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The Great Giana Sisters

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The Great Giana Sisters
The Great Giana Sisters
German cover art for the Commodore 64
Developer(s)Time Warp[1]
Publisher(s)Rainbow Arts[1]
Designer(s)Armin Gessert
Manfred Trenz
Composer(s)Chris Huelsbeck
Platform(s)Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MSX
ReleaseMay 6, 1987
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer

The Great Giana Sisters is a platform game developed by the West German company Time Warp and published by Rainbow Arts in 1987 for various home computers such as the Commodore 64, Amiga and Atari ST. Players control Giana, or her sister Maria in the multiplayer mode, to explore a magical world inside their dreams. The two seek out a giant diamond to awaken from their dream. They traverse side-scrolling stages while avoiding hazards such as monsters and other enemies with the aid of power-ups grant them various abilities such as firing projectiles and making enemies fall asleep.

The game was designed by Armin Gessert and Manfred Trenz. They were tasked with developing the game after Marc Ulrich of Rainbow Arts had seen the popular Nintendo video game Super Mario Bros. (1985) and grew exciting of creating a game that did not have an equivalent on the home computer market. Gessert and Trenz were told to create a game that was obviously recognizable as being like Super Mario Bros. while still being legally distinct. Following its release in West Germany, the game was released in the United Kingdom to praise from publications such as Zzap!64 and Computer and Video Games who praised the game for its many secrets and gameplay despite being indebt to its inspiration.

Following its release in the United Kingdom, the game was almost immediately pulled from shops after Rainbow Arts received a notice from Nintendo. Despite being commercially unavailable, the game grew to become one of the most popular home computer games of its era via pirated and emulated versions of the game. A sequel was made for Commodore 64 titled Hard'n'Heavy which downplayed its Nintendo inspiration while various new Giana Sisters games were released in the early 21st century. The music in the game by Chris Huelsbeck also grew to be popular among video game music fans and has been used in later games and performed by symphony orchestras decades after the games release.

Plot and gameplay


The Great Giana Sisters is set in a dream of a girl named Giana. She dreams of a world of deserted castles filled with monsters and can only awaken when she finds a huge diamond.[2] The game is a platform game where the player controls either Giana in single player mode, or taking-turns between Giana and Maria in two-player mode where players take turns.[2][3][4] The player controls either sister via a joystick where they can walk and jump through 33 levels of horizontally scrolling platforms while avoiding holes, and other dangerous objects such as nails and fire. Each player starts with five lives. Each level has a 100 second time limit. If time runs out, the player loses a life.[5][6]

Power-ups can be collected in the game that grant enhancements to the sisters. These range from projectiles from collecting lightning and strawberry power ups, a clock which makes all enemies fall asleep on the screen, magic bombs that make all enemies on screen vanish, and lollis which give the player an extra life.[7]



In the 1970s and early 1980s, video game clones of popular arcades were rampant, and this growth of clones were followed on home computers. These clones often copied the gameplay and had similar names to their original influences, with titles like Munch Man (1982) or Snapper (1982) which were derivative of Namco's Pac-Man (1980).[1] The trend continued for The Great Giana Sisters created by Manfred Trenz and Armin Gessert. They were assigned to make a game similar to Nintendo's popular Super Mario Bros. (1985) after Marc Ulrich, the CEO of publisher Rainbow Arts, had seen the game.[1] Trenz recalled that after Ulrich saw the game, he grew excited as there was no home computer game like it available on home computers at the time and saw a chance at a successful game with similar gameplay mechanics.[8] During this period in West Germany, the Commodore 64 home computer had been introduced in 1983 and was the quickly became the popular home computer in the country.[9] Trenz initially got into computers through a VIC-20 in 1984 and was so impressed with it that he purchased a Commodore 64 and began developing his own games in BASIC and assembly language. After coming third in a contest 1986 contest for a German magazine called 64'er. A small company Rainbow arts was impressed with his entry and asked him to work on graphics for their games and was asked to join the company on a permanent basis in 1987. His first in-house project was The Great Giana Sisters.[10]

A level in The Great Giana Sisters. Time Warp were tasked to create a game that was obviously similar to Super Mario Bros. (1985) to audiences while being legally distinct from Nintendo's game.

The team who developed the game included Trenz, who created the games visuals and high score programming routine, Gessert who developed the rest of the games code, and Chris Huelsbeck created the games score. Trenz recalled he was not a big fan of the original Nintendo game, seeing the PlayChoice arcade version and Donkey Kong (1981) before, but was more interested in games like Defender (1981). Trenz and Gessert originally received a Nintendo Entertainment System and a copy of Super Mario Bros. and played it intensively to discover the game's secrets. Trenz recalled the difficulty in creating the game, stating that it had to be immediately recognizable as Super Mario Bros., but legally distinct as to not cause any legal issues for Rainbow Arts with Nintendo.[11]

To do so, Trenz removed the mushroom and turtle-like enemies of the original game to include giant ants and other cute monsters. He recollected that "it would be incredibly cheeky to simply copy the enemies as they were in Super Mario Bros., so I decided to invent as many new and funny ones as possible".[12] He opted to create a style that borrowed the visual sense but had its own level design, making them more simple and short than Super Mario Bros., allowing them to make many different levels within their short development time.[11][13]

Trenz specifically found the Giana sisters character design difficult. He went through several variations of the characters but always found that the characters had "something missing".[11] Unlike Mario who grows in size when getting a mushroom, the Giani sister grew spikey hair when collecting a power-up. Trenz stated that this was a technical thing, as if he created a larger sprite, it would have been too close to Super Mario Bros.[12] Musically, the game is different from Super Mario Bros. It features unique music for the title screen music, and two for the main game: one for overworld stages and one for boss stages.[14]


British cover art for The Great Giana Sisters. Developer Manfred Trenz disliked the character design on the cover and felt the "The Brothers are History" led to the game's early removal from commercial distribution.

The Great Giana Sisters was released on May 6, 1987 in Europe.[14] The Great Giana Sisters was released for the home computers including the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Amiga and MSX. A version was announced for the ZX Spectrum but went unreleased.[1][15]

The British distributor for the game withdrew the game from sale in 1988.[16] Publications such as Your Sinclair suggested in 1988 that Nintendo taken legal action against the distributor while Trenz said in 2008 that he was not sure who or what caused the game to responsible for the game being pulled from shelves, but said "placing the slogan 'The Brothers are History!' on the box certainly couldn't have helped".[13] Huelsbeck said that following the British release of the game, Rainbow Arts received a what he described as a "nasty letter" from Nintendo and that there was no formal legal action, but only a warning to take the game off the market.[17] Darran Jones in Retro Gamer wrote that following the game being pulled from store shelves, it only grew in popularity with Trenz recalling that the game only received a wider audience after it became commercially unavailable.[13]

Trenz was happy with the German box art for the game, he disliked the release cover for the United Kingdom, stating it made the characters look strange, and that the Giana sisters resembled Miss Piggy from The Muppets.[12] The games were generally the same across the Atari ST and Amiga as they were for the Commodore 64, with the Atari ST version lacking a scrolling screen.[18] Darran Jones in Retro Gamer echoed this, lambasting that the Amstrad CPC port of the game had a title screen resembling the UK cover which he described as having "gruesome art".[13]



Darran Jones of Retro Gamer wrote in his overview of the game that it received a "fair amount of critical acclaim" on its release for the Commodore 64.[12] Reviews from several publications including ACE, Power Play, Zzap!64 and Computer and Video Games all compared the game to Super Mario Bros. (1985). Matt Bielby of Computer and Video Games went as far as to call it "as straight a rip-off as they come" while both the reviewers of Zzap!64 and Power Play stating it was not as strong as Nintendo's game.[18][25][23] Rod Lawton of Ace questioned whether players would feel compelled to complete the game, "GBH" of Your Commodore and Zzap!64 found the game very addicting noting the amount of secrets and power-ups as highlights.[19][3] The review in Your Commodore compared the game to earlier attempts at platforming games on home computers, writing that players no longer need "to make pixel perfect leaps or time every move down to the last split second".[3] A Zzap!64 reviewer went as far as to say it was "the best game of its kind since Bubble Bobble, and there can't be many higher recommendation than that".[25] Reviewers commented on the games music with Lawton calling it appropriately jaunty, while the reviewers of Zzap!64 found it a little twee, but ultimately "excellent".[25]

Crash reviewed the unreleased ZX Spectrum release, praising the variety of the game and echoed comparisons to Super Mario Bros. stating that The Great Giana Sisters could not compare in terms of graphics to Nintendo's game, but that "in terms of gameplay (which is the most important thing after all), those Super Mario Bros have certainly met their match".[22] The reviewers generally praised the game, while finding it also lacking colour and that it ran slower than the Commodore 64 original.[22] "Dunc" of Your Sinclair found the game similar to Wonder Boy declaring it superior to that game due to its addictive gameplay.[27] Tony Dillion of Sinclair User also wrote positively about the game's theme and graphics, but that game performed far too slowly to be playable.[26] The games were generally the same across the Atari ST and Amiga as they were for the Commodore 64, with the Atari ST version lacking a scrolling screen.[18] Jones of Retro Gamer described the version for the Amstrad CPC as a "god-awful conversion" with low-quality graphics and no sound.[13]

From retrospective reviews, Kristan Reed of Eurogamer stated that the game felt like a footnote in gaming history by 2007 and that it was one of the best games ever made for the Commodore 64, saying "to most teenage C64 owners of the late '80s, it was an essential release at the point when the best developers had already started to migrate to the 16-bit systems".[21] In a 2021 overview, Stefano Castelli of IGN called it the best scrolling platform games on the Commodore 64.[28] Despite this, he said it came off as a pale imitation to Super Mario Bros., saying that The Great Giana Sisters was lacking inspired level design in terms of variety, the control lacked the subtleties of Nintendo's game, and that Huelsback music was less inspired than Koji Kondo's score.[28]


Music from The Great Giana Sisters being performed at Play! A Video Game Symphony in 2007.

The Great Giana Sisters received a sequel in 1989 with Hard'n'Heavy for the Commodore 64, Atari ST and Amiga.[12] The characters in the game wore space suits and had an outer-space themed game to keep its themes less obviously connected to Super Mario Bros.[12] By 2008, the rights to the Great Giana Sisters were held by Gessert's Spellbound Entertainment.[13] Further follow-ups to the game followed in the 21st century, such as Giana Sisters DS (2009) and Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (2012), and Giana Sisters: Dream Runners (2015).[14][29][30][31]

Andreas Lange and Michael Liebe wrote in Video Games Around the World (2015) that along with Trenz's other Rainbow Arts game Turrican (1989), The Great Giana Sisters were both the most popular action games from Germany, with both titles receiving international acclaim.[32] Despite being removed from the market, the game grew in popularity via piracy and emulation.[21] Gessert later reflected on The Great Giana Sisters saying "I think it's a great game, but it never reached the detail and class of Super Mario Bros".[13]

Huelsbeck would go on to compose music for games in Star Wars: Rogue Squadron and R-Type series.[32][33] Hülsbeck's music has been adapted to symphony orchestra music, such as at the concert titled Symphonic Shades in tribute to Huelsbeck's career.[33] Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams also features Huelsbeck's music which is extended and features new arrangements from the original game's music.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e Jones 2008, p. 86.
  2. ^ a b Time Warp 1987a.
  3. ^ a b c GBH 1988, p. 28.
  4. ^ Time Warp 1987b.
  5. ^ a b c Frey 1988, p. 61.
  6. ^ Time Warp 1987c.
  7. ^ Time Warp 1987.
  8. ^ Jones 2008, pp. 86–87.
  9. ^ Lange & Liebe 2015, p. 196.
  10. ^ Retro Gamer 2006, pp. 70–71.
  11. ^ a b c Jones 2008, p. 87.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Jones 2008, p. 88.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Jones 2008, p. 89.
  14. ^ a b c d Hopkins 2022, p. 83.
  15. ^ Crash 1988, p. 100.
  16. ^ Your Commodore 1988, p. 7.
  17. ^ Kirchesch 2015.
  18. ^ a b c Bielby 1988, p. 53.
  19. ^ a b c Lawton 1988, p. 56.
  20. ^ Bielby 1988, p. 54.
  21. ^ a b c Reed 2007.
  22. ^ a b c Phil, Kati & Nick 1988, p. 13.
  23. ^ a b Power Play 1988, p. 42.
  24. ^ Stewart 1988, pp. 74–75.
  25. ^ a b c d Rignall 1988, pp. 18–19.
  26. ^ a b Dillion 1988, p. 10.
  27. ^ a b Dunc 1988, p. 80.
  28. ^ a b Castelli 2021.
  29. ^ Ramsey 2015.
  30. ^ IGN 2008.
  31. ^ Gameindustry.biz 2009.
  32. ^ a b Lange & Liebe 2015, p. 195.
  33. ^ a b Tong 2011.


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  • Time Warp (May 6, 1987a). The Great Giana Sisters (Commodore 64). Rainbow Arts. What Happened One night, when little Giana from Milano was fast asleep, she had a strange dream [...] Giana suddenly finds herself in a strange mysterious world, where everything is completely different [...] Old grottos and deserted castles seem to hide lots of secrets and, and frighteneing and hideous creatures appear [...] Giana can't leave this world unless she finds the magic, huge diamond. So she starts searching for this wonderful jewel. [...] She is not totally alone, for her little sister Maria can dream, too.
  • Time Warp (May 6, 1987b). The Great Giana Sisters (Commodore 64). Rainbow Arts. Starting the Game If the two player option has been chosen, Giana and Maria can play by turns.
  • Time Warp (May 6, 1987c). The Great Giana Sisters (Commodore 64). Rainbow Arts. Now We're Really Getting Started: By collecting rectangular blue dream-crystals the sisters can raise their stamina (extra lives). 100 cyrstals are needed for each.
  • Time Warp (May 6, 1987). The Great Giana Sisters (Commodore 64). Rainbow Arts. Bonus Symbols
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