The Commodore 64 has received many memorable games over the years, and none so much as The Great Giana Sisters, but for all the wrong reasons. Created by Armin Gessert, with graphics by Manfred Trenz back in 1987, Giana Sisters aimed to cash in on the Super Mario Bros. craze that was taking the gaming world by storm.
A very cunning swap of ‘Great’ for ‘Super’, ‘Giana’ for ‘Mario’ and ‘Sisters’ for ‘Brothers’, proved too much for the legal eagles at Nintendo. They were (and still are!) heavily protective of their much loved plumber, and took legal action to prevent further sales of the game.
Nintendo were late in their prevention however, and the game was believed to be only on sale for a short amount of time before being taken off the shelves. It was enough time for copies to sneak out into the wild thankfully, including on the Amiga, but sadly not the ZX Spectrum edition (which is still at large).
The game itself is a very playable interpretation of Super Mario Bros, but it still isn’t quite SMB for me – and we’ve been lucky enough to have a proper conversion of the NES classic in more recent years instead. But it is a great game in its own right, and a classic too which you should certainly check out – especially for Chris Huelsbeck’s fantastic music.
However, it was asked recently by C64 preservationist Tom Roger Skauren about what really happened to the game, and noted that there wasn’t much concrete about what happened exactly. Curious, I began to do some digging – as i’d read originally from Commodore Force’s unreleased games feature that Giana had only been on shelves briefly before it was taken off. But how long was that exactly? Was it a week or two?
It seems that the game could well have been on sale for 3-4 months, and it was when the sequel was already well in production. Check out this reference in Zzap February 1989, where it is suggested that Nintendo caught wind of the cheeky clone when one of their executives saw Giana on display at a trade show, and then immediately ordered writs to be served, stopping the game’s production and programming of its sequel.
Though C&VG just months earlier had this snippet about the cancellation. This suggests that it was the sequel that caught Nintendo’s eye, and not the first game. Was it the sequel that Nintendo saw at the trade show and not the first game? Did they then realise about the first game and served the writ? Whatever happened, it seems that the game was on sale for much longer than a few weeks – which explains why we see a fair few copies appear for sale.
C64 historian Mat Allen confirmed that shortly after seeing the Zzap review, they attempted to purchase the game from Boots (which was on the shelf), didn’t have enough money at the time – so went back later on, to find that it had been taken off the shelves. So that is a confirmation that it was at least removed from Boots fairly swiftly. It’s always possible that the game could have been on shelves before the Zzap issue had been released though, and for how long – we don’t know. Weeks perhaps?
Curious indeed, but the main thing is that the game did make it out and we have been able to enjoy a piece of C64 history.
Contributions: Ian Osbourne, Midgard, Fabrizio Bartoloni, Retro Gamer magazine, Tom Roger Skauren
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The graphics you see in the final version is different from the WIP stages:
“I also found creating the main character [Giana] to be quite a hard task. It took me a very long time to find out the best look for her. I had lots of different variations but there always seemed to be something missing. It just took a really long time.”
“I ended up having to draw three different title pictures in the end,” recalls Trenz as he looks back at the constant scrutiny that their game was under. “The first one was deemed to be far too cute, the second one was apparently far too gloomy and it was finally the third effort that ended up satisfying the management.”