The Great Giana Sisters – Mario in disguise?

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The Great Giana Sisters was an instant hit the 80s, however it had a very short shelf life.  The title was developed by Time Warp Productions and published by Rainbow Arts. The game was initially launched on the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST and the Commodore 64. I know what you are thinking – nothing too crazy about the game so far.  However, the game was certainly controversial for one simple reason – it was almost a carbon copy of Super Mario Bros on the NES. In fact, The Great Giana Sisters was such a rip-off from the bouncing plumber that Nintendo took legal action (or were heavily rumoured to have done so) and the game was quickly withdrawn from the shelves. I wanted to investigate this story in more detail and find out exactly what happened to the short lived sisters…

 

COMPARING THE GAMES:

 

I do appreciate creating an original platformer is quite scary a task.  Thinking up original ideas of how to jump, collect items and destroy bad guys is difficult.  Mario and Sonic were the big platform players at the time with each being the mascot for Nintendo and SEGA respectively. It made sense that the home computers should have their own platform hero (or heroine in this case). If I were set the ominous task of making a game to challenge the platform superiority held by a plumber and a hedgehog, I would almost certainly aim to replicate some of the key ingredients that made them so successful.  However, I would personally draw the line at copying these games almost pixel by pixel.

 

THE TITLES:

 

Super Mario Bros:  Mario is very strong brand – even in 1987 he was Nintendo’s untold hero. Just applying the Mario stamp to any game will help boost sales. It made some crazy sort of sense to exploit the name when making a rival game.

 

The Great Giana Sisters:  Great is an adjective of super, sisters are the opposite of brothers and in Italy, when naming your unborn child you follow this simple rule: If a boy is born you call the baby Mario and if a girl is born the baby must be called Giana (this last fact may not 100% accurate…).

 

THE CHARACTERS:

 

spritecomparisonMario:  In this legendary game you control Mario, a plump plumber dressed in red and brown who likes to collect coins, jump on blocks and go down pipes.

 

Giana:  You take control of Giana (spelt Gianna in the opening intro). Giana has blonde hair and is wearing a red top and matching bow and blue skirt. She likes to collect diamonds, jump on blocks (with painted on stars) and go down gold pipes.

 

THE PLOT:

 

Mario:  In Super Mario Bros you have to rescue the princess.

 

Giana:  In The Great Giana Sisters you have to rescue your sister Maria.

 

THE GRAPHICS:

 

levelcomparisonAs you can see from the screenshot, the two games look very similar. However on closer inspection it is fair that every single graphic has been altered ever so slightly.

 

What is with those angry looking pink owls? And is that a mushroom I can see? I wonder where they have been used before…

 

THE EARLY DAYS:

 

Way before The Great Giana Sisters was released it is heavily rumoured that the game was originally meant to be a complete copy of Super Mario Bros.  Time Warp Productions wanted to recreate the game, show it to Nintendo and get the licence to launch Super Mario Bros to the home computer market.  After completing most of the game, Time Warp Productions eagerly showed Nintendo their Mario remake and hoped to get the green light to launch Mario to other platforms.  You do not need me to tell you how protective Nintendo are over their titles and quickly said no.  I imagine many long and hard hours had gone into recreating Super Mario Bros and not getting permission from Nintendo must have hit Time Warp Productions hard. What would you do in this situation?  I can imagine three possible options:

 

  1. Launch the game on the home computers and prepare yourself for an angry lawyer to knock on the door.
  2. Cut your losses, scrap the game completely, dust yourself down and work on a brand new game.
  3. Recycle all your hard work, change a few graphics, characters and launch the game under a whole new title.

 

It looks like Time Warp Productions chose option 3. They used their almost completed Super Mario Bros remake and adapted the graphics and turned the plumber into a girl, the princess into a sister and turned coins into diamonds.  A clever yet risky strategy.  The game was quickly completed and launched in 1987 to all the major home computers.

 

THE INITIAL LAUNCH:

 

Upon its release, The Great Giana Sisters gained strong critical praise and customers soon started buying the game by the truckload. It was an instant hit and finally bought the fast action platform title many home computers users were craving.

 

The gameplay was fast and the pick-up and play element was strong which allowed gamers from any ability to get stuck into the game from the minute they inserted the disk. Like Super Mario Bros you have special power-ups – in this case you can turn into punks or gain lightning powers. The aim of each level is simple – jump on enemies (these can range from weird owl’s (weird Al!?) to eyeball monsters, jump on platforms and go through tunnels and passages to reach the end of the level.

 

It was easily one of the best platformers at the time.  Sadly for the sisters Giana and Maria and of course Time Warp Productions, the good times would soon disappear faster than a plumber jumping down a greasy pipe.

 

THE ALLEGED LAWSUIT:

 

To this day there are strong rumours that Nintendo (makers of Super Mario Bros) did indeed file a lawsuit against The Great Giana Sisters. They were (understandably so, you have to admit) very upset about the similarities between the two games.  They apparently claimed the play mechanics and graphics were too similar. In fact, the first level of The Great Giana Sisters is almost identical to the first level of Super Mario Bros. This rumoured legal action may have been the reason the game quickly vanished from our shelves.

 

There is also another rumour that Nintendo did not actually file any lawsuit but were still involved in the quick withdrawal of the game from the market. It is quite obvious that the least Nintendo did was threaten legal action – this alone may have been enough to convince Rainbow Arts to immediately stop production of the game and titles soon vanished from the shop floor.

 

Even though it is not clear how much muscle Nintendo showed – it is almost certain they were the main reason the sisters soon sledged (sorry) away from our shops for good.

 

To this day it is very difficult to get an original copy of the game due to low supply. The Great Giana Sisters is one of the rarest and most collectable games across the home computer market and an original boxed and mint condition game can fetch a healthy price on eBay – anything from around £60.00 to £70.00.

 

WAS THAT THE END OF THE SISTERS?

 

giana2Luckily for The Great Giana sisters this was not the end of road. They went on to appear on a number of other titles across numerous platforms.

 

Straight after the initial release of the first game Time Warp Productions started work on the sequel –  Giana 2: Arther and Martha in Future World.  Due to the pressure exerted by Nintendo the game was quickly retitled to Hard ‘n’ Heavy. The girls were replaced by robots (maybe cyborgs!?) and the game proved to be a smash hit for Commodore 64.

 

Luckily for the sisters they were not replaced by robots for too long as Giana Sisters DS was launched on the (I bet you can’t guess) DS in 2009. The game uses similar gameplay elements from the original with all new unique levels.

 

July 2012 was another good year for the sisters as they appeared in Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams on numerous platforms. To launch the game Kickstarter was used to gain the necessary funds.

 

CONCLUSION:

 

Were Nintendo the bullies in this story or were Time Warp Productions wrong to even launch The Great Giana Sisters on the market? It is easy to take sides with both companies. I do however believe Nintendo had little choice but to try their hardest to get the sisters off the shelves purely for the long term protection of their (and other developers) games for the future. Imagine if you spent thousands (if not millions) of pounds developing a game and after the launch it was possible for a rival developer to simply copy the game code by code and launch it under a new title. Copyrights and trademarks are there to protect the assets of the business and hopefully lead to more innovation in the market. How close were The Great Giana Sisters to opening up the flood gates to The Amazing Andrea Aunties, The Unbelievable Usman Uncles or The Fantastic Fred Fathers?  I guess we will (thankfully) never know.

 

– Adrian

 

3 Comments on “The Great Giana Sisters – Mario in disguise?”

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