So browsing through the Extra Credits forum led to a surprise to me: There’s a new GreatGiana sisters coming out! I then hedge fearing the collective groans of old school gamers like me in the know, and the puzzled on-lookers who can only guess who Giana could be. Stay with me gamers, as we have some much needed history to cover to bring everyone up to speed.
Back in 1985 (there is some debate as to the date) Nintendo rocked the world with the release of the Super Mario Bros. Video games existed long before that, and fell into a pattern that pretty much ruined it for everyone. Younger gamers often lack this scope: how many companies invented and could profit from Pac Man? One, that’s Namco! Well, two if you count Midway. How many put a pink bow on Pac Man’s head and made a killing? Too many! In 1987, Mario is the new big dog, and who comes out but a year later? Giana! And she sure looked like Mario with a pink bow! Nintendo was on the phone making legal threats before it even came out.
Now, I’m of the opinion that Nintendo was in the right here. Games were always better when original, in order to stay fresh and interesting. Giana’s publishers Rainbow Arts never took this fight to go to court, and instead they and the developer TimeWarp agreed to see Nintendo’s side of things. They pulled the game from many platforms competing with the NES at the time (the Commodore 64 version was not pulled) and the game and its creators sank into relative obscurity, even as Nintendo and Mario rocketed into mainstream status.
Seeing many of the games videos and playthroughs over again, I am now seeing new differences I couldn’t see before. For example, 1987 Giana included variations on theme, like crumbling weight sensitive platforms. 1985 Super Mario included platforms that fell out from under you, but wouldn’t include crumbling platforms for a while yet. The use of powerups like the bomb, the clock and the seeking “Dream bubble” were variations on their inspirations, to the point of being standard fare in games today. In 1987 all of that was new, and it encourages me to see The Great Giana Sisters not as a shameless clone like Ms. PacMan and more like a, well, clone, that used Mario as a starting point and sought to grow its own ideas from there. I like to think the reason you don’t see many other games franchises star in worlds of pipes, floating bricks, and mushrooms is because there isn’t much room for your own ideas.
So yeah, the original is a clone; I think even the creator knows that as he calls it as much in his kickstarter video. But here’s the thing: he wants to try again. And the video looks pretty good as all things go.
Now here’s the new problem: it’s more or less the same as the old problem. Consider Giana’s new ability to rocket through the sky. Cool! And also cool when Sonic does a homing attack, and also cool when Kirby (Return to Dreamland, for those keeping track) does it too. Her new twirl ability looks useful right? It sure was whenever Mario used a propeller suit (New Super Mario Bros Wii by the way). Isn’t she doing anything truly new? Well, there is that whole shifting the world thing! Huh. Nice. I’m sure that I’ve seen it before, whether Link to the Past, or Metroid Prime 2, or even Fractured Soul on the eShop. Nothing is an easy match, though, so this detail here definitely serves Giana, at least until somebody else brings me another game to compare it too, cause, I’m out of comparisons!
Here’s the thing as I see it. Gaming is definitely improved with original experiences, and cheapened by clones of clones. At a time when the New Super Mario Bros series is being used by Nintendo as an increasingly safe and staid crutch, I feel like Giana`s time may genuinely have arrived. In truth the 1987 Giana looked so similar that you could swear you were playing a bad clone of Mario, even though the music, level design and challenge are all pretty good. That's a disservice to everyone, and gaming is the better for the variety.
We still don't know how Nintendo is going to react, but the deadline to stop Giana's return is fast approaching, and there is yet not a rumble of complaint. Here's to something new Black Forest Games: I intend to try this game shortly after launch, and I hope for something cool for my time. With news that Giana is now Greenlighted, the wait may soon be over. But can the game carve out its own audience and niche? Check back tomorrow, and I may have some more for you.
Cifaldi, Frank. Gamasutra. Posted March 28, 2012. Accessed online October 18, 2012. Available at: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/167392/sad_but_true_we_cant_prove_when_.php.