What Popular 1980s Computer Game Blatantly Ripped Off Super Mario Bros?
Answer: The Great Giana Sisters
In 1985, Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. The game was an immediate success and went on to become one of the most iconic and best-selling video games of all time. Any time a particular game or style of game skyrockets to that level of popularity, it’s a given that other companies will subtly and less-than-subtly copy the style, theme, and game play dynamics. The late 1980s saw no shortage of games that would make even the most casual of gamers stop and say, “Huh, this sure is like Super Mario Bros.”
That said, one game in particular—wildly popular on the Amiga and Commodore 64 personal computers—deserves a sort of award for blatant intellectual property infringement. In 1987, German game developer Rainbow Arts released a Super Mario Bros. clone, developed by the studio Time Warp Productions, called The Great Giana Sisters, that was such a clone that you’d think they sneaked into Nintendo headquarters and stole the code for Super Mario Bros. It featured the same basic level layouts, same enemies (simply reskinned as owls, rolling eyeballs, flesh-eating fish, and deadly insects), same controls, same upgrades (bubbles instead of fireballs, eating power-ups made you grow, etc.), and even the same gather-the-coins (now gems) mechanism for points and 1-ups. The game wasn’t just kind-of-like Super Mario Bros., it was essentially Super Mario Bros. with a barely-fresh skin layered over top.
Nintendo, of course, applied pressure, urging Rainbow Arts and Time Warp Productions to withdraw the game from sale, arguing that it was obvious copyright infringement. Production immediately stopped and the game vanished from the market (although it lived on in infamy among software pirates of the day, traded floppy disk to floppy disk). In most cases, the story would end there, a simple tale of why you shouldn’t rip off a multi-national corporation with a huge legal department. But the story of the Great Giana Sisters has an interesting and, frankly, inexplicable twist.
Despite the disappearance of the game from the market, over 20 years later in 2009, Nintendo approved a port of the game with updated graphics for the Nintendo DS. The game was released in Europe, Australia, and North America, clearly catering to the popularity of the original version decades earlier. There have even been two sequels released, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (2012) and Giana Sisters: Dream Runners (2015).
Image courtesy of Time Warp Productions/Rainbow Arts.