Great Giana Sisters retrospective — Twisted origins

This article was originally posted on

The original. “Original” is used loosely here.

Black Forest Games’ new Great Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams was recently released to the PC market, garnering generally favorable reviews from game critics. But if you’ve only played Twisted Dreams, you would have no clue that the game’s pedigree began as Super Mario in a dress.

In 1987, at the height of popularity for the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES, Time Warp Productions created an suspiciously similar alternative for owners of PCs, most notably for the Commodore 64, The Great Giana Sisters. The titular sisters were essentially gender-swapped versions of the Mario brothers. But the similarities to Mario go far beyond homage. It might be more accurate to call The Great Giana Sisters a palette-swapped knock off. The Twisted Dreams developers themselves unashamedly refer to the original as a “Mario clone.”

The comparisons are obvious at first glance. The siblings move through a magical world, breaking blocks for power-ups that change the sprite’s color, collecting gems rather than coins, and stomping enemies that look eerily like Goombas. But the gameplay doesn’t nail the same feeling that Mario games are famed for; controls are comparatively floaty and sluggish, and sound design isn’t nearly as memorable as the classic Mario melodies.

Though they never officially took legal action, Nintendo did pressure Time Warp into removing copies of The Great Giana Sisters from store shelves. Naturally, the game became a collector’s item once it became a rarity, and boxed copies of the original fetch over $200 a piece in online auctions today. The Giana Sisters themselves became legends.

Twisted Sisters’ legacy can be traced back to to original. Armin Gessert, programmer of the Commodore 64 version of Giana Sisters, founded Spellbound Entertainment, and key developers of Spellbound would form Black Forest Games. When they began a Kickstarter project dedicated to completing a reimagining of the Great Giana Sisters appeared, the nostalgia buzz propelled the game across the finish line.

Twisted Dreams thankfully doesn’t return to the Mario formula, and instead incorporates its own unique mood-changing mechanic. While you still collect gems and stomp goombas, the world around you is affected by the gameplay. Giana has a bright, cheerful side as well as a hardcore, punk rock side, each with their own special ability, which can be switched between with a press of a button. “Good” Giana has a twist move that acts like a double jump, while “Bad” Giana has a fireball maneuver that functions something like Sonic the Hedgehog’s homing attack.

A welcome departure.

But what’s truly remarkable about the mood-switch mechanic is that the world switches with you, and it always reflects the opposite of your current persona. When Good Giana is out, the world is full of gnarled branches, spiked fences, and crumbling buildings. When Bad Giana takes her place, the mood switches to a saccharine sweet wonderland. The world structure changes as well; a bridge that might be crumbled in Good Giana’s world is passable in Bad Giana’s. And with each mood change, so changes the music.

Chris Hulsbeck, composer for the original Giana Sisters, returns to update the series score in a remarkable way. Good Giana’s soundtrack is reminiscent of a Harry Potter score, perfect for a mystical adventure through a dream land. When Bad Giana takes over, the music shifts seamlessly to a heavy metal rendition of the same song. The constant juxtaposition of happy and hardcore ensures exploring the world is never boring.

The gameplay revolves primarily around using the world switching mechanic to reach the end of the level, collecting gems along the way for a higher ranking. Some puzzle mechanics, like pushing boxes to help make difficult jumps, mix up the gameplay later on. But don’t let the Disney movie appearance of the world lower your guard: This game is hard. Later levels demand precision platforming to make it through; forget collecting every gem on your first playthrough. A gamepad is almost necessary for some of the tougher levels.

A good 25 years after the original Giana Sisters was decried for being a ripoff, they’ve finally evolved into something more unique, and definitely enjoyable. Maybe now the Sisters can stop living in Mario’s shadow and make their own path.

This entry was posted in The Dialogue Tree. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s