(Review archived from March 5, 2018)
Wow, just get a load of that cover art. It’s almost as if the box art for Mega Man had a sister … and she wasn’t too keen on wearing bras. This game is a bit notorious as being a straight rip-off of Super Mario Bros., but that’s plainly ridiculous. You see these sisters aren’t super; they’re great. They’re not brothers with vaguely Italian sounding names, they’re sisters … with vaguely Italian sounding names. Clearly this game is not derivative in the slightest! No … but in all actuality, this game really does steal most of its mechanics from Super Mario Bros. So much so in fact that Nintendo pressured the publisher into pulling The Great Giana Sisters from European store shelves in 1987. This of course has added to the game’s mystique as a sought after collectible in the intervening years.
And in this case, Nintendo’s rabid protectionism of IP was perhaps not misplaced. The Great Giana Sisters really does borrow liberally from Super Mario Bros. You start the game as a well-mannered girl in a school uniform (i.e. small Mario), but upon gaining your first power-up (attained by hitting a power block from underneath, natch) you turn into a punked up wild child with purple highlights in her hair (i.e. Super Mario). Soon you’ll find another power-up that allows you to chuck fireballs. Worlds are structured in such a way that you venture through a variety of outside and subterranean levels before entering a vaguely familiar looking castle to face off with a boss. Bricks are smashable, enemies are stompable, etc. etc. Hell, the entire first level is almost a direct copy of the first level of SMB, right down to the placement of power-ups. I can only assume that Time Warp Productions figured they could slip this under the watchful eye of
Sauron Nintendo unnoticed. But Nintendo did notice, and the rest is history.
I’ve said this about other Mario clones, but it seems particularly pertinent here. Despite overwhelming structural similarities, The Great Giana Sisters doesn’t have the same game feel as Super Mario Bros. I still maintain that if you’re copying SMB this is where the focus should lie. If anything The Great Giana Sisters reminded me a lot of Alex Kidd in Miracle World in terms of controls. Still that’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case, as it does actually create at least a slight bit of distance between itself and its seemingly sole inspiration. Drifty jumps and rather sluggish movement are the order of the day here. I do need to make special mention of the music though, which is fantastic. There are only two songs, but they’re both great. Having said that, I have to admit that I’m a bit of a sucker for the weird jingly-jangly space-disco synthesizer found in a lot of Amiga games. I suppose your mileage may vary in this regard.
In some ways, it’s too bad that The Great Giana Sisters never really made it out of the starting blocks during the 80’s. It’s not a bad game, and given the proper opportunity it really might have developed (much earlier) into a unique franchise in its own right. Does it approach the same levels of greatness of SMB? Oh God no, but that’s not to say it’s a bad game by any means. It’s good, plain, unremarkable fun. Other than one particular late game spike in difficulty, this is an entry level platformer. If you’ve beaten almost any other side-scroller from this era, The Great Giana Sisters should give you no trouble.