I first got to play Giana Sisters: Dream Runners while sitting with a couple of the Black Forest team in a bar at EGX Rezzed earlier this year. Myself and our Chief Editor had a lunchtime meeting with them so that we could get hands-on experience with some of the games they were in the process of finishing. I sat there with their laptop perched on the small table we managed to commandeer in the quieter section of the bar. I was told about the features of Giana Sisters: Dream Runners as I desperately tried to show a modicum of skill.
Fast forward five months and I have the same sensation as I boot up my Xbox One, only this time, there are no developers watching, but unlike last time, I knew what I was getting into.
Giana Sisters: Dream Runners is a multiplayer focused, platform racing game. In short, you take control of one of four racers, you have to keep running until a counter reaches zero (when it does you better hope you are in first place), or you get so far ahead of your competition that they vanish off the edge of the screen. There is no finishing line, the game will continue until a winner emerges. Sounds simple right? Well Giana Sisters: Dream Runners isn’t about to let you off that easily. If you have ever played Micro Machines or Mario Cart then you are going to be very familiar with many of the elements within Dream Runners.
There are nine levels to choose from ranging from merely challenging, to difficult in the extreme. Each level has its own challenges and obstacles to overcome. There are environmental dangers that need to be navigated and enemies that need to be avoided. It is presented in such a way, that rather clichéd tropes don’t feel that way, from steam bursting from the ground around me to a crumbling floor, each new danger doesn’t feel like it has been sourced from elsewhere but I was hard pressed to find anything “new” in Giana Sisters: Dream Runners. That is not a criticism, it is a testament to Black Forest’s skill at creating a game that recycles so many features but feels like its own game.
You can play against human players or AI-controlled Bots during these races and I have to say that the AI, even on easy, can be a struggle. I tried playing against hard Bots and found myself floundering almost immediately. This probably says more about my skill level rather than Dream Runners itself, but even when playing against other human players I found that the Bots level was far superior to most of the people I played with when I could get a game that is. I had a lot of trouble joining a game online, after a long wait it would either put me in a game by myself or dump me in a lobby with one other player. I was in for a couple of annoyingly long waits in order to get into a game with three other humans. There is an option to add Bots to make up any spaces so it helps as a workaround but it was annoying all the same.
The other issue I have with Giana Sisters: Dream Runners is the lack of information on the controls. There is no option in the menu to let us know the controls, features or anything like that. Instead, the first level on the list will pop up with hints at certain obstacles, just to let you know what to do. That’s a fine idea in theory but with the fast paced and frantic gameplay, I barely had time to see the obstacle itself let alone a small text box floating ominously nearby.
It is the gameplay of Giana Sisters: Dream Runners that will divide audiences. It is your typical racer in terms of needing to finish first, it has weapon pick-ups that that can be used as terribly effective “win buttons” or can often cost you the race (as I found out time and time again). There are two attack types, one that will launch a weapon in front of you to slow down the other racers and one that will fire backwards so you can increase your lead. There is another weapon that, every time I picked it up, it would catapult me completely at random (one time it fired me like a rocket in the wrong direction and I died instantly). I found that aside from using the rear facing weapons, it was usually not worth the risk. You can also get a speed boost by collecting gems that will be invaluable if you start lagging behind.
The artwork looks great, the levels are colourful, exciting and vibrant. There is an issue with a couple of the levels having the same coloured background as the colour of some of the hazards which caused me a few problems. It is only in two of the nine maps and after a few tries, I was able to remember where they were so I was able to avoid them. That’s the trick with Giana Sisters: Dream Runners, repetition is a good thing and once you learn the courses then your chance of success will rise greatly. The soundtrack is fantastic too, each level has its own song and they are all well-paced to the speed of the gameplay.
Dotted throughout the levels are switches that can be activated that will either close of sections of the track or open new ones. A skilled player will use this feature to their advantage and everyone else will have the urge to rage-quit. Giana Sisters: Dream Runners is just that type of game.
New characters can be unlocked by winning races on certain levels, there’s no practical difference to this change but it can be easier to spot your racer if they are a robot rather than the standard female racer. If all racers are in a close bunch it can be easy to lose track of where you are and before you know it, you’ve hit a hazard.
I really like Giana Sisters: Dream Runners but I think it has a melting pot of competitive elements. A last minute hit can cause you to lose a race, a mistimed jump or any lag online will inevitably lead to arguments. It is a fun party game that the whole family can enjoy. I, for one, love the competitiveness of it, but I don’t think of Giana Sisters: Dream Runners as a racing game…… I know it as: “The Slayer of Friendships”. Just make sure you play it with someone who isn’t a sore loser.
Giana Sisters: Dream Runners is a fantastic party game that has both online and local multiplayer. Fast paced gameplay and frantic scrambles to overtake, makes it a great game to play with all the family. There are only 9 levels available at this time and it does get repetitive if you play against the AI constantly, however when playing with a friend, it is a truly competitive experience and one that will probably end a few friendships.
Graphics – 70/100
Value For Money— 61/100
Overall – 76