The Giana Sisters coverage continues in part three of my look through the cult-classic series, the Great Giana Sisters.
It is quite unusual for a sequel to ever be made to a game after it’s been on the market for more than 5 years, yet after twenty two years of the silent treatment, the Great Giana Sisters make their return to gaming.
Long after the demise of Rainbow Arts and TimeWarp, a new small developer out of Berlin Germany, Spellbound, has adopted the rights to Giana Sisters and has somehow go the go-ahead to develop a brand new Giana Sisters game for, of all systems, the Nintendo DS.
It seems that Nintendo has finally let bygones be bygones by giving the nearly-identical-to-Mario platforming series the green light. This is great news for retro gamers like me who have been hoping to see an updated version of Giana appear for years now.
Due to the original game’s rich history of legal trouble, Giana Sisters is clearly divided among two groups – the small niche of devoted Giana Sisters fans who played and loved the original and the mass market of today’s gamers who haven’t even heard of Giana Sisters, let alone have fond memories of playing it.
German developer Spellbound decided that the best way to remake Giana Sisters for a new generation would be to whipe the slate clean and start from scratch. All the art direction of the original was scrapped and Spellbound hired local Berlin artist, Alex Pierschel, aka Pikomi, to handle all the art direction for the new version of Giana Sisters. This past summer, release quietly in Germany and later Australia was the aptly named Giana Sisters DS.
Giana Sisters officially on a Nintendo system. History sure can be ironic.
First off, this should not be confused with the homebrew game, Giana Sisters DS released previously. That game is simply a port of the C64 original whereas this game is a brand new title designed for the DS specifically. So is this new version worth a look? Read on and find out.
Just like the Commodore 64 original, Giana Sisters DS is a 2D left-to-right sidescrolling platformer that borrows almost all of its gameplay ideas from SMB. The game is single player only, unlike the original. This means that Giana’s twin sister Maria makes no appearance and indeed there is no mention of her existence in the DS remake. It seems over the years platformers felt the need to evolve and become more complex by adding bonus areas multiple exits and a lot of different things to collect. Giana Sisters DS streamlines this into a very simple basic form of get to the exit and collect diamonds.
The story from the original has been updated ever so slightly – one night young Giana locks her collection of blue diamonds in a large chest and falls asleep on top of it. Then apparently the chest becomes possessed and opens, causing Giana to fall into a dream world where she must collect the master diamond to awaken again.
Graphically, Giana Sisters DS has dramatically updated and is quite honestly one of the best looking games on the DS. With often four background layers, landscapes come alive in a super detailed fantasy world. The game is 100% sprite based with non of that 3D nonsense that the DS Castlevanias used. All the sprites look gorgeous and are as fluid in motion as a Disney cartoon. Like Mario 3, the levels are varied and add all sorts of new eye candy. You’ll explore meadows, snowy mountains, caves, castles, volcanoes and more.
Sprites are neither too big or too small for the DS screen. Spellbound has found the perfect sprite size to prevent the “leap of faith” jumps so common in handheld platformers. On the offtime you do need to see what’s above or below, you can simply look up or down by pressing up or down on the d-pad. Giana Sisters DS is stunning. Still screenshots do not do this game justice; you need to see it in motion.
This new DS version has refined, simplified and added to the formula from the Commodore classic. Gone are the homing fire airshots and time-freezing clocks from the original. In their place are brand new items that help Giana on her way in two totally different ways.
First is the Soda (pop) bottle which can be used to dissolve away bricks, put out fires and push away enemies. The soda can be sprayed in any direction and is single use. Once its used up, you need to find another bottle to dissolve more bricks.
The second new item is the bubblegum, basically the flight ability of Giana Sisters DS. Without going into too much detail, the biggest problem I found with New Super Mario Bros. was that that Mario was grounded throughout the game. The best parts of Mario 3 and World were flying around with the raccoon suit/magic cape. In Giana Sisters DS, the bubblegum incases Giana in a giant bubble with anti-gravity properties. As long as the exterior of the bubble is not pierced by hitting an enemy or object, Giana will be free to explore the skies for lots of hidden goodies. Spellbound used the DS microphone as a gimmicky way to control flight while in the bubblegum. The more forcibly you blow into the mic, the higher Giana will fly upward. Recognizing that the portable game could be played on a noisy subway or otherwise in a public place, Spellbound thankfully included the option to turn the mic off during these sequences and simply use the standard jump buttons to control flight movement instead.
Replacing the homing airshots from the original Giana Sisters is a very Mario-like fireball attack. Like Mario, Giana can fire up to two fireballs at once, but unlike Mario they travel in an arch and do not bound around. Once the hit something they bust apart. This change keeps the gameplay fresh and makes the shooting mechanics feel unlike that of Mario.
Speaking of hidden goodies, Giana Sisters DS updates the formula from the original by adding in special red diamonds hidden throughout each stage. No stage is truly finished until all red diamonds are collected. Some red diamonds are very tricky to get to but are well worth it; for every world of nine levels, if you can collect all the red diamonds from all the stages, you will unlock a special 10th stage that will take place in the clouds and give Giana the opprotunity to collect loads of diamonds to get extra lives.
If you can complete all stages by collecting all red diamonds, you can unlock a special bonus stage that contains all 32 original Giana Sisters levels all remade with the new game engine! Oldschool Giana Sisters fans will eat this feature up, and this is the reason why I picked up the new game.
The levels are on the short side, but many can be tough, and thankfully Spellbound has included mid-level savepoint flowers throughout the stages. The savepoints keep track of all red diamonds collected up to that point, so players need not recollect the same red diamonds if they should die after reaching a mid-level save flower.
Dispute its flesh coat of paint and new advancements in gameplay to distinguish itself from other platformers, Giana Sisters DS still can’t shake that Mario vibe as it feels like an expansion of Nintendo’s own DS offering, New Super Mario Bros. in a weird way. The whole super cartoon look is very similar as are the controls.
The game’s controls have been vastly improved over the C64 version and now feel perfect. Giana’s jump is mapped to the B and A buttons whereas her fireballs are Y and X. Yes thats right, once again exactly like New Super Mario Bros.
The updated controls are everything that the original controls were not; they are quick, responsive and perfected.
All the music from the original game is back and has been masterfully remixed. The new tracks are a perfect fit. They sound bright colorful and have that distinctive Euro-vibe to them. It feels modern like New Super Mario Bros, but I honestly think this is the better of the two soundtracks.
Everyone – Giana Sisters is simple and cutey, making it apprriate for all gamers regardless of age or gender. I encourage everyone to give this game a shot.
Graphics – 9.5- Amazing stuff. Brilliantly animated sprites and ever changing backgrounds make this game both fun to look at and artistically a masterpiece.
Sound – 9.5 – The original tracks have all been updated and feature many remixes. For the retro C64 levels, there is even a new remix of the original tracks that make keep many of the SID chip beeps and boops while adding a new techno beat. It’s spectacular.
Gameplay – 8.5 – A Mario clone now more than ever, but what a clone. This game is every bit as good as any first party platformer I’ve ever played.
Control – 10 – Gone are the josticks from the original replaced by the great DS Lite d-pad and buttons. The new control scheme is both logical and functional. Absolutely perfect controls.
Lasting Appeal – 8.0 – A very very long platformer at over 80 levels, plus the original 32. Levels are short, but can be replayed at anytime just like Super Mario World. The game is short can be can completed in only a few days, but you would do well to keep this game in your collection and come back to it in six months to play through it again. You’ll have just as much time the second time through as you did the first.
Overall – 9/10
This short promotional video will give a pretty good understanding of what the game has to offer both visually and audibly.
Giana is back, and if you missed out on her last time, you should make sure you don’t this time around. Small devoloper Spellbound has not been able to release Giana Sisters DS outside of PAL territories Germany the UK(?) and Australia. If you live outside these countries you will need to import. The DS ROM is a mere 8 MB and is thus great for flashcarts, but please, support Spellbound on this fantastic game. Maybe we’ll see a sequel someday. Let’s just hope its not another 20 years.