The Brothers Are History!

We all know that the format of the original Super Mario Bros., now thirty years old, influenced a lot of other games. Most of them are different enough to do their own thing, but not so much in the case of The Great Giana Sisters. Made in Germany in 1987 for the Commodore 64, a lot of it is exactly like SMB, right down to the main characters being Italian siblings, in this case specified as being from Milan.

I don’t recall having heard of it before, perhaps because I never had a Commodore. I DO remember going to a classmate’s house in fourth grade and seeing the Commodore games Ducks Ahoy and Mickey’s Space Adventure, but that’s pretty much it. The game is German, developed by Armin Gessert and Manfred Trenz of Time Warp Productions, and distributed by Rainbow Arts.

The game stars Giana and her sister Maria, who is controlled by the second player, fighting their way through a dream world in order to get a large crystal and wake up.

Awake! For morning in the bowl of night/Has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight.
Since this was released the same year as SMB2, I don’t know whether the developers were aware that it also took place in a dream. The mechanics are very Mario-like, with the sisters jumping on enemies and hitting blocks to obtain power-ups and crystals that will give an extra life if you collect one hundred of them. The first enemies you encounter are quite similar to Goombas. Every fourth level is a castle, and every other even-numbered one takes place underground. The first power-up is a fire wheel that turns you into a punk, in which form you can break blocks. You’re not any bigger in this form, but there is a graphical change. The lightning bolt enables you to shoot bubbles at enemies, but here’s where there are actually some interesting deviations from the Mario format. Later power-ups will give you a projectile that bounces around (sort of like the Super Ball in Super Mario Land), and a weapon that homes in on nearby enemies. A stopwatch serves the same purpose that it does in SMB2, and a bomb works like the POW block. Oddly, there’s no item that grants temporary invincibility. Also, you can’t kill enemies by hitting the blocks underneath them.

There’s a boss at the end of each level, but you don’t necessarily need to kill them, just get past them. That was pretty much how it worked in SMB as well, except there you still sent Bowser to a fiery death even when you didn’t confront him directly. There are still bridges at the ends of the castle levels, but they don’t have axes holding them in place, and the bosses start out behind them. Maybe they learned from what Bowser did wrong. This also reminds me a bit of Super Mario Land.

You can play the game online here, which I tried but didn’t do very well. I’m not particularly good at the Mario games anyway, and this is even harder due to the fact that you have to press the up key to jump. It was originally designed to work with the Commodore joystick, which had only one button. The emulated version also has a toned-down version of the music, which is one of the highlights of the game, and a way in which it didn’t rip off Mario. Actually, it reminds me a little of the map music for the earthbound part of World 5 in SMB3.

The composer was Chris Hülsbeck.

There’s a popular rumor that a lawsuit from Nintendo killed this game, but in reality the company stopped distributing it after Nintendo became aware of it and advised them to cease. A game that was intended as a sequel, Hard ‘n’ Heavy, was changed to use robotic protagonists instead of the sisters. The original game does continue to have a fanbase, however, and there were unofficial sequels released for the Nintendo DS in Europe in 2009, and PCs and various consoles in 2012. In fact, you can get it from the Nintendo eShop, which makes me think Giana and Maria might be good additions to the Super Smash Bros. Roster. Hey, it worked with Sonic the Hedgehog.

Source: Blow the Cartridge

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