I can FINALLY rest easy. Those of you who have followed me from the beginnings of this blog know I’ve really enjoyed Armin Gessert’s platform jumping game series. You’ve seen me review the original Commodore 64 game, as well as Twisted Dreams. The last entry in the dormant series. But before that game, and its expansion pack, Rise Of The Owlverlord was another Giana Sisters entry. On a console which may surprise you.
PROS: It’s a Giana Sisters sequel! Updated graphics. New game play conventions.
CONS: Difficulty spikes. No two player mode. Limited touch screen application.
GREAT GIANA SISTERS: The original game’s stages are an unlockable Easter Egg.
As you probably know by now, the original Great Giana Sisters was pulled due to pressure from Nintendo of Europe back in 1987. It became a cult classic. But 24 years later, we would be shocked to see the sisters on a Nintendo product. Giana Sisters DS came out in 2011, and was series creator Armin Gessert’s final game. (He passed away not too long after the game was finished.) A lot of people have never heard of this game, especially state side, where it had a very limited release. By publisher Destineer, who was normally known for releasing budget titles based on licensed IP, and porting popular games to the Macintosh. The release was so limited in fact, their web page (which is still up at the time of this writing) doesn’t list it. Only a handful of outlets even sold the game, and most of them were online only. Suffice it to say despite being released as a budget title, at a budget price, Giana Sisters DS is fairly rare.
The European version saw a wider release, and even today you’re more likely to see that version in online auctions over the US version. The game is identical in either case. The EU version has language options as well, so if you live in the US, and get the EU version you can still navigate the menus easily enough. The Nintendo DS also had no region locks, so you can run the European version on an American DS, or vice versa. If you are fortunate enough to find a copy of Giana Sisters DS you are in for a treat.
Giana Sisters DS is not a remake of the original Great Giana Sisters. It is an original game in the series, though it certainly has plenty of nods to the original game. The game fires up the same way the Commodore 64 original does. GIANA SISTERS DS scrolls across the top screen composed of the game’s many tile sets. Visually, the sprites, veer closer to the Commodore Amiga version of Great Giana Sisters. Everything in the game is bright, and colorful, and has a look that echoes the Amiga’s amazing visuals. It’s all replicated here very well. But once you begin the game, the similarities begin to end.
The original game had 32 straight levels. It was often compared to Super Mario Bros. which also had 32 levels. But that game divides the levels into 8 worlds, each with 4 levels in it. Giana Sisters DS changes the formula to be a bit closer to Super Mario Bros. in terms of level numbers. There are 9 worlds. Most of the worlds have 10 levels in them, along with a hidden level or two. The game also implements a new rule on its gem system, which you’ll need to follow if you want to see these Easter eggs.
As in the original game, Giana finds herself falling into a dream world. the object here once again, is to get from the beginning to the end of each stage without losing all of your lives. But there are a number of changes that differentiate it from Nintendo’s platformers. Again you’ll be collecting 100 diamonds to earn 1-Ups. Again you’ll be fighting owls, bubbles, bees, worms, and the rest of the cast of enemies. While you’ll still be jumping into blocks for diamonds, and power ups, you’ll be shocked. Because there are no longer multiple power ups from blocks. The double dream bubbles, homing bubbles, time stopper, and other extra power ups are no more. Getting the Punk ball now includes the ability to shoot dream bubbles in addition to breaking blocks. But that isn’t the only change to the formula. Giana Sisters DS eschews The Great Giana Sisters one hit deaths. Now after getting the Punk ball, a hit will revert you back to normal. These changes are both good, and bad.
They’re great in the sense that people new to the series won’t be frustrated. But they’re bad for series veterans in the sense that the initial challenge in this sequel is much lower than the original game’s. But that doesn’t mean this game is any kind of cakewalk either. Giana Sisters DS has a difficulty jump when you get around half way through the game. It is here the game implements a couple of new mechanics. One of which was also carried over to Twisted Dreams. The first of these is a soda bottle. Some later levels have a vending machine that will drop a bottle of soda. Tapping the soda icon on the touch screen will shoot a temporary stream of cola. This can be used to destroy blocks, as well as get rid of certain obstacles. For example, there may be a set of diamonds behind a column of bricks. Using the soda will allow you to get to them.
The second mechanic is the bubble gum power up. This also appeared in Twisted Dreams. This allows you to fly around in a chewing gum bubble to get to items previously thought impossible to take. You can use this one of two ways. The first is to use the built-in microphone in the DS. You can blow into the microphone to give the bubble momentum. Most players aren’t going to do that. This brings up the second method which is to simply press the jump button as many, or as few times as you need to. This power up allows for all kinds of crazy puzzle stages, and the game delivers those in spades once this mechanic is introduced. You’ll find yourself going off of the beaten path for red diamonds. In the process you’ll find the red diamond is surrounded by spikes that all hang above a bottomless pit.
The challenge really increases in the final two worlds. So if you’ve never played a Giana Sisters game, and pick this up remind yourself of this fact. The first half of the game is pretty easy. The stages seem short, enemies aren’t put into a lot of positions, and you might find yourself breezing through the early goings. By around the third quarter the game becomes a manageable challenge. A few jumps might cost you lives. A rocket launching bee, hovers right in front of a platform you need to get to. A red diamond is hidden in a more perplexing way. But the final leg gets pretty hard. The kind of challenge fans of 1,001 Spikes, or Super Meat Boy crave. So as you learn new skills, you’ll need to perfect them if you hope to beat the game.
As I mentioned before Giana Sisters DS introduces some hidden stages. The way you find these is through collecting. In addition to the normal diamonds, there are red diamonds. Each level has a certain number of them in it. If you can find all of them in a level, the exit flag will turn from blue to red. If you can exit every level in a world with a red exit flag, you’ll unlock a padlock on the map. Tapping this will load a bonus level. Most of these give you a challenging map filled with diamonds. Of course there are still obstacles to avoid just like the regular levels. But if you can get to the end of these levels with most of the diamonds, you’ll have a lot of 1-Ups in reserve. Which you’ll definitely want. Because there is a secret level for those who can beat the game without using a continue. On top of those bonus stages, there are super secret levels that require you to find warp blocks to gain entrance to. These work like the warp blocks in the first game. But instead of advancing you further, these bring you to super secret stages. Some levels also have portals in them that lead you to secret areas within the level. Sometimes you have to find these areas because they contain those important red diamonds. There are also flowers you can find that act as checkpoint saves. If you lose a life, you’ll spawn at the last flower you touched. The flower check points also retain a record of whatever red diamonds you’ve found. However, you’ll have to re collect any normal diamonds.
Don’t fret if you don’t find all of the red diamonds right away. The game will let you replay any stage by tapping on the level’s location on the map. Not only does finding all of a level’s red diamonds turn the end flag red, but the flag color is signified on the map as well. So you can go back to any level marked with a blue flag to replay it in the hopes of getting all of the diamonds. Again, the challenge really heightens by the last few worlds. Expect some stages to have ten red diamonds in them. Many of them hidden in very tight spots that either require the most precise jumps ever attempted, or a lot of guess-work. Sometimes they’re hidden behind foreground objects, or backgrounds. Sometimes they’re guarded by several enemies or death traps. The final leg of the game can prove difficult. But it’s a fair level of punishment. When you fail, you know it’s generally your shortcomings rather than a bug or collision detection gone awry.
Each world also has a boss level where you’ll contend with the Gurglewocky, Giana, and Maria’s dragon nemesis. In this incarnation he has to be jumped on anywhere from three to nine times. This isn’t always an easy task, as each time you fight him he throws new moves into the mix. But like the best platformers you’ll have to learn his patterns to put him down. Kill him, and it’s on to the next world. Speaking of Maria, she isn’t in Giana Sisters DS. Sadly the game doesn’t have a two player mode this time around. It’s one of the minor nitpicks some will have as you could play alternating turns in the last game, but not here. Nevertheless, you’re still going to enjoy the game playing solo.
Once again, the audio doesn’t disappoint. While Chris Hulesbeck didn’t pen any new songs for the game, Fabian del Priore (who also collaborated with Chris Hulesbeck, and Machinae Supremacy in Twisted Dreams) remixes many of his classic Giana Sisters tunes, replete with some Commodore SID impersonations. In addition to that, he wrote a lot of original tunes that share the same spirit as Chris Huelsbeck’s original songs. They fit the atmosphere very well, and with the excellent sound effects create a sound that is definitely descriptive of Giana Sisters.
Giana Sisters DS is an excellent sequel. It builds on a wonderful platformer by adding in new mechanics that work in its favor. It also feels like an evolution in the series, especially since many of the new conventions were carried over to the third game. It bridges the gap between the original, and the latest game very nicely. Not only is it an excellent sequel, and an excellent platformer, it’s one of the best games in the DS library. Aside from a difficulty spike or two the game doesn’t have much to complain about. Though some will miss the inclusion of a two player mode. But with few, if any major bugs, solid control, and splendid level design, Giana Sisters DS is a cut above most DS platformers.
There are also optional challenges for perfectionists to shoot for, such as beating the game without using a continue. There is even a super secret way to play all 32 stages from the original Great Giana Sisters. Suffice it to say, Giana Sisters DS is a game that should be in any retro game collector’s library. Especially those who love video game history. Finding a copy might prove difficult, especially if you go after the US release. But it is going to be worth every second spent tracking one down.
Final Score: 9 out of 10