System: Nintendo DS/Publisher: Destineer/Developer: Spellbound Entertainment/Players: 1/Release Date:11/2/2011
In the 80s, there was a new beginning in the videogame industry. The NES was selling like hotcakes, and Super Mario Bros. went on to become a household name. This was only happening on the NES however. On the more computer oriented side of things, most only went as far as Point-and-Click adventure games and RPGs. There weren’t many, if at all, platform games like Super Mario Bros. (or at least ones that scrolled smoothly). So Time Warp saw this as a chance to grab a market that had yet to be tapped into in the computer game space. They created The Great Giana Sisters. The name of the game, the gameplay, and the look of it smacked of Mario Bros. Even the ad campaign for the game took a shot at the Bros. But the fun was over when Nintendo shot back with a cease and desist. And so the Giana Sisters series was left to wallow in obscurity… until now. Nintendo is a different company now and are more open to other games replicating their style. In comes Spellbound who were willing to make a new Giana Sisters game, and this time not make it a straight up clone. Is the game different enough from the game that inspired it, or is it just another uninspired clone? Today I breakdown Giana Sisters DS.
The story follows Giana as she’s about to go to sleep. Before sleeping, she clutches a treasure chest containing the diamonds she’s collected. As she starts dreaming, her diamonds suddenly vanish into a void and she gives chase to find ’em. And that’s it, nothing more. This is all told through stills in the beginning of the game. While charming, the game is more or less about the return of the Giana Sisters franchise and the gameplay itself. As such, it’ll be unfair for me to apply a normal grade for this section. And so for the first time ever in The Breakdown, I’ll have to apply this grade. Grade: Too Simple To Grade
Knowing what exactly inspired this franchise, I couldn’t help but compare this to the Mario Bros. series, more specifically New Super Mario Bros. on the DS. While NSMB was more or less back-to-basics, Giana Sisters DS is a re-imagining of the old Commodore 64 game. But since this a blatant clone, to do it again with the same vision as NSMB would be very unwise. So Giana Sisters DS is all 2D. The spritework is lively and the enemies expressive. The environments are just as impressive with many layers of parallax scrolling, cosmetic weather effects, vines wrapped around walls and pipes, trees in parts of the stage. The world feels alive and not slapped together for the sake of it. And Pikomi’s artwork brings in some style to some of the story (as little of that there is). Maybe the only blemish is in this might be Punk Giana’s sprite as her face looks really weird. There’s also those spinning spiked cylinders that that look rather realistic next to its cartoony counterparts. Admittedly, the backdrops themselves many not be that varied for some. But kudos to the dev team for making a beautiful looking world. Grade: 88/100Giana Sisters DS – Main Theme Originally Composed by Chris Huelsbeck Arranged by Fabian Del Priore
Music and Sound
The sound effects is a mix of cartoony to videogame to and plain. For the cartoony, some enemies squish when you stomp them, the owls scream when you take them out (Complete with a funny “I’m screwed, right?” look on their face), and the bees buzz away when dropped. Each enemy-type has their own personality, and with it their own sounds. The videogame part is mostly for the jewel collecting and the launching fireballs. The plain stuff, well just just the hitting of blocks.
The music department is just as charming with Fabian Del Priore arranging Chris Huelsbeck’s original Giana Sisters music. Since the original only had about four songs, it’s amazing that Priore was able to make a full soundtrack at all. The music of Giana Sisters DS is a mix of old songs and new ones. The remixes bring the music to the modern era with clearer instrumentation and C64 SID sounds for style. The music’s generally calm compositions may not be up some players’ alleys, but the gameplay and environment is rarely intimidating. And since some veteran platformer-players might just breeze through the early parts in the game, some carefree music might complement your carefree romp through destruction. I do wish there was an actual credits theme though and not just a reused stage song. Grade: 90/100
Here’s where things might turn out different depending on your skills in platformers. Playing through this game, I found myself doing things I’d normally do in a Mario platformer. I’d hold down Y, Giana doesn’t run faster. I’d shoot fireballs at the dragon boss, it doesn’t affect him. I’d shoot a fireball to make it bounce an hit an enemy a whole screen away, it fizzles when it hits the ground. I couldn’t help but do very Mario things, especially since it has quite a few of the Mario-like elements from the original game. So I did have to stop a bit and remind myself that while this game looks like Mario and does stuff like Mario, it doesn’t play like Mario. So I approached the game as if it was an indie platformer, and it became a little better for it.
Giana Sisters DS doesn’t offer much in the Power-Up department. The Punk Upgrade ball is the Mushroom/Fire Flower of the game and turns Giana into her Punk counterpart (which is NOT Maria as some have thought).. Chewing Gum lets you float to higher ground but will pop if touched by enemies or walls. You can blow into the microphone to lift the bubble, but thankfully you can just hold down a button to do that. And finally there’s the Soda power-up that lets you break bricks that you probably couldn’t break if you were small or they were below or walled ahead of you. Strangely enough the original Giana Sisters from the 80s had more power-ups than this.
The level design of the game offers up quite a few varieties. They range from straightforward left-to-right, to complex, to maze-like, to higher-ground climbing, etc. There’s also a lot of secret passageways with hidden gems and Red Gems. The Red Gems are your Star Coins of the game, and collecting all of them in each stage of the world (numbers vary) unlocks an optional 10th stage. About 60% of the gems are in plain sight while the rest are either hidden or placed in some tricky spots. If you’re playing with the intent of getting all the gems, then the difficulty of the game might go up a notch. Speaking of which, the difficulty curve in this game is probably the steadiest (but slowest) one’s I’ve seen in this genre. The beginning is piss easy almost to the point that it feels like a Super Princess Peach, and extra-lives are given out like points at a basketball game. But around World 6 more of the jumps become precarious with longer gaps and narrower landings, more obstacles in your way, and the stages becoming very, very large. I never got a game over, but my life count almost went back into single-digit territory. I do wish this level of difficulty appeared just a tad bit sooner though.
On the bad side, there is the aforementioned lack of power-ups and the easiness of the beginning stages. There are also some unnecessary touch controls. Both the Gum and Soda power-up are activated via the touchscreen but could’ve easily been mapped to the other buttons left available. Then there’s the world map and its touch interface. Now if you’re first playing the game all you have to do is press “A” to start the next stage and not really touch anything. But say you want to play some older stages for fun. Suddenly it becomes very easy to forget which stage you were in. Some of the physics later in the game might rub some veterans the wrong way. Many have perfected the art of edge-jumping, where you jump off at the last minute to maximize distance. This is also to avoid any overhangs that might be in the way or to have said overhangs push you forward by a few pixels. Problem here is that some of the more organic stages might treat little wall-pebbles as interactive blocks, so when you jump you’ll suddenly hit your head and fall do your doom. There also the fact that water is instant death, and even the smallest puddle of water means death for Giana. Finally, I do which there were more bosses beside the dragon. But at least he changes up his pattern as the fights go on. Grade: 80/100
Replay Value: Surprisingly this game is pretty good for short burst gameplay given how short the stages are in the beginning. You’ll probably go back to collect all the red gems you missed and find some of the hidden worlds in the game.
In closing, it’s great to finally see the Giana Sisters return after a long time in copyright prison. In comparison to New Super Mario Bros., I’d rank this one above the the DS outing since this one actually added more to the series instead of retreading familiar ground for the novelty of it all. The graphics are colorful and full of life, and the artwork from Pikomi definitely sets the mood well. The music is great with its homages to the original. The gameplay make you think you’re playing a Mario Bros. game, but with fresh eyes you might get some enjoyment out of it. Just be forewarned about some of the problems I mentioned. While New Super Mario Bros. was a return to form, Giana Sisters DS was a return and then some.