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 question–wildly popular on the Amiga and Commodore 64 personal computers–deserves a sort of award for blatant intellectual infringement. In 1987 German game developer Rainbow Arts released a Super Mario Bros. clone called The Great Gianna Sisters that was so well, cloned, that you’d think they sneaked into Nintendo headquarters and stole the code for Super Mario Bros. It featured the same level layouts, same enemies, same controls, same upgrades (bubble 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, took Rainbow Arts to court and the game was removed 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. The story of the Great Gianna Sisters has an interesting and, frankly, inexplicable twist.
Despite suing the game out of existence in the 1980s over 20 years later Nintendo approved a port of the game with updated graphics for the Nintendo DS. Limited to a North American release (an odd choice since The Great Giana Sisters would be most recognized by European buyers), Giana Sisters DS is still a rather blatant rip off of the whole Super Mario genre (and a poorly received one at that).