Friday, 20 September 2013

The Great Giana Sisters (Rainbow Arts, 1987)

Developed for the Commodore 64
by Time Warp Productions:
Armin Gessert - code & design
Manfred Trenz - graphics
Chris Hülsbeck - music

Converted for the Atari ST/STe
in 1987 at Time Warp by:
Armin Gessert - design
Thomas Hertzler - code
Manfred Trenz - graphics
Jochen Hippel - music

Converted for the Commodore Amiga
in 1988 at Time Warp by:
Armin Gessert - design
Thomas Hertzler - code
Manfred Trenz - graphics
Thomas Lopatic - music

Converted for the Amstrad CPC in 1988 by Spiky Productions.

Converted for the MSX2 in 1993 by Jan van Valburg for MGF, and published by Sunrise.

Also converted for the ZX Spectrum in 1988 by Ian Richards from Source Software,
but was ultimately left unreleased, and is currently impossible to find.

This is a really big one, so grab some pizza or coffee, you're gonna be reading this a looong time.



What can I say? It's a legend in a way that makes it more legendary than the game it was based on. It's not a particularly innovative game, but it sure got famous enough in its day to spawn sequels, unofficial ports and remakes and make people hate Nintendo. With a slightly renewed interest in the Giana Sisters brand due to the sequel "Twisted Dreams" for the PC, XBLA, PSN and WiiU by Black Forest Games, it's not really too bad an idea to remind people of how it all came about.

Currently, Giana Sisters has been rated 8.6 with 323 votes at Lemon64, and is ranked #25 in the top 100 list. 26 Atarimania voters have given it 7.0, and the Amiga version is rated 7.71 with 191 votes at LemonAmiga, but neither version reaches any top lists. CPC Game Reviews website has given the Amstrad version a respectable 8 out of 10, and although the Spectrum version never got released, the Speccy magazines at the time gave it a wide range of ratings from 5/10 (Sinclair User) to 9/10 (Crash).

I couldn't find any reviews for the MSX2 conversion, but you'll find enough about it later on. I'm not really sure that the MSX2 conversion was even supported by Time Warp, thus making it even nearly official, since it was an amateur release, but I'll add this in my comparison, since it's the last one that resembles the original close enough to be converted from the same game.

Having said that, an Android version of the game was released in 2005, by the name of Giana Sisters. I checked some gameplay videos and screenshots, but couldn't accept this version to be a direct port of the original concept, so I have left it out of this comparison.



I got challenged to write about the Great Giana Sisters without mentioning their Nintendo counterparts, but anyone who knows the history of this game, knows that it's simply impossible, because it's such an integral part of the whole myth that surrounds this game.

It should be mentioned, that Super Mario Bros. wasn't the first side-scrolling platformer to emerge. The first one would probably be BC's Quest For Tires by Sydney Development, released by Sierra On-Line in 1983 for Colecovision and a big bunch of home computers. Further development in the genre came in 1984 in forms of Pac-Land from Namco, Legend of Kage from Taito, Flicky from Sega and another Namco title, Dragon Buster, all of which were in some ways more innovative than the next step. Super Mario Bros. was released in 1985 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (or FamiCom), and became the archetype of platformers for a good while, not to mention the world's best selling game for a long time, although a lot of the sells were included on the amount of sold Nintendo console units.

Sega tried to emulate this success with games like Alex Kidd and Wonderboy, both of which were nice success stories on their own, but failed to beat the brothers, although Wonderboy was cloned for the Nintendo as Adventure Island. Wonderboy was even converted for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC without much objections from Sega.

Of course, the 8-bit computing world was left eating the Mario Brothers' dust, because no computer seemed to have the power to match Super Mario's scrolling speed. Now we know a bit better, but when Time Warp Productions started their development, it seemed like an almost impossible job to produce something even close to the Nintendo hit, so they went for a modified version of the Super Mario idea, and even tweaked the game's title to their own image.

In 1987, Rainbow Arts released The Great Giana Sisters in Europe, following a great hype. Go! released the UK version with a different cover, pictured here. Not as sexy, but probably safer for public. At first, the game looks like a direct clone from Super Mario Bros., and even featured two Italian punk girls from Milano as the main characters: Giana Giana and Maria Giana. This was enough to make Nintendo pressure Time Warp to withdraw the game from sale, before they were facing legal action, so the game was sold for two weeks before taking off from the shelves. By this action, Giana Sisters gained probably more fame and fans than they would, had the game had a normal history. Now, even the commonest copy of an original Giana Sisters is sold for several hundred euros on eBay, so at least it's way more valuable than the Nintendo hit.

The Great Giana Sisters does start off very similarly to Super Mario Bros. The level design in the first stage is creepily similar, but not enough to be a direct copy. The bonuses, enemies, game mechanics and other details get quite different enough from the Mario thing to be considered a completely different game. Two major differences should be pretty apparent for anyone: Giana can't run like Mario with a second button, and Giana has more special bonus items available to use. Also, what the Giana sisters lack is the ability to swim, so we don't have any underwater levels, although it's probably a memory constriction more than anything.

We'll get more closely to the specifics later on, but I have to say, as a gamer who understands the importance of Super Mario Bros. in gaming history, and enjoys a game or two occasionally, I enjoy playing Giana Sisters a bit more, because it requires precision and thinking more than Super Mario Bros. ever does. Also, the forbidden fruit factor gives the game somehow a better feel to it. Because Nintendo forbids me to play it, I therefore shall, and it's a good feeling. Time Warp knew what they were doing, and took the risk.

C64 captions from the unreleased Giana 2 and the modified
version that was officially released as Hard 'n' Heavy.
The game was supposed to be released on the ZX Spectrum as well, but it was pulled off before it was released, due to what happened to the original release on the Commodore 64. However, Time Warp had begun developing a sequel to Giana Sisters shortly after its release. Announced as "Giana 2: Arthur and Martha in Future World", the game was clearly to take place in a futuristic setting. Due to the pressure coming from Nintendo, it was deemed too risky to produce another game associated with the Giana Sisters brand, so the game was made to feature robots rather than the original protagonists, and the name was changed to Hard 'n' Heavy. The game was released in 1989 by reLINE Software, but was left in the shadow(s) of the sisters.



Honestly, I can't think of a reason to include this section here this time. And it's mostly due to the fact that the game is so damn hard to find as an original that you would have to pay a small fortune to actually get it in your collection. Most of us who have played this game, only got to play it because of piratism.

Of all the versions available on the internet, the C64 version is the only one that I know of that has the original tape version preserved into a tape image file, which takes 3 minutes 41 seconds to load if you're quick with your fingers, because the intro screens stop the tape for the duration of however long you're going to watch and listen to the intro.



Starting with the original and going gradually worse, it's time to look at how the game actually plays. The C64 version was the first to emerge from Time Warp, so it's the one we judge every other version by. You choose the number of players by pushing 1 or 2 on the keyboard, but since I'm the only one playing in this comparison, I'll go with 1 (and deal with Maria later on in the graphics section). The 16-bit versions already differ slightly, and the game hasn't even truly begun: on both AMIGA and ST, you choose the number of players by pulling the joystick left (for one player) or right (for two players). The AMSTRAD version differs even more, since you get an options menu after the title screen, where you can choose the number of players and method of control.

Naturally, the game starts with Giana starting to run, which she performs with a slight acceleration, but only noticeable. It's clearly copied from the Mario game, but doesn't extend to the turbo run, because it isn't there. When you jump, your jump has a maximum height progressively measured by how long you hold the joystick up, and you can steer the jump in mid-air, so you can reach some difficult platforms, but not as much as Mario is able to. When you hit the tiles with either crystals or bonus items in them, you'll be able to direct the jump in such a subtle way as to sort of scrape the tile, so you can get more crystals per jump. This can earn you more crystals per tile even in the hidden tiles, if you're quick enough. As with Mario, collecting a hundred crystals (as in coins) will get you an extra life. Gathering points for high score only is of any use, if you save your high scores, which you can actually do here, unlike with Mario. In essence, the movement is pixel perfect and feels surprisingly organic.

As for the weapons and other bonus items, you'll start off with the fire wheel, which turns you into a hard-headed punk rocker that can break bricks with her head. Next up is the lightning bolt, that is supposed to be equivalent to Mario's fire flower, but acts a bit differently. The double lightning gives your bolt the ability to bounce off from walls for as long as it doesn't hit an enemy or go off the screen. The strawberry acts similarly, when there's no enemies around, but when there are, it acts like a homing missile, although it cannot go through bricks. Then come the flashing items, which can be used by pushing the space bar. The clock is for freezing the enemies for a brief time, the bomb is for killing all the enemies on screen, and the water drop is for quenching the fires on screen. All the flashing items replace the previous in hold, and when you use any of them, you'll start collecting the flashing items again from the clock onwards. After you've collected all the flashing items through, you'll get a lollipop, which is an extra life. Two notable differences to the Mario arsenal are 1) the lack of a power star equivalent item to make you invulnerable against enemies for 10 seconds or whatever, and 2) in Super Mario Bros., all the items you'll be able to get and use throughout the game are presented before the first stage is completed.

A few mentions on a few specific enemies: for one, the big boss enemies are mostly very easy to dodge, and head off for the exit, but they require following a pattern. Of course, killing them off is an option, but doesn't give you any extra points. Second, there's the enemies which can't be killed: the worms, the yellow jumping aliens, the piranhas, the jumping balls and some brownish red things that look like turtles with a huge horn growing out of their necks. Third, and possibly the most evil thing in the game, are the little bluish grey bugs, who are sometimes able to catch your bullets so that they stay vibrating over the little buggers. This might actually be a programming bug as well, but somehow it feels intentional.

A completely unique feature in Giana Sisters compared to its rival are the large boulders that occasionally fall from broken bricks. Other than being helpful in climbing to higher places, they don't offer any other help. Actually, I remember this happening to me a couple of times a long time ago: I got stuck under two boulders somehow and died instantly. I couldn't repeat this weirdness now, no matter how many times I tried. It could've been an enhancement "fix" in some cracked version, but I can't be sure.

Bonus caverns from C64, Amiga and MSX2.

As in Super Mario, you can find hidden underground bonus caverns, which can be found by searching for little specific looking blue lines in chasms and watery graves, and there's five different designs in these hidden caverns, which will change in order of visit, instead of being placed in specific places.

Warp blocks in levels 3 and 6 (left: C64 / right: Amiga)

You can find hidden warp blocks in the air, but some of them are more devilish to find than the warps in Super Mario Bros. Of course, like Nintendo Power did for the Mario bits, we had our own magazines that would reveal us the secrets of Giana Sisters.

Finally, you have 33 stages to play through, which is one more than Super Mario Bros., but there's a little trap near the end of the game, that makes finishing the game impossible if you don't take the correct route and you only have one life left. Even if you take the correct exit, you'll be faces with the Boss Dragon, who follows your every move, so you have to be quick and precise in your actions.

Now, all of the text above about the mechanics are from the Commodore 64 version, except for the obvious in the first paragraph. It's not necessarily everybody's ideal for a platform game, but all of that stuff is what I think makes Giana Sisters what it is. When it comes to finding the best option, we have the AMIGA version.

While Armin Gessert was coding the C64 version, he left Thomas Hertzler to code the 16-bit versions, and did everything as close to Armin's design and instructions as possible. The resulting product includes some bits that Armin didn't include in the C64 version, and is missing some elements that make the C64 version feel more organic. One of the biggest differences is the player's ability to bounce off jump-killed enemies, which is an idea copied straight from the Mario games. Also, the weapons move in a different angle, and the homing strawberry weapon goes through bricks to kill enemies. This is all good and fun, but then the jumping doesn't feel quite as analogue as it does on the C64. This combined with the finite amount of diamonds to be knocked off of tiles makes the game feel very predictable and slightly unorganic, and the biggest disadvantage with this is that getting out of tighter jumping spots is way more difficult. The 16-bit machines do have another advantage in having the special items loop regardless of your using them. And for all you high-score hunters, killing off the big end-level boss enemies do give you a bunch of extra score in the 16-bit versions. But one thing I really have to complain about, though, is the final Boss Dragon - it acts exactly like all the other Dragons, so it's very easy to just kill or run under. So it's in many ways a different experience - sometimes for the better, sometimes worse.

The ATARI ST version plays otherwise just like the Amiga version, but for some unexplainable reason, it doesn't scroll properly. It plays like a flick-screen platformer you would normally expect on a Spectrum. This makes some situations worse, when enemies come at you completely by surprise, so you'll be losing a lot of lives for no better reason than lack of proper scrolling.

I downloaded as many versions of the MSX2 release as I could find, but I couldn't get any of them to work - they just resetted the emulator after the Sunrise logo. The guy who made the speedrun video of MSX2 Giana Sisters recommended to use openMSX, but it was too bothersome to get working so I just decided to write what I could, based on the speedrun videos. First off, Giana looks like she's skating through the game. Then you'll notice that it actually feels like she's constantly on ice, so jumping through the more difficult obstacles will probably feel like hell, if you've gotten used to the normal controls. There are some modifications in level design, and apparently some bonus items are completely left out of the game, but what really bugs me is the decrease in monsters, particulary the big ones. Even the unique ending demo doesn't help making the poor conversion worth playing - just watch the speedruns on YouTube if you are really that interested.

The AMSTRAD conversion is unspeakably bad. It's bad enough that Giana walks like an elderly person, but it always starts with a bit of twiching about in one place, so you feel like you have to be pushing the joystick in the required direction harder constantly. Also, your movements are measured with weird 3 to 5 pixel intervals, depending much on your luck, because the controls are unbelievably lagged. Killing your enemies by jumping on them doesn't work most of the time, and even landing on platforms that are only half your width, isn't possible: you just drop right through them. In short, the scrolling and collision detection are horrible beyond comprehension. The only version for Amstrad that I could find on the internet, was a stupidly cracked version that had an infinite lives cheat turned on by default, and I couldn't find a way to turn it off. Or maybe if the available game is just a preview version, it's just one of its features. Still, I only managed to get to level 8 before my frustration level got high enough to give up entirely. It was the most bothersome quest to find some good to say about this game, but I found one: to help with the utterly horrid sluggishness, your bullets can collect the floating crystals for you, so you can save some time there. A final note would be that some levels were modified beyond recognition, most probably due to the memory constraints. I can't imagine why CPC Game Reviews would give this as much as 8 out of 10, unless it's a good example of platform games on the Amstrad... which it clearly isn't. Even Karnov plays better than this.

Based on my experience and comparing to the original, I'd put the lot in this order:

1. C64/AMIGA
3. MSX2



As usual, we are first greeted with the loading screen, but this time the programmers have decided to make it as a separate intro thing, and load the game after you've had enough of a rendition of the original release cover art and a nice tune that you can't hear elsewhere in the game. It's pretty much the same in all the original versions, as you can see below, but the other two versions that came from third party developers look very much different. Note that the Amiga screenshot for the loading screen looks a bit weird, because it uses a technique that looks similar to the IFLI (Interlaced Flexible Line Interpretation) mode on C64, which alternates rapidly between two pictures, so the one screenshot will not represent exactly what's happening on screen. Anyway, it's a bit surprising, how different the two 16-bit loading screens look, although they were done within the same development team...

Commodore 64 intro screens

Commodore Amiga intro screens

Atari ST intro screens

Left: Amstrad CPC loading screen
Middle and right: MSX2 intro screens

Next up, we have the title screen that I'd guess most of us are more familiar with than the intro bit,
since the earlier C64 cracks didn't have the separate intro included. To an 8 year old kid, it was a
wonder to behold - a title that was too big to fit in one screen, so it had to be scrolled. Of course, when you have a game title built from big blocks and objects used in the game itself, specially in a
game like this, it can't be less than huge.

Top left: Atari ST - Top right: Commodore Amiga
Bottom left: Commodore 64 - Bottom right: Amstrad CPC

If you want to take a look at all the different title scrollers (except the Atari ST, since it's so similar to the Amiga one) in their entirety, click here.

Taking the 16-bits first in closer inspection, we might see that they look otherwise very much alike,
but the ATARI version has the gas pedal stuck to the floor, and it doesn't have the credits scrolling
like the AMIGA does. If you want to see them in action, find them on YouTube.

Then we have the AMSTRAD version, which has the dubious honour of having the most pleasurable title screen in comparison with the actual game content in the said version. You can see already from here, that the colours are definitely very strange, and some of the blocks are differently proportioned than in the other versions. If you want to draw some pluses from this, it is the only officially released version of the original game that has GIANA written as it is in the cover and elsewhere in the game, and all the others have it GIANNA.

Regardless of whether or not the MSX2 conversion is officially approved, the title screen is definitely
different from the rest (which you can see in the earlier collage, since there are only the two intro pictures). No scrolling whatsoever, just a lazily stylized title text and some credits in what looks *almost* like Amiga's system font. And that's not all that's way different...

C64 screenshots from stages 1, 2 and 12.
At the beginning, as it said many times, Giana starts off in a Marioesque setting - stage 1 looks like the perfect alternative for Super Mario's stage 1, but feels more peaceful, mostly due to the music, but also because you're not bombarded with as much of stuff in the first stage as in Super Mario Bros., and of course, because you run slower. I don't know if the different types of stages have names, but I've been calling the light stages with the reggaeish music "Overworld" as they apparently do in Mario; the dark underground stages with the same reggae music "Underworld" or "Tunnels", depending on their structures, and the dark places with heavy march/rock-type music (every fourth stage) are either "Strongholds" or "Castles", but they really could be anything. It's a dream world, go with what you feel like.

C64: The two forms of Giana and Maria.
Giana and Maria look otherwise very much alike, just as Mario and Luigi do, but while Giana has a yellow supercurly hair, Maria's is green. Different versions seem to have different hairstyles, but otherwise, the idea is the same.

C64 Giana Sisters' array of monsters.

The monsters' main colours seem to be yellow, green, red, white and cyan, but the rarer ones even have some brown and blue. All of them are animated mid-res sprites, and two of them are really big: the Dragon and the Great Spider. Enemy animations are mostly from 2 to 4 frames, but the Dragon, the Great Spider and the Worm have a lot of frames for their animations. All the sprites in the game look very fitting with the scenery and have that same quality to them that Super Mario Bros. has. Only SMB has a couple of more enemies to boast on, due to C64's memory constrains. According to the manual (available to view on the internet), there were supposed to be something like the Koopa Troopas in SMB, hinted in the manual with "Have you ever played football with a flattened shell?"

C64's array of collectible items.

Most of the items you will collect are purple-bluish-white in a kind of flashy style, and drawn as hi-res sprites. Even the crystals are nicely animated hi-res in the style. The fire wheel is also animated, but it's a multicolour sprite, so it's a bit blocky. Actually it looks more like a beach ball, but the manual says it's a fire wheel. The lollipop and strawberry are the only collectibles that aren't animated and have that mid-res coloured thing going on with them.

All the blocks that you can interact with and all that you can't have their distinctive looks, so it's very easy to get into if you're at all familiar with the Super Mario style of platformers. Of course, if you aren't, it'll take some time learning all the quirks and secrets, but a game like this should look like it could be learned with intuition. To some extent, it does. If it doesn't, you're not really a gamer, and I don't know what the heck are you doing here anyway.

Amstrad CPC screenshots.

The AMSTRAD version still looks bad as it did in the intro - every level has the same colour scheme, and all the enemies, blocks and decorative items have a strange ugly look to them. It has succeeded in keeping the essence of the game intact, but the charm and beauty has been completely taken away.

If you're lucky enough to have lured a friend (or an enemy) to play Giana Sisters with you on an Amstrad, you wouldn't know which one played which character by colour, since Giana and Maria have the exact same graphic characteristics. Luckily, you can see it's Maria by looking up her name from below the main game screen, in case you miss the "get ready" screen.

The owls look green instead of red, and the red blobs don't even exist, but at least the wasps, the eyes and the bugs looked almost like on the C64, only blockier and less colourful. That's all I could come across - I warped my way over level 4 so I didn't catch a glimpse of the Giant Spider, but I saw it in a screenshot and it looked close enough to the original.

All the breakable bricks are grey, and all the non-breakable ones seemed to be green. The fire barrels had the fire slightly shortened (or the barrel slightly widened) so that you could jump on the edges, and they look a bit silly for that.

Collectable items look almost like the ones on the C64, without the flashing, but recognizable, so at least that's fine. However, when you fire your weapon, the bullets (bolts or dream bubbles as they are officially called in the manual) look exactly like the crystals that jump out from the crystal blocks. All the crystals that are hovering in the air look relatively impressive compared to everything else in this conversion: not only are they animated, but also they are not in sync with each other, so it looks more interesting. Still, they're blocky and ugly as everything else in the Amstrad conversion.

Strangely enough, we have a similar dual graphic mode here as Source Software did with Usagi Yojimbo, split from the middle, but it doesn't help the scrolling one bit. Maybe they should've left Source do the conversion for the Amstrad as well as the unreleased Spectrum version, they might've done a slightly better job there.

Amiga screens.

Apart from the scrolling (and the title screens), the 16-bit versions look very much alike, and I couldn't tell them apart from screenshots alone. The player characters look very much like proper punk rockers with their colourful mohawk hairstyles, with Giana's character colour being purple and Maria's green.

Atari ST screens.
The bonus items look very different in the 16-bits, probably because the programmers thought they would look better because they were able to make multi-coloured hi-res sprites now. Well, sure, but it's more a matter of opinion really. The fire wheel does look more like a fire wheel now, although not exactly in the way you would think it would, considering the name. Other differences are found in the clock (mostly green thingy), the bomb (just grey) and the water drop (just blue). Perhaps the lollipop looks slightly different as well, but you will never be looking at it long enough in the games to notice any difference. What's really annoying is that the crystals are just plain unanimated red, which makes them rather unappealing, unless you feel like they shouldn't be shiny and hypnotic at all.
The Giant Spider and Dragon, as represented by the 16-bits.

Looking at the monsters more closely, everything does look more like they're probably supposed to, and the big monsters look definitely more threatening and detailed. The only ones that I can think of that look worse than on the C64, are the piranhas, which are now very green and don't face downwards when falling down. Also slightly distracting is that the jumping blue aliens in the 16-bits are just as yellow as the ones you can't kill, so you can't know which ones are which, unless you're completely familiar with both necessary versions.

One final complaint about the 16-bits: some of the stages that were made of purple and green bricks, are just the same boring red stuff that most of the other underground stages are, although the stages with some big boss monster are greyish blue or red. But really, it's not a big fault.

The one thing that makes this comparison a bit too difficult is that I'm unable to fully examine the MSX2 version, but I'll try to get everything out from the speedrun videos on YouTube.

First of all you're on your own, there's no two-player mode, not that you'd really need one. After you've dealt with that fact with a good amount of "meh", you'll start the game and enter a world of deep dark blue. Every overworld stage is deep dark blue, and underworld stages are very black. All the brick colours are very brown and yellow, but at least there's some green grass on the ground occasionally. Also, the game scrolls nicely, but there's an annoying line change method to it. Check it out from YouTube if you really want to know.

What's surprising about this conversion, is how much stuff is actually missing from it. I mean, for one example, take a look at this screenshot from stage 11. Do you even recognize the place? It's the bit where the big red spike cones are introduced in a devilish manner. Here, they're replaced with those little white moving spikes, and even they seem to only make you jump. Also missing are all the original bonus caverns, and they are replaced with one different one. Even the warp blocks seem to be missing, at least for the most part. Also somewhat lacking in execution is the game's collision detection. It's almost impossible to get killed by any monster.

Speaking of monsters, there's a clear difference in the number and style of enemies in this version. What I saw in the game were turtles (definitely planned for the original game, but not implemented), eye monsters (that looked VERY different from the originals), the blob monsters that were now made brown and angry, big fat yellow wasps with red stripes (almost right), yellow worms that didn't quite get the correct look in their animation, and some very blue piranhas, which at least turned downwards properly. Sorely missing were all the jumping little aliens, the bugs, the owls, the little weird things with spikes growing out of their necks, and worst of all, every Dragon and Giant Spider were completely missing. You did get to see some bouncing balls, but even they only appeared in stage 29, and there were two of them.

Monsters on the MSX version.

From the videos, I could only get to see the player pick up the double lightning upgrade (the first one of the bunch!!), which only made Giana grow some hair upwards and lose her headband.

I can't really dig up much more from the videos, but it's really more than enough to know how different it is to the originals. And you know, the lack of graphics and elements affect the playability in these sorts of games. I was only able to even notice the huge lack of stuff when I started to look more closely to what there actually was and what wasn't, because I couldn't play it. Now that I've seen it, I don't need to play it because I know it's incomplete. Still, it's way better than the official Amstrad conversion.

1. C64/AMIGA
3. MSX2

The reason why I've given the C64 version such a high position, when naturally the 16-bits should easily conquer the 8-bits, is because 1) the Atari version doesn't scroll like it should, 2) the 16-bit versions aren't graphically as varied/interesting as the C64 version is, and 3) the C64 version is really that much more impressive compared to the other 8-bits, and more particularly to the 16-bits.



Oh my, this is going to be a long and difficult section. Hold on to your hats.

Chris Huelsbeck's wonderfully dreamlike soundtrack for The Great Giana Sisters has been covered a number of times by notable bands, artists and orchestras, so we have a true classic to deal with here. I would like to bypass the comparisons to Super Mario this time, but I have to say one thing: even though the Mario soundtrack is probably better known throughout the world, and has more catchy melodies, the tunes you hear there are surprisingly short (especially in the European version). In Giana Sisters, you'll get a loader tune that's over 3.5 minutes long, an intro tune that's over a minute long, two in-game tunes that are both over a minute long (the other almost 2 minutes), and a game over/high-score list tune that's almost a minute long. Only the level transitions and deaths have something akin to what you would hear in a Nintendo game, but even they are so clearly not, that you could hardly draw a parallel.

Starting with the brilliant loader music (also wonderfully covered by Reyn Ouwehand on his "The Blithe, The Blend & The Bizarre" album from 2007), it's a tune that actually would be more comfortably placed in a Japanese family-friendly anime, with all its bright instruments and a happily bouncing drum track. At least, that's the way it is on the C64. Even the ATARI ST manages to bring out a nice rendition of the tune, although it sounds a bit noisy due to the sampled synth sounds, but it's definitely the better of the two 16-bits. The AMIGA variation is a bit weird, it has a bit uncomfortable and unbalanced instrumentation, and at some points, the music coder has somehow managed to drop an 8th note from a 4/4 bar, so it feels like a clear mistake. Also, the melody is a bit simplified, and it feels less like a song because it loops after a while, so it's definitely my least favourite version of the loader music. At least the Atari version gets to the end almost properly before it loops, but it doesn't bother much.

The AMSTRAD version doesn't really require more than one paragraph regarding sounds, since there really aren't any. I'm not sure if it really is a full commercially released version that's available on the internet, or if it's just a preview, but according to magazine reviews that I found of the CPC version, they didn't have any sounds either, so it's possible that it just doesn't have any. Whatever.

Well, getting back to the versions that actually have sounds, we'll proceed to the main theme tune, that's played in the menu screen where you choose the number of players. The original C64 version loops after 1 minute and 12 seconds. (Actually, I took some time to purposely measure some Super Mario songs, and the main theme in SMB1 is exactly 1 minute and 12 seconds long in the PAL version, before it loops, but I've only recently learned that the original is much slower, and takes 2 minutes and 55 seconds to loop, so there goes that theory of trying to copy something more from the Marios.) Anyway, it's a nicely structured mood piece that somehow implies the nature of how the game will proceed, if you take the melodic and rhythmic elements and compare them to the growing difficulty.

The AMIGA version again has a strange remix of the tune with some bits missing from the middle, and even more strangely, some bits added to the end, which makes the tune last for 1 minute and 36 seconds. While the ending is quite nice, if slightly unfitting with the overall nature of the original part of the tune, what's most annoying to me with the Amiga remix is the transition to the modulated heavy section, which doesn't feel at all at home without the missing bit in the middle. Also, while the drums are quite heavy in style and volume, all the other instruments feel very subdued, and thus unbalanced. No sir, I don't like it.

The ST version sounds slightly better (closer to the C64) than the Amiga version, but for some reason, it only goes until the transition point where it should modulate and do some heavier stuff, but doesn't. I guess it's because the scroller is so damn fast that anyone trying to play this on an Atari would get sick by watching the title screen for longer than it takes to listen to half of the song.

The MSX2 version has a completely different tune in the intro, but it's not bad. Just another clear sign that it wasn't made by the original team. But this version only has that one intro screen, and no options for the number of players, so it's a bit strange.

Getting on with the game itself, the overworld tune is a soothing reggae-style tune that only gets a bit darker when the time starts running out, but it doesn't really increase in tempo. The original C64 version might have a quicker time counter, since you only get to hear the darker bit for a few seconds before the time usually runs out, but the Amiga version can play it for almost 20 seconds at best. Of course, it could be also that Giana runs slightly slower on the C64 than on the Amiga and Atari, which is only reasonable. Surprisingly, this time even the MSX2 version has a tune that is directly copied from the other versions.

Huelsbeck was clearly adept at taking advantage of the very Commodorian characters in music as well as sound effects, and the overworld tune is the first time we get to hear that side of his musicianship. Those trademark arpeggio chords that are so used in SID music just make this reggae tune exactly that bit different from what's expected that it's completely right for this game. ATARI music coder Jochen Hippel clearly understood this and tried to copy that thought into his version, which really isn't too bad, considering Atari ST's track record from our earlier comparisons. AMIGA version has that rhythm section pretty nailed, and the melody is very clear, but you really have to concentrate to hear the characteristic double-hit reggae chords in the background. MSX2 has a faster shuffle version of the tune, and it starts without the trademark wind blowing effect, but it sounds like midi music, so I'm not sure if the machine would've been able to produce the wind effect.

The level transition jingles aren't that important to compare, but it's important that there is one. It's all the same to me if it's not completely right, because it's so short and non-descriptive, but it's way better to have one than not. They're all different, so pick a favourite.

Getting underground then, our first example is played actually on the MSX2, because the two tunes are played every other level. Every other version has a clear pattern of 3 reggaes and 1 heavy march. Anyway, there you go - this is a heavy march fusion thing that has four clearly different sections: intro pounding (originally four chords, 8 bars long - on the MSX2 it's five chords, 10 bars), first melody (8 bars), middle pounding with modulation (10 bars), and finally the second melody (8 bars), and then it loops from beginning. The MSX2 version isn't bad, since it's actually there, although the extra bars kind of mess it up slightly, and it's a bit too fast. Anyway, it still sounds like midi music.

Originally on the C64, it really is more like a march tune with some heavy rock elements - even a classic tom-tom roll in the middle 2 bars. Thomas Lopatic probably took the heavy thing too seriously and added some double-bassdrum fills and similar snare drum rolls, but left out the tom-tom fills, that are so important in the 2 middle bars. Also, there's some important arpeggio stuff missing, so again, the AMIGA version lacks that all important balance. It sounds exactly like a quintet tune played by a trio. And again, the ATARI musician has taken the right idea from Huelsbeck and put it into an Atari format.

The ATARI version is the only one to have one extra tune to offer during the game, which is played in the final Boss Dragon battle. It's a very low-key tune with not too much happening, but dark enough for the situation. However, it just doesn't add enough for the game to be of any great importance. The same tune is also included in the SID bank file, but I suppose the RAM capacity of the C64 was already breaking limits with everything happening in that one load, so Gessert was forced to leave this one tune out of the equation. And I bet most of us don't feel any less experienced for that little omission.

As we get to the end of the game by fair means or foul, by winning or by dying, we get to the high score list, which plays the waking up tune, or the death tune, however you interpret it in each situation. I could say it represents the waiting room. The original tune on the C64 is composed of four chord runs in three progressively noisier settings before looping, and fills the time to write your name quite nicely. As usual, the ATARI version tries to follow the C64's footprints, but this time the final third's elemental integrity crumbles off for some reason. The MSX2 version sounds very much like a Japanese anime ending tune with its additional melody fills and a steady rhythm track, which I have to say, I somehow like the best of the bunch. For once, the AMIGA gets closer to the C64 music than the ATARI, but it's too little, too late, and not close enough.

There's sound effects for pretty much everything in this game: jumping, killing enemies, picking up upgrades, firing your weapon, collecting crystals, dying, gaining extra lives, smashing bricks.. all the necessary stuff. On the C64, naturally they will play over some of the channels in music, and will thus decrease the musical output, but at least they've thought to replace the least important channel in music with the sound effects in order to get the best of both worlds. On the Amiga and ST you will get a unique death scream as well, and the sounds won't get in the music's way. However, some of the effects in the AMIGA version tend to get a bit into the background, which is a bit weird, because the music is already somewhat unbalanced, so you'll only get to hear 2/3 of the sonics in the game properly. On the MSX2, you'll get some very simplified effects for jumping, killing enemies, collecting stuff and smashing bricks, but it'll all just make you feel you're playing a cheap version. Which, of course, you are.

That's it for every other version, but the MSX2 version has one more tune to give you after you've finished the game and entered your name in the high score list. It plays during the ending demo and credits, and from what I could tell, it's actually a really twisted reharmonization of the Super Mario Bros. theme song, and I really can't imagine that Time Warp Productions would've wanted anything like that to have in an official conversion of their game after what they had been through with Nintendo about five years earlier.

I might've mentioned in an earlier game comparison, that Amiga usually doesn't have much character in its game soundtracks. Well, I might have to specify that claim in this case: it's not that much about character, but the lack of clarity in those clearly Amigan characteristics. Some of you might have noticed, that I tend to like balance in sounds. It probably has to do with my background as a musician, but I've actually made some of my non-musician friends to listen to these different versions of Giana Sisters soundtracks, and they've all come to the same conclusion after some chewing: the C64 version sounds easily the best, and it's because it's the only version that has the right balance and spirit.

1. C64
4. MSX2
5. AMSTRAD CPC (gets zero points for zero sounds)



I had been dreading to write this comparison more than I did Commando, because I knew what kind of mess I would get myself in while doing this. Commando was relatively easy to do, even if there were way more machines it was ported to than in this case. Giana Sisters has always been a more legendary game since its release, not only for the obvious Nintendo-related reasons, but because it was such a huge step for the 8-bit computer gaming society to live through and see probably for the first time, what our machines were capable of doing, if you put it in the right hands. And as some of you already know, this wasn't even nearly the C64's greatest achievement, nor the first big one, but it was the first time we felt like the C64 could do just as good, if not better, than the 16-bits, nevermind the 8-bit consoles.

And as you've been reading, there's not really all that much in common with the Super Mario Bros., except for the specific subgenre. All the details are different enough to be considered a completely different game. Just to give some counterbalancing thought in the law suit thing, had I been the one developing Wonderboy for Sega, I would've belatedly threatened Hudson Soft for releasing such a blatant ripoff of Wonderboy as Adventure Island, or better yet, Nintendo for allowing such a release - it would've been the exact same thing.

Clearly, the other 8-bit versions felt like completely different games, but I'm not really an expert on either computer to say whether they were all that good or bad on each machine, comparing to their respective catalogues. Comparing the MSX2 and Amstrad versions to the C64 original, however, makes you feel sorry that they ever even tried - especially the Amstrad converters, if they were in a hurry. It's really a pity that the Spectrum conversion never got released, because that would've really been interesting to see.

Here's my overall top 5:

1. C64 - Playability 4, Graphics 4, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 13
2. AMIGA - Playability 4, Graphics 4, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 11
3. ATARI ST - Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 10
4. MSX2 - Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 6
5. AMSTRAD CPC - Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 0 = TOTAL 2

So, there's three proper ways to go here, depending on your chosen computer, and all of them are quite playable. I can't really affect on your preferences, but I hope I can make you inspired to find and try all the versions out to see for yourself, if you're able to.

There have been some unofficial sequels for the Great Giana Sisters, even on the C64, after Hard 'n' Heavy was released. The best of the bunch appeared when Team 7A3 released Giana Sisters II in 1993, with a different soundtrack, bugfixes and enhancements and additions to gameplay mechanics, and boasted of 40 new levels. Giana's Return was another unofficial sequel released in 2008 for Windows, Linux, Max OSX and a bunch of other marginal OS's.

--TEMPORARY UPDATE: 23th of October, 2014--
Earlier this year, an upgraded Giana Sisters was released for the Atari STE, which - if I may be so bold to claim - just might beat the Amiga version with an inch. I wrote about it in an entry of UPDATES on September 27. I will update the original comparison accordingly when I have more time to do so.

Now, I'll take a break from the bigger comparison projects and do some easier ones for a while, and properly concentrate on the next part in my Finnish games history lesson series, which will come out hopefully in a couple of weeks. Hope you enjoyed this one, maybe even learned some. =)

Thanks for reading, see you next week with some lighter stuff!
Comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome as always. =)


  1. FYI: Recently, the ATARI version of "Giana Sisters" had been updated by a fan to include scrolling, updated graphic details (clouds) and sampled sound effects. The update needs an ATARI STE.

    1. FYI: I wrote about this last month in an entry dedicated to several updates. I will update the original comparison entry here when I have more time, hopefully before 2015.

  2. Actually the collecting 2 or more double bolts in the MSX2 Version gives Giana the ability to shoot dreambubbles. They act very similar to the Superballs in Super Mario Land. But without the superball collecting coins. Plus the blob things are jellyfish which look like deformed Buzzy Beetles.

    1. Thanks for the info. I haven't really bothered to get back into the MSX2 version, because when I did this comparison, I couldn't get the thing working from any image file I found. Probably a problem with either the emulator or the disk images, but maybe I'll try it out again at the same time when I find the energy to try out the new Amiga remake, and update if possible or necessary.

  3. BTW there is a new remake for Amiga, with new graphics and an intro borrowed from GBA. Saddly the musics remain the same.

    1. Giana Sisters SE you mean, check it out!