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Off-Brand Games: Giana Sisters DS


The Great Giana Sisters is the gold-plated standard of video game clones. It's the most famous case of digital plagiarism thanks to its choice of source material. It just didn't copy any game, it copied Super Mario Bros., the biggest game of all time.

Nintendo was being a big doodie-head by not wanting to port its cash cows to personal computers, so Time Warp Productions from Germany went ahead and developed their answer to the Italian duo for the Commodore 64 in 1987. It wasn't long before Nintendo unchained the legal hounds and forced publisher Rainbow Arts to withdraw The Great Giana Sisters from the market.

That should have been the end of the story. The game gathered a cult following mostly consisting of poor suckers who didn't grow up with an NES. Despite that, there was no reason to believe that a rerelease of the original or a new chapter in the franchise would ever appear as long as Nintendo was still kicking.

Then the unthinkable happened.

OFFENDER: Giana Sisters DS
DEVELOPED BY: Spellbound Entertainment
TASTES LIKE: Super Mario Bros.

The work of the original's creator, Giana Sisters DS is the biggest anomaly in gaming since Sonic and Mario started playing nice with one another. The Great Giana Sisters was blocked at retail by a court injunction, a stern warning to all who would wish to step on Nintendo's shoes, yet not only was a remake allowed to be made but also it was licensed by its former oppressor for play on the DS handheld. That's like visiting The World of Coca-Cola and discovering that Chek soda is served in the cafeteria. Mind blowing.

For most people, this game still doesn't exist. It received a veeeeeery limited release early this year in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland as well as one a few months later in Australia. Future releases such as in the UK or the US are not looking rosy. Skimming through the site of publisher dtp entertainment AG, you can tell that these guys aren't exactly on the ball.

I now present to you ADVENTURES IN IMPORTING! I like my game cases without big, honkin' warning labels obscuring nearly a third of the cover, so there was no way I was ordering the German version. Instead, I hunted down an Australian copy on eBay and paid the God-awful international shipping charges. Would you look at the crazy exchange rate! Aussie gamers, you gotta get your ass out of that penal colony, pronto.

I had never physically seen an Australian video game case. For reasons beyond comprehension, there are a number of variations from the cases used in the rest of the world. As you can see above, Aussie DS games travel in transparent boxes. Is this to prevent drug smuggling? Is this the lazy man's way of noting if you are carrying contraband without going through the trouble of opening the damn thing?

It's thick, too. Compared to a standard DS case, an Aussie case is a full quarter-inch wider. The game cards and manuals aren't any bulkier. Maybe the extra material used in the packaging process increases the manufacturing costs. That's probably why prices in the country are so outrageous.

On a more pleasant note, look what's on the back! The Nintendo Seal of Quality! There it was all along! The sneaky devil! See, guys? No need to worry anymore over lack of quality assurance! The next time someone bitches about how Nintendo should bring back the seal, you can reply, "It didn't go away! It just moved Down Under! I guess it must really love Vegemite!"

As one adventure ends, another one begins, so let's psych ourselves up with a little backstory. As young Giana, you are admiring your treasure chest of blue gems one night before crawling into bed. You stir awake a short while later to find your gems being sucked into a vortex. You must jump in after them and reclaim your lost treasure while traipsing through a mysterious new land.

Pulitzer material.


Giana Sisters, how misleading. Both the title and the box art imply a sisterly companion who doesn't exist. The adorable blond is Giana and the fiery redhead is her punk alter ego. You'd think there would be a two-player option, but no. The Mario games never stooped to such deception.

But I can't stay mad for too long. Look at that art! Check out the clean, simple sprites! This game is a treat to gawk at. It is so adorable, filled with bright colors and skimping on excessive detail. What a stark improvement over the nipple-tastic original.

One thing that the original could claim as its own was its soundtrack, widely hailed as one of the greatest chiptune scores of all time. The DS remake features remixed jams from the original, and after listening to them I would have to admit that the music is pretty darn good. I personally wouldn't call it some of the best music... with the exception of the intro theme. My Lord, listen to it! So rich and complex! I swear, the first time I popped the game in, I let this shit loop for several minutes!

Beautiful art. Beautiful music. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I've got a real treat in store, don't I?





Okay. What the hell, guys.

This game is way too retro. I never played the original game, so I can only imagine how simple it must have been for this bare-bones update to be considered an enhancement. Everything is just so... bland.

It's obvious why Nintendo got so pissed in the eighties. Coin blocks? Check. Bricks that you can only open once you've transformed? Check. Hidden coin blocks posing as bricks? Check. Underground and castle levels? Double check. Where it differs is in what it lacks, such as pipe-looking structures that you think you can enter only to find you cannot. Longtime Mario players who are conditioned to inspect tubing for secret passageways will certainly feel confused and annoyed.

The punk transformation I mentioned earlier is activated by picking up these little pink balls that pop out of coin blocks. Punk Giana is this game's Fire Mario, bestowing upon thee the gift of pyrokinesis while skipping the intermediary "super" form entirely. Other than punk balls and coins (gems, in this game's case), you get nothing. There are no 1-ups, no invincibility items, nada.

Scratch that. There are two extra items that can only be used within the levels you acquire them. There's bubble gum which allows you to float in the air by pressing the jump button or blowing into the mic and soda pop which can break through bricks that are not directly overhead. As in New Super Mario Bros., these items are activated by touch. Why? You only use two fucking buttons! There was nothing else these things could have been assigned to? Really? Really? Those shoulder buttons are looking mighty lonely! In addition, every menu in the game gives you the choice of navigating by touch or D-pad with the exception of the map. If you want to return to previous levels, you are required to physically tap the level marker. Retarded.

There are eight worlds consisting of nine normal levels plus a bonus stage unlocked by collecting all the red gems in a world. These gems are not hidden. They are not even slightly out of reach. They are right there, in your path, waiting to be walked over. Not until much, much later do you have to work for your prize, and that's what this game feels like: WORK.

Side-scrolling platformers are known as jump 'n' runs in other countries. Break them down to their basics and you've got jumping and running. The most highly revered games are the ones that find the right balance between the two. Giana Sisters DS only requires the bare minimum. You just run left to right, left to right, left to right, breezing through in manner of seconds. Why bother with checkpoints that are literally ten seconds apart from one another! You jump on some blocks, hop on a baddie's head, clear a pool of water, and then you are finished! Next stage!

Levels only start becoming longer, challenging, and maze-like by around the sixth world. That means that more than half the game is spent running one long, bullshit tutorial. I wouldn't mind so much if there was some level variety, if there was a play style shake-up now and then. World one has grasslands and undergrounds, world two has the same grasslands and undergrounds with no change to the tile sets, and so on. I finally hit the snow zone and thought, "Hot shit! Now we are talking!" It's a superficial change. There are no environmental hazards or level-specific gimmicks, just jack all. It's barren! The game is a wasteland!

The art direction is so amazing! I have been deceived! Surprise, it's not just high-concept, next-gen pap that feeds off style over substance.

What's your motivation? Greed. Pure, unadulterated greed. Blue gems are scattered everywhere, ripe for the gathering. Pick them all up! Every hundred nets an extra life! Collect, collect, collect! Why? Because you can! The only gems that matter are the red ones, but the blue ones are just so plentiful! Coins are littered about in Mario games, but that has never been an excuse to skimp on level design. In Giana Sisters DS, the only way to glean any satisfaction is to follow the money. Some levels are just so brazen as to literally plant the goal flag right next to the entrance. The game knows you can't resist some cheap self-gratification.

Baddies have no names as admitted by the developers. There is only one boss, a fire-breathing dragon akin to Bowser only fatter and goofier, who appears at the end of every castle. His attack pattern never changes. The only variation in the encounters is the number of jumps required to defeat him. Who is he? What does he want with you? Did he suck you into this dimension? Is he the one hoarding your gems? He looks like a douchebag.

The game isn't bad, it's just stale. How is this a grand revival of a beloved classic? Well, good news, nostalgia buffs! After completing the eighth world, you can play a recreation of all 32 levels of the C64 classic! These levels are even shorter. I wasn't even trying and blazed through all of them in just over ten minutes. As a comparison, the current Super Mario Bros. 100% speed run record is 19 minutes, 40 seconds.

This was the original game? Are you kidding? From what I've heard, the original had more items than is available here, but even with the extra toys I can't see how The Great Giana Sisters could have stood on equal footing with Super Mario Bros. The game was dated before it even hit store shelves. I suppose when your parents punish you by buying a fucking Commodore, you take whatever scraps you can find and make a banquet.

Giana Sisters DS was an opportunity to revitalize a property that suffered from a bevy of shortcomings. This game could have been so much more, could have distanced itself from Super Mario Bros. to a greater degree. As it stands, it will never crawl out of the shadows of the mighty plumbers. Not even kickass music can save it now.


God damn Germans.

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About Tony Ponceone of us since 12:40 AM on 09.09.2007

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