Giana Sisters Retrospective and editorial

Let’s rewind 22-some odd years. It’s 1987 and Nintendo rules the gaming world with an iron fist. The popularity of the NES has proven the “videogames are a fad” nay-sayers wrong and the Sega Master System is but a distant competitor.

The Nintendo Entertainment System. Your parents help you hook it up!

The Nintendo Entertainment System. Your parents help you hook it up!

There’s no denying that the success of the NES was due in large because of pack-in game Super Mario Bros. Effectively perfecting earlier attempts at the platforming genre like the Atari 2600 classic Pitfall, Super Mario Bros. shown that good games could indeed be made and the crash of 1984 could be avoided from occurring ever again.

Super Mario Bros. was the best selling game of all time until Wii Sports surpassed it because of the casual gaming market.

Super Mario Bros. was the best selling game of all time until Wii Sports surpassed it because of the growing casual gaming market.

This was fine and well for NES owners, but by the late 1980s many people owned their first personal computer. Early home computers were marketed as being able to do everything from help your kids with their homework to keeping track of expenditures to playing games, so many technology blissful parents felt that their money would be best spent buying an affordable personal computer.

One popular computer was the Commodore 64, first released in 1982. Because of its ease of use, relative power and $399 price, the C64 proved to be a popular alternative to the NES for many parents. The C64’s MOS 6510 processor was quite similar to the NES’s 2A03 processor, [which itself was basically a modified version of the 6502 processor] and both systems had a similar color depth for displaying a Super Mario Bros. style platformer.

Eager to copy the success of Super Mario Bros., a small German C64 developer named Rainbow Arts (credited as TimeWarp for the C64 version) quickly began work on a platformer of their own employing many of the same ideas of Super Mario Bros. while using a few more of their own. It wasn’t long before Rainbow Arts/TimeWarp released The Great Giana Sisters to the world and many, including Nintendo, took notice.

Giana, put on a bra, you hippy!

Giana, put on a bra, you hippy!

Juggernaut Nintendo saw Giana Sisters as a blaitant rip-off, and while harsh, that might not be entirely untrue. Suing the pants off Rainbow Arts/TimeWarp, Nintendo demanded all copies of Giana Sisters be recalled and taken off store shelves. Thus, Giana Sisters was shot down before it could take off.

Despite this, I along with many other Commodore 64 gamers was able to enjoy Giana Sisters as a child due to having a pirated Giana Sisters floppy disk. Even back before the internet, game piracy was rampant and floppy disks were an easy and cheap medium to provide pirated games.

The Commodore 64 Disk Drive provided hours of quality entertainment nobody paid for.

The Commodore 64 Disk Drive provided hours of quality entertainment nobody paid for.

For the sake of this article, I won’t write an in-depth review of the original Commodore version. For that, I will review it in the next part.

Not similar to SMB

Not similar to SMB

Not at all.

Not at all.

Okay, well I might have stretched the truth on that one a bit, but you get the point. The Giana Sisters became an instant cult classic and remains for many their favorite Commodore 64 game.

Now, return to the present. It’s 2009 and its been 22 years since the Giana Sisters came and went, but fans still revere it as one of the best games of a bygone era. Today’s gaming environment consists of a mix between hardcore gamers who grew up with the industry and those who either have never played a videogame before or people who rarely do so. This split has caused many developers to change their approach to gaming.

Where hardcore gamers demand deep, complex and visually stunning masterpieces, the casual market demands simple, easy-to-play games that don’t require an expert knowledge of a genre to enjoy. Striking a balance between these two forces has proven to be near impossible for many developers and company strategies, so clear divides have instead been implemented across today’s platforms in general.

The Wii is almost exclusively marketed for the causal market, whereas the Xbox 360 and the PS3 are marketed almost exclusively for the hardcore market.

The Wii is almost exclusively marketed for the causal market, whereas the Xbox 360 and the PS3 are marketed almost exclusively for the hardcore market.

Interestingly, the traditional platformer genre now falls somewhere in the middle of both camps. Hardcore gamers will love and play platformers because they already know what to expect and also because of the nostalgia factor. Meanwhile the casual gamer will play and love platformers because of their simplicity.

Still, 3D platformers like Rachet and Clank or Dr. Muto from a few years back probably attract more hardcore gamers than casuals due simply to the fact that they’re in 3D and that spatial dimensions need to be accounted for in leaping and simple movement.

Dr. Muto is a game bogged down by the fact that it's 3D

Dr. Muto is a game bogged down by the fact that it's 3D

This leaves of course the age-old 2D platformer. 2D games are a tough sell for many developers; when your system can do so much more, why limit yourself to 2D? Will people buy 2D games anymore? Many developers think they wont and aren’t willing to chance the age-old genre. Personally, I find this to be quite upsetting; because platformers have their feet in both casual and hardcore camps, I think 2D platformers can sell to a large audience.

Giana Sisters Retrospective and editorial

Capcom's Megaman 9 uses 8-bit 2D graphics because 2D games in this style will appeal to a wide audience and the 2D nature is an artistic choice.

So if you’ve read this far, you just be wondering: what the hell does this have to do with twenty-two year old Giana Sisters?

The answer is this.

New Giana Sisters logo

Yes, after two decades of waiting C64 gamers and casual gamers alike can look forward to a sequel to this classic title. For the diehard, this is the news they’ve been hoping to hear for years. For those who’ve never even heard of Giana Sisters, its news of another great DS game to be released.

Thanks to the dedicated efforts of a small German developer called Spellbound, the spritial successor to the TimeWarp platformer has been quietly released on the DS in Germany and Australia.

Even now 22 years after the original game’s lawsuit, its ironic to see Giana Sisters appear on a Nintendo platform, now more than ever. Believe it or not, Giana Sisters DS shares even more in common with Super Mario Bros. than ever before.

Want to learn more about Giana Sisters DS? Well, in the intrest of article length, I’m not going to review GS DS just yet. That will come in my next post in the next few days.

Stay tuned, much more to come!

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One Response to “Giana Sisters Retrospective and editorial”

  1. Hey, nice set of articles about the Giana Sisters. There’s also a set of unofficial sequel hacks made with the “Giana Sisters Construction Kit” for the C64 that you may wish to take a look at.

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