Monday, 18 February 2013

The Great Giana Sisters (C64)

The Great Gianna Sisters title scroll
The title screen calls this The Great Gianna Sisters, though the box is adamant that it's The Great Giana Sisters with just the one 'n'. Either way this definitely isn't called Super Mario Bros., but Nintendo were of the opinion that it sure played a lot like it and scared the publisher into taking it off the market. Plus it does have kind of a similar name as well now that I think about it...

But were Nintendo being assholes again or were they in the right this time? I'm going to load it up and find out.

I'm playing as Giana from Milan, trapped in her nightmares until she can find the magic diamond. I don't think there's any particular reason for this, she hasn't been cursed by the mischievous dream wizard or recruited by agents of the subconscious or anything, she just has a really overactive imagination.

The game made it to a surprising number of computers, considering how quickly it got yanked off the shelves. Nintendo got the ZX Spectrum version cancelled before release, but the game still reached the Atari ST, Amiga, MSX2, Amstrad CPC, and I'm playing the Commodore 64 version. No NES version sadly.

Okay so it's a platformer where I jump up and punch boxes, but was Nintendo justified in calling this a blatant rip off of Super Mario Bros.?

Super Mario Bros. (NES)
I'm going to have to go with... yep.

I mean come on, they control the same, they have the same colour scheme, the same gameplay, even the overlay at the top of the screen has the text in the same order. I have to wonder if the developers assumed they could fly under Nintendo's radar or if they were thinking that they just wouldn't care.

Well okay to be fair Giana Sisters has no run button, so there's one difference. Also the Chris Hülsbeck soundtrack sounds nothing like anything you'd hear in a Mario game.

Mushrooms and pipes! Plus I just knocked that ball out of a block, so I'm guessing it's a power up.

Collecting the ball changed my sprite and gave me the ability to smash blocks from underneath by jumping into them, y'know, just like in Mario. It DIDN'T make her grow into Super Giana though, just gave her a punk hairstyle.

Super Mario Bros. (NES)
Also none of the pipes I've found in Giana Sisters have taken me to a bonus room when I ducked down on them. It seems they really are all just walls for me to jump on. How shamefully prosaic.

Great Giana Sisters (Atari ST)
The Amiga and Atari ST versions look more or less identical to each other, and pretty similar to the C64 version. They're not exactly pushing the boundaries of 16-bit graphics here. Which makes it even more weird that the Atari version doesn't scroll, it just flicks a few tiles ahead once I make it far enough across the screen. When the C64 version is more technically advanced than the ST port, something's gone seriously wrong somewhere.

At least they replaced Mario's coins with gems and the turtles with owls, though it does mean I can't go bowling with their shells and strike down all their buddies in a row anymore. -5 points to Giana.

Great Giana Sisters (MSX2)
Though the developer of the MSX2 version went and turned the owl enemies back into turtles again, because I dunno, they hate owls? Or like owls, whatever.

Great Giana Sisters (Amstrad CPC)
A bit further into the level I collected my second power up: a lightning bolt that lets me shoot fireballs. It's totally different from Mario's fire flower pick up though because, uh, well it doesn't do crap to save you from harm for one thing. In Mario collecting a mushroom or flower will let you survive one hit, but in this everything's an instant kill, no matter how many power ups you've got.

This is the Amstrad CPC version you're looking at by the way, which isn't the best port of the game...

Great Giana Sisters Amstrad CPC title screen
Great Giana Sisters (Amstrad CPC)
...but it does have this amazing title screen. May it be etched in your memory forever. Plus they get bonus points for actually spelling the name right, or at least consistently wrong.

Anyway, back to the C64 version. It seems that the second stage is set underground in some sort of dungeon, not entirely unlike that Mario game.

Super Mario Bros. (NES)
Well I wouldn't accuse Giana Sisters of being an identical clone, as the level design is actually different (and they even chose a different colour this time!) But they're not exactly trying to hide their inspiration here.

Oh look I can skip half the level by running above the ceiling, that's pretty innovative, right?

Super Mario Bros. (NES)
Damn you Super Mario Bros. for once again stealing Giana Sisters' great ideas two years before it was even made!

To be fair to Giana Sisters, Mario is one of the first decent platformers ever made and the foundation that the entire genre is based on, so you can't really avoid copying it in some way if you want to match its quality. I mean I've played so many platformers released after Super Mario Bros. 3 that could have benefited from a proper level map for instance, but I suspect that developers were concerned about implementing the feature in case Nintendo sent them scary letters.

But there's a difference between taking a few good ideas and taking the whole bloody lot of them. The trick I suppose is to bring something new to the table, to justify your game's existence in some way beyond 'the C64 can't have the real Mario, so we made our own one'.

Super Mario Bros. Special (PC-88)
To give Giana's developers credit, they did manage to capture a lot of what makes Super Mario Bros. good. It actually has some pretty slick gameplay.

That definitely puts it ahead of official Mario clone, Super Mario Bros. Special, which is famous for being a bit ass. If you've ever wanted to know what Mario 1 would be like with four colour flick screen graphics and terrible control, this is the game to try. Or better yet, watch it on youtube and NEVER PLAY IT (unless you want to).

Hang on, is that a pineapple sliding out of that block? Are they just handing out bonus fruit now that I've got the fireball power, or is this an extra life?

Oh, turns out I was way off. Whatever this is, it gives Giana HOMING BULLETS. Fuck yeah, let's see you match that, Mario.

Great Giana Sisters (Amiga)
Uh... I think I'm stuck. I've accidentally dropped a boulder in my way. Giana can't duck, or break bricks that aren't directly above here, so I kinda have nowhere to go now. Like Super Mario Bros. the screen only scrolls one way, so there's no way I can go backtracking to find an alternate route. I guess all I can do is sit the timer out now.

This is the Amiga version by the way, not that you can really tell. It barely looks any different to the C64 game.

Super Mario All-Stars (SNES)
When Nintendo ported Super Mario Bros. across to a 16-bit console, they at least gave it a bit of a visual upgrade. The All-Stars remake has backgrounds and everything!

By the way, I've always thought it was cool how these piranha plants only pop up if you're standing away from their pipes, so there's no danger of them killing you without warning. Good bit of game design that.

Great Giana Sisters Amiga title screen
Great Giana Sisters (Amiga)
Though I have the to give the Amiga team credit for redrawing the title screen in glorious 640x400 high definition. Hang on, those pixels are all stretched to double the width... just like in C64 games. Let the 8-bit era go already!

Hey, is that a flock of Angry Birds over on the top left?

Sadly although I can run across the top of the level, there's no secret warp zone room waiting for me at the end this time. Instead they've hidden the warps inside invisible blocks on various levels. So it's very possible to accidentally skip three levels ahead by jumping in the wrong place.

Great Giana Sisters (MSX2)
C'mon, jump onto the block already! I can make it onto the block easily in every other version of the game, why do you have to be different, huh? It's like they've lowered the maximum jump height by a few pixels. Yeah to be honest the MSX2 version isn't the one to go for, this just isn't much fun.

Oh great, not only is this bouncing ball thing immune to my bouncing bullet, but the damn thing has gotten stuck infinitely ricocheting around inside the gap between the pipes. I can only have the one bullet on screen at once, so now I'm defenceless if some bird flies at me while I try to make this jump.

Man, I failed this jump so many times. I realise I have to leap as the right moment to sail over when the ball's at its lowest, but I can never get the timing right. Fortunately (like Mario) the game is pretty generous with its checkpoints. But (like Mario) it's stingy with lives, and there's no continues. Once the lives are gone it's back to the start of the game. THE VERY START OF THE GAME.


Uh, I guess this spider thing is the replacement for Bowser. I didn't bother trying to fight him though, I just grabbed some gems and ran out the door.

You know, I still haven't learned what collecting these things gets me. They get wiped every time Giana's killed, so I've never actually managed to collect a hundred of them.

Nine times out of ten I've been impressed with how slick and controllable this game is, but there's always something waiting up ahead to piss me off. Like here, where I've started throwing life after life away at a stupidly easy jump because Giana keeps screwing up the landing. It's so annoying to clearly reach the other side and then slip right back off again.

Fortunately I've been through these first six stages enough times now to know that 100 gems do give you an extra life and I've managed to earn a few spares.

Wow, I don't remember Mario ever throwing in a jump this cruel. I have to carefully leap from one edge of the pipe to the other, then over a gap, then over the other pipe, all without even brushing against the instant death flames. Then again I don't remember ever getting as far as stage 9 of Mario, so what would I know?

The two games have actually started to diverge a bit as I've progressed through the stages, eg. Mario has added moving platforms and spinning flames while Giana's has introduced these flaming pipes and bouncing balls. Plus I haven't come across one underwater level in this yet.


Well it's nice to be back on stage 11 again. It's always fun to have to replay every single level from the start every fourth mistake I make, listening to the same couple of tunes over and over. Sure I could always use the warp blocks, if I knew where they were, but that feels like cheating. Plus it's a good way to cheat myself out of extra lives from collecting gems along the way.

At least this time around I know that those red mountains in the distance... they ain't mountains and they ain't in the distance.


Uh, I can't just jump over this guy like I could the other boss, so I'm not sure what to do now. I suppose I could try jumping on him, though something about the way that they've put me in the perfect position for that makes me think that it's a trap. Only having the one hit-point is making me a little cautious.

And then I screwed up by accidentally jumping into the thing's mouth and it was all over. I'm still only a third of the way through the game, but I've I've played through these levels about a dozen times over now and it's drained all the 'give a fuck' out of me. So I think I'm going to quit playing here before I fall asleep on the keyboard.

Super Mario Bros. Special (Sharp X1)
But honestly I think I actually enjoyed Giana Sisters for a while, especially after playing Super Mario Bros. Special which was so bad it made me want to leap over the pipe leading down to level 1-2, and make a break for freedom instead. Out of all the versions, I've got to say I preferred the C64 one best, as it was as slick as any of them, had the best music, and I think it even looked better than the 16-bit ports.  

And after seeing Mario Special, I'm glad this is the closest Mario ever got to western 8-bit computers, because it could've been much much worse. I mean imagine a Mario Bros. game on the ZX Spectrum...

Mario Bros. ZX Spectrum title screen
Mario Bros. (ZX Spectrum)
No... NO! It can't be real, it can't be... oh wait, this is just a port of the 1983 arcade game. Well that's not so bad. I mean, it could've been worse. Imagine an Atari 2600 Mario game!

Mario Bros. (Atari 2600)
Oh shit, how does this game actually really exist? HOW?

Here, Mario, Giana, have your gold star, you can share it between you. I'm out.

If you have any thoughts about the text and images that you have just experienced, or any opinions about the Giana Sisters or Super Mario Bros. games, then you are in luck as there is a comments box for you immediately below this post. Enjoy.


  1. My friend had this on his Commodore 128. Was never really excactly sure what the sisters were supposed to look like since their looks changed from cover to game ( Though you gotta love the fact that pretty much the same team went on to make Turrican after this.

    One thing that really stuck to my mind from this game was the music. It was absolutely depressing when compared to the "happy jump jump"-type that Mario had.

  2. There are bonus rooms. They are in gaps. You can tell by few blue pixels ;)


Semi-Random Game Box