I played Giana Sisters 2D through Proton/Steam on Linux, and on the force of love for the C64 original I could complete the game and even enjoy it in parts.
In concept it's not that different to the original Great Giana Sisters, jump and run your way to the end of the level and collect diamonds as you go along.
With this PC version it's just that the graphics are vector-based and more mobile-like, and somehow I felt the general level of polish is not as high as it could be.
As this is a re-versioning of a 2009 Nintendo DS game, I became curious enough to order the game off eBay and borrowed a Nintendo DS hand held console to see how this really plays.
Let's dive in.
|It was more easy to take screenshots from the "2D" version.|
New Coke, New Giana
For the new Giana, the designers made an important streamlining. When becoming "punk", Giana gains both the head-butting ability and the fireball. You can also shoot multiple fireballs, importantly the power acts as a kind of one-hit shield so Giana does not instantly lose a life.
There are no additional bonuses for creating reflecting missiles, homing missiles or the one-off bonuses found in the original game. This means it isn't so devastating to loose your "punk", as the next bonus will bring it all back and there's nothing further to build. Admittedly some nuance is lost here, but this change helps make Giana Sisters more playable on the long run.
From the start we see the game can scroll vertically too, and although many of the initial levels are horizontal they can be traveled back-and-forth, unlike the C64 game. Later the levels expand to all directions, steering away from the original level styles, but admittedly they bring some needed variety.
|Part of the World Map|
One central new idea is the occasional red diamond found among the usual diamonds. This is not only a nod to the Amiga version which had red diamonds, they are special jewels. Collect all from one level, and you have cleared it perfectly. Clear all levels in a world to perfection, and you can access a bonus level of that world.
The red jewel is also why some levels are worth exploring forwards and backwards, up and down. Later it will become increasingly hard to discover all the red jewels. You can play a level again if you didn't clear it perfectly the first time around. This adds some replay value as I just didn't care when sweeping the levels on the PC 2D version.
The red jewel is also a likely reason for why the time counter for levels is extremely generous. You can leisurely explore the whole area searching for those hidden jewels. Still, I got the feeling no-one really tested meticulously what would be a good amount of time for any given level, so they just gave a bunch.
There are also two additional tools for Giana. First, it's possible to get a bubblegum or a soda from a dispenser. The former allows Giana to float in a balloon, whereas the soda produces a Turrican-style beam of water that can be rotated momentarily around Giana.
Here some of my problems begin, at least on the PC version. Floating on a balloon, avoiding sprites, is something that I could have cooked up as a C64 BASIC game in the 1980s and the movement is just as sluggish. And of course there has to be at least one hell-hole of a level that requires the player to navigate the balloon in a corridor of spikes and flames and bees. The 8-8 level particularly can F.O.
The DS version at least has better controls and Giana doesn't jank around in the bubble when flying. It still doesn't become my favorite part of the game. There's an option to use the microphone to blow the balloon upwards, but I shudder even to think of this.
The Soda gimmick is mostly just a "key" to open areas, as it washes out breakable walls and obviously blows out any flames. It's said to push monsters too, but at least the crabs didn't seem to care much about it and I ended up losing a life because of this misinformation.
|Splosh. Also, the inevitable glitch.|
The two extra items didn't do much to the Giana experience, but as a way to open bonus areas they are more inventive than just plain keys or warp items. On the DS, having to press the touch screen to activate the bubble gum does not add much, or actually nothing.
The game doesn't make much use of the double screen anyway. The information and world map is at the bottom screen, which means you have to slide your eyes there to check if you have all the red diamonds. So, it's one area where the PC version could be said to be better.
Both versions have a look up and look down function, which in theory adds to the process of searching secrets on some levels. It tends to be a bit useless, although fortunately not too distracting.
Levels and difficulty
Part of the main game levels are clearly based on the original Giana Sisters material, and I enjoyed these the most. Although it also felt like visiting the ruins of a partly abandoned gianaverse. These tribute levels have no warp tiles, and although the spaces for the spider and the dragon bosses are there, the bosses do not appear.
Instead the Dragon, now somewhat flatulent, makes an appearance in a separate sub-level, where you need to jump on top of the dragon to kill it. In the Nintendo DS version, the Dragon is more formidable. It moves faster and swoops down on you on the first instance. With the PC game, I felt that nearly all the dragons were quite simple up until the last one or two. We don't get to see the giant spider.
The difficulty ramp is one of the more annoying aspects of the game, at least on the PC version. With DS I can't say much because I'm in effect playing the same levels again with better controls. Although at times the small screen makes things harder to see than on the PC.
The PC experience was that for a long while the game is mind-numbingly simple, playing lazily I still had 10+ lives at my disposal. Suddenly it becomes significantly harder and not always in the way I'd hope for. The typical way to die is to bump your head at a thing you didn't properly understand, ending up in a chasm instead.
On Nintendo DS I had 20+ lives at one point. It's possible the balancing of the game and the amount of content is not exactly on par with best console jumping games, but it's a Giana game alright. It may be that as I spent some time in summer to complete the C64 version, the new game felt comparatively easy.
One more detail about the version differences. When the bouncing spiky balls are first introduced on PC, I thought I would have to jump over them much like the similar opponents in the original game. No way this could be done, and I lost many lives trying it. Then I realized I have to go under them instead. Funnily enough in the DS version these spike-balls jump considerably higher and it is more obvious you can pass under them. Hmm.
|On the Nintendo DS|
The prize for least welcome new enemies are the ghosts, as they simply float around in broad circles larger than the screen, and disregard the physical world around them. They also figure into the "avoid sprite" game mechanic territory which feels a little out of place. I don't think there is a precedent for them in the Giana lore either! My opinion didn't change much on the DS, as added vileness they are maybe even less easy to see.
Looks and feels
The PC version has a "retro" Giana level set, which remixes the original game levels more consistently, but with the new controls and monsters. And a remix it is by necessity, not all the monster types are reproduced, the secret cave logic isn't the same, and so on and on. The DS version doesn't have this game option as far as I know.
The vectorizing of elements on the PC has not been always successful but there have been a few bright ideas here and there. For example, using an airbrushed look for some of the graphics, harking back to that weird Giana Sisters Amiga game cover and loading screen. Then again some of the grass splotches and plants look horribly ill-defined.
|Squish those eyes|
I'm glad the game is not pumped up with some kind of between-level narrative or text, although for some people this might be a minus. After playing further it's apparent Giana Sisters DS/2D is not a very complex or content-rich game. In this way it further reminds me of the Commodore 64 days.
On Nintendo DS, it is even more apparent how close this actually is to the Commodore 64 game, especially the early levels. The pixel graphics and the atmosphere are spot on, the controls are similar but smoother.
On the other hand, the DS screen is very tiny and not super-high quality. In a perfect world I could somehow play this exact DS version on a CRT monitor.
The DS has nicer looking Giana sprite, and the "punk" version has better attitude and animation than the PC 2D. Truth be told not all the levels look very grand on the Nintendo either, some underground tunnel levels are not on par with the best outdoor ones.
If I'm generous and have my nostalgia lens on, I could see Giana Nintendo DS as a 8/10 game. The PC "2D" version could be a 6 or 7/10 -ish, it still gives enjoyment especially if you're on some kind of Giana binge.
1987: The Great Giana Sisters
2009: Giana Sisters DS
2012: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
2015: Giana Sisters 2D
2015: Giana Sisters: Dream Runners