Sadly, I found very little to like here. Yes, it’s a somewhat decent party game but only for a short time. Even with friends, everyone will get bored or frustrated quickly. Fans of the first game, or even the rarely seen DS version will not find this to be an acceptable step in the Giana Sisters series, and that is very disappointing. While the concept sounds like fun, nothing works how you think and it ultimately turns into an unenjoyable experience. I really cannot recommend this one on any level.