Giana Sisters DS Marks the Return of a Classic

To say that the original game “The Great Giana Sisters” has a cult following would be an understatement. Originally released in 1987 for the Commodore 64, and later ported to many other platforms including Amiga, Atari ST & DOS.

The trouble lies in the fact that the game shared all-too-many similarities with Nintendo’s own Super Mario Bros., released two years earlier in 1985. The two games share the same formula, right down to the fireball themed power-up, the block based level design, and the platforming mechanics. The first and second levels of the games are so similar, in fact, there is simply no room for argument.

According to urban legend, Nintendo sued for copyright infringement, which led to the game being pulled from store shelves. This was later debunked, but Nintendo did later admit that it influenced the removal of the game, sans lawsuit.

A later release in the series on the Nintendo DS, then, is a bit of a shocker. Fans of the original game such as I were befuddled, yet excited. Perhaps Nintendo just doesn’t see the game as a threat any longer, or perhaps the new game has enough gameplay differences that it will stand on its own.

Let’s take a look at it.

Developer Description

After falling into a dark, deep sleep, little Giana finds herself in a mysterious dreamworld where everything is strange and different. Many fascinating creatures lurk in this place full of traps and complicated mazes.

But Giana must possess the magical diamond before she can return! Two players can enjoy this fun-filled game with over 30 completely different levels.

The five-voiced musical sounds and the ever-changing graphics will make you want to play THE GREAT GIANA SISTERS over and over again!

Giana Sisters DS isn’t just an average remake or spiritual sequel. Armin Gessert, the programmer responsible for the original title makes his return for the DS title, with the intention of creating a full-fledged sequel. He founded Spellbound Entertainment in 1994, and had worked on several titles with the brand before beginning work on Giana Sisters DS. Armin passed away of a heart attack only 7 months after completing the game, perhaps making this game his magnum opus.

The game continues with the tried and true formula of Super Mario Bros. legacy. You run and jump, stomp on enemies, get a fireball power-up, and collect gems (coins) along the way. What’s different about Giana Sisters is that there is no run button, so your character moves at the same speed at all times. This removes some of the strategy for a beginner player, as you no longer have to choose when to run (or get used to running at all times, as a veteran would tell you). This isn’t really a downfall though, as I found the jumping, movement, and platforming in this game to be absolutely fantastic. The character feels right, and you fall right into the physics of the game almost immediately.

This game feels great.

Admittedly, the game does start off extremely slow. I believe this is to cater to the younger DS fanbase. The levels are extremely easy, with lots of Blue Gems to be found along the path. Like it’s counter-part, you gain a free life when you reach 100 gems. Finding the hidden Red Gems in each stage grants you access to the bonus stage in each world. In the beginning stages, this is as easy as grabbing them when you inevitably run across them. This lack of challenge in the beginning 2 or 3 worlds of the game is likely enough to turn off veteran gamers due to boredom. A catch-22 of sorts, as a higher difficulty may turn off younger players, which arguably is the audience here.

The game is split up into 9 worlds, and all but the last have 10 stages each including the bonus stage. If you manage to find all the Red Gems in the entire game, you gain access to a 32-level gauntlet, that’s a remake of the first game. You must play through this entire gauntlet in one sitting, with no stoppage to complete it.

The game also adds verticality to the mix, not just sticking to the straight push-right levels of the original.

The challenge comes later, and it’s worth enduring to find it. Levels become longer and more sprawling, often asking you to backtrack over areas to find gems or re-acquire abilities. The game can be downright punishing in a few levels, and I found it to be a refreshing change from the often too-easy design.

Also within the game are two abilities that are activated by tapping the bottom screen once you pick them up. This is a little bit of an interrupt of the flow of the game, as there are plenty of unused buttons on the DS that they could easily be mapped to, but for whatever reason they decided to use touch controls. It’s a silly choice, and I wish there was an option to change it. The same goes for the usage of one of the abilities. By default, the game wants you to blow into the microphone to float up in the bubble, but thankfully you can turn that option off.

The abilities add a welcome but of strategy to the game, and help to distance the game from Super Mario Bros., also adding in a change to the pace of the game that is very much needed from time to time.

The sprite work and graphics here are outstanding. They fit in perfectly with the tight controls, and the many frames of animation for the characters only help the feeling of a well put together, polished experience. The backgrounds look great, and the sound is also very well done. The music is a sort of hybrid between a new arrangement and the soothing sounds of the C64 original SID chip. Veteran gamers who have cut their teeth on the original will surely enjoy the callback here.

Sadly, I still struggle to recommend you spend your time playing this one. With ~82 levels in the main game, and 32 levels of the in-game remake, there is plenty of content to be had. However, I feel like the pace of the game is severely lacking. You need to play 2/3rds of the way through the game to get to the challenge if you regularly enjoy platformers, and even then, there are only probably 5-10 levels that will truly test you. The game suffers from a lack of strategy and power-ups, and the levels start to melt into each other, often feeling like you are playing a level that you have already completed.

“Have I played this level before? Was this in the original game?”

Each and every boss in the game is the same dragon, with the only difference being the number of hits it takes to kill, and its speed of movement. The last two levels (after the credits roll) are an exercise in patience, instead of well designed experience, testing the skills that you’ve spend 80+ levels honing.

"Veteran gamers who have cut their teeth on the original will surely enjoy the callback here."

For long time fans of the original game, this is surely worth a look. Even if you don't spend enough time with the game to complete it, there is enough here to entertain (albeit briefly) those who already know the characters. There are several levels that serve as a callback to the original, and there are new mechanics to learn and enjoy. For thsoe of you new to the series, give it a try, but keep your expectations low. Who knows, you may just stumble onto something that tickles your fancy.

Giana Sisters DS
Developer: Spellbound / Bitfield
Publisher: Destineer
Released: September 9th, 2011
Platform: Nintendo DS
MSRP: $19.99 USD

I still think Bowser could kick that dragon’s ass.

Play it.

– Fantastic, well animated pixel graphics
– Perfect feeling to the controls
– 130+ levels

– Challenge curve is too slow to rise
– Lacking depth and mechanics to test experienced players
– Questionable ability controls with touch-screen

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Raskulous is an avid gamer, retro gamer, and computer enthusiast. He also spends portions of his free time doing electronics service and repair, and console modifications.

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