The Great Giana Sisters Review
Now that you’ve read the Giana Sisters Retrospective (Late comers can read it by clicking the previous article) I thought I should address the original game in a review. This is my first review for wordpress, so bare with me as I iron out cinks on how I want to do this.
I’ve hammered this point countless times, but once again, The Great Giana Sisters is a direct copy of the formula behind Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. for the NES. Giana uses almost all the concepts of Super Mario Bros. from items hidden in blocks to jumping on enemies heads to defeat them to even collecting 100 diamonds to gain an extra life. At the same time it also expands on the design adding more interesting level designs, verity of enemies and both a few steps forward and a few steps back from Super Mario Bros’ approach to gameplay.
So then obviously, it is impossible to review Giana Sisters without constantly comparing it to its obvious inspiration, Super Mario Bros (NES). From this point on I’ll simply call the Nintendo game SMB.
So some basics – The only version of The Great Giana Sisters I have is the Commodore 64 version, so this review will not cover Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST or ZX Spectrum versions.
The Great Giana Sisters is a 2D left-to-right sidescrolling platformer that borrows almost all of its gameplay ideas from SMB. The C64 version supports 2-player alternating play just like SMB with twin sisters Giana and Maria replacing twin bothers Mario and Luigi.
“One night, when little Giana from Milano was fast asleep, she had a strange dream. Everybody dreams weird things at night, but no-one will have experienced situations like Giana is about to. Giana suddenly finds herself in a strange mysterious world, where everything is completely different. Gravity has almost disappeared – sometimes one feels like flying away – and everywhere there are unexplainable buildings and structures. Old grottos and deserted castles seem to hide lots of secrets, and righting and hideous creatures appear. This wouldn’t be too bad, except that Giana can’t leave this world until she find the magic, huge diamond. So, she starts of to search for this wonderful jewel. However, she is not totally alone, for her little sister Maria can dream too. ”
So yeah, the basic story is that Giana and Maria fall asleep into a dream/nightmare where they need to find the huge magical diamond to escape it and wake up. Slightly more original than Mario having to rescue a kidnapped Princess.
Graphically, Giana Sisters looks quite a bit like SMB1. Both games have brown brick like grounds and blue skies. However, the C64’s color depth of only 16 colors on the screen at a time vs the NES’s 25 or so means that the graphics aren’t as detailed as Nintendo’s offering. One thing i do like about Giana Sisters is upon being defeated, all enemies’ bodies remain onscreen and are not simply removed. This gives the same a slightly more adult feel to it.
The gameplay in Giana Sisters is extremely similar to SMB – Over the course of 32 levels, Giana and Maria can collect diamonds scattered across the levels and hidden in flashing bricks. In some of these bricks are other items including a red-and-white ball that turn Giana and Maria into punks, who can now smash bricks with their heads and when you collect a second ball, the Giana Sisters gain the ability to fire lighting balls to kill enemies from afar. Enemies die when jumped on just like SMB and there are a few secret underground shortcuts through some of the overworld levels.
For all the similarities, there are a few differences. First, most of the levels are much shorter than SMB’s and many resemble the sizes of some of the smaller SMB3 levels. As well, Giana and Maria will die in one hit regardless of if they have collected a punk ball or lighting bolts. In SMB, you would revert back to your basic form if you got hit while big instead of simply dying outright. The useless fruit for points isn’t present in SMB either. In SMB1, all enemies except for the spinning fire sticks could be killed somehow, but several of the enemies in Giana Sisters are invincible and must simply be avoided.
One key difference is in how Giana Sisters and SMB control. The C64 joystick was quite like the Atari 2600; it was a DB-9 Stick with only a four-way pad and a single action button. Since the C64 had an entire keyboard to input, Giana Sisters relied on keyboard inputs upon bootup to select the number of players, but in-game requires the joystick.
With only a +pad and a single button, jumping was handled like in most fighting games – by pressing up. As I’m sure you can imagine, the fact that you need to press up on the joystick to jump doesn’t work nearly as well as SMB with an actual button for jumping. This fact makes some of the jumping sequences much more difficult than they otherwise could be. Another problem is that Giana is much more sluggish and slow to respond to direction input than Mario is. Whereas Mario is sensitive to any Dpad movement, Giana is most definitely not. There’s no running in Giana Sisters either, but this is made moot as there are no parts of the game that require it either. All jumps can be made from a standstill or walking.
Both Mario Bros. and Giana Sisters have fantastic soundtracks. I would go even as far to say that Giana Sisters might have a better soundtrack than the wonderful efforts of Koji Kondo in SMB! German composer Chris Hülsbeck, the composer of R-Type, Turrican, Monkey Island, Star Wars Rogue Squadron, Resident Evil 2, Rouge Leader, Rebel Strike and most recently Lair, Giana Sisters has probably ther best soundtrack of any game on the Commodore 64.
Online flash versions:
A free online flash version of the game that replicates the game can be found here: http://juegos.hey.es/juego/the-great-giana-sisters/
A free online flash version of the exact C64 game can be found here: http://c64s.com/game/1397/giana_sisters/
In 2007, a homebrew conversion of the C64 version of Giana Sisters was released for the DS, essentially being a self-contained C64 emulator with only Giana Sisters running on it.
If you’ve got a DS flashcard, you can download this homebrew version here: http://galway.c64.org/gianads/
Graphics – 7.0- A good effort on the limited C64, but not the best looking game on the computer.
Sound – 9.5 – A legendary soundtrack that begs to be heard. Even the gameover theme is simply amazing.
Gameplay – 7.5 – A Mario clone in almost all aspects, but dying in one hit no matter what state the Sisters are in is just lazy programming.
Control – 6.0 – Joysticks make lousy subsitutes for D-pads in platformers, but you can switch the C64 joysticks with Genesis pads. This still doesn’t fix the Up = jump problem though.
Lasting Appeal – 8.0 – Giana Sisters in large thanks to its fun nature and fantastic soundtrack make it one of the best Commodore 64 games and one great showpiece of gaming in the late 1980s.
Overall – 8/10