Time heals all wounds. In 1987, during the height of Nintendo's iron grip on the gaming populace, a publisher by the name of Rainbow Arts released Great Giana Sisters—a blatant, shameless clone of Super Mario Bros.—for the Commodore 64 and a multitude of other computer platforms. They even had the cojones to boldly exclaim, "The brothers are history!" Well, as the saying goes, payback is a something-something, and it was Great Giana Sisters that was to be history, as Nintendo's army of lawyers hit the pavement and successfully forced Rainbow Arts to pull the game from store shelves. So despite being a legitimately high quality game in its own right, Great Giana Sisters was regulated to the memories of C64 fans that still consider it one of the platform's finest. Now fast-forward over 20 years, and video game knockoffs are a dime a dozen. These days, there's little a company can legally do if others choose to ape its successful designs, if they even give a hoot in the first place. So what sweet irony that after all this time, the Giana Sisters would see a grand revival—officially licensed for the Nintendo DS. And how sweet it is for US gamers that this excellent platformer just barely squeaked in before the death throes of the original DS.
Oddly enough, there are no sisters in Giana Sisters DS. Rather, the game stars the singular Giana. The other gal you see plastered throughout the advertising is Punk Giana, her powered up form in which she transforms, in an electrified shock, from a precocious, freckled blonde into a feisty rocker ready to blast the baddies. You see, Giana is plenty peeved because her precious pile of diamonds got sucked into a black hole that appeared out of nowhere. You know, these things happen. And, of course, the most logical thing to do is leap right into the vortex after them. So she ends up in a magical world, starts scooping up shinies, and routinely encounters an unnamed reptilian boss in a castle at the end of each map. Where are you? Why were the diamonds stolen? Who's this dude that looks like an uncouth uncle from Bowser's family tree that everyone wants to forget? These questions go unanswered, but the story doesn't matter one iota...
...Because you'll be too busy savoring the classic run and jump, hop and bop gameplay. Giana Sisters DS is perfect bite-sized gaming, with over 80 short, zippy stages, and the auto-saving after each guarantees that you can squeeze in some fun into even the briefest of dull moments. The early maps start off deceptively easy, but in due time, your palms will be sweating over devious jumps and other tight pickles, especially if you aim to collect every red diamond and Xbox-style achievement. Completing this task will unlock some swanky bonus stages, including a remake of the entire original Great Giana Sisters! You can't beat that with a stick.
To aid you in your quest, you have the aforementioned Punk Upgrade, which allows you to fire Energy Balls, Giana's equivalent of Mario's fireball, and smash bricks, also like our mustachioed plumber. In fact, Mario-inspired elements abound: drop down wells instead of pipes, collect 100 blue diamonds to earn a life, mind the clock, rack up a (meaningless) score, reach the end-stage flag, et cetera. What Mario has never had, however, is Chewing Gum and Soda Pop. These treats are more than just tasty—with Chewing Gum, Giana can soar through the open sky, and Soda Pop sprays through stones, fire, and enemies alike. Variety aside, fetching and using these items slows down the typical speedy pace of the game, so they can grow to be a pain at points (protip: don't bother with the microphone-blowing option). But it's hard to find fault when performing any function is bliss, thanks to the perfectly balanced controls trademark of quality European platformers. It's not quite as rigid as Japanese platformers, not as slippery as American platformers; it's just right.
Complementing the sharp gameplay is a crisp, clean 2D presentation. Artist Pikomi delights the player with a whimsical, colorful world, expressive animation, and adorable character designs. In addition to the pleasant graphics, we're treated to catchy arrangements by Fabien del Priore of Chris Hülsbeck's original Great Giana Sisters score in glorious synthy '80s Europop fashion, even down to the retro-style arpeggiation to simulate chords.
If there's anything truly bad about Giana Sisters DS, it's that, as of this writing, its US distribution has been rather limited. It's yet to appear at major retailers like GameStop or on Amazon. Perhaps this will change, but it's certainly worth the effort to track down, even more so given its budget price. If you've ever liked a side-scrolling Mario, a Donkey Kong Country, or any classic 2D platformer, Giana is back, better than ever, and ready to prove that girls really do just want to have fun.
Developer: Spellbound Entertainment AG & Bitfield GmbH
System: Nintendo DS