Saturday 1 December 2012

Hard 'n' Heavy

Remember Great Giana Sisters, the world's most famous Super Mario Bros. clone? Of course you do - the internet won't let you forget.

But what about the sequel? This is Hard 'n' Heavy for the Amiga, converted, apparently, by a man without a name. We're off to a good start.

Spend a considerable amount of time on the internet and you'll be force-fed information about Nintendo and their console dealings in the 80s. Spend a bit longer and you might realise the story is lacks meaning for those not living in the states, yet you'll likely struggle to find an alternative tale which suits you. In the UK, it was all about home computers, yet we've allowed the Commodore Amiga, one of the top machines with over half a decade to its name to be forgotten by the masses. Amiga games are fairly well documented and its community is quite large, but having lacked the same cultural impact of the NES, British-based younglings are forced to pretend Mega Man was relevant instead.

Great Giana Sisters stands as one of the few exceptions to this rule. The similarities with Super Mario Bros. and subsequent court dealings with Nintendo has kept this game in the public eye, and with several additions to the "series" since, Giana and Maria don't appear to be going anywhere any time soon (until, of course, its owners make more poor financial decisions and have to sell up again - Giana Sisters isn't exactly an icon of good intellectual property management).

As the famous story goes, Nintendo blocked sales of Great Giana Sisters and life was made miserable for Time Warp Productions for a while. But there is another half of the tale - the fate of "Giana 2: Arther and Martha in Future World", a planned sequel which was forced to rethink its life during the troubles. Production on Giana 2 was halted by Nintendo, and after a series of developer and publisher changes, it was forced out as Hard 'n' Heavy by ReLine Software in 1989, to the delight of no-one.

There is a reason few remember Hard 'n' Heavy, and it's not just down to the limited production run and lack of ties to its prequel. Gameplay was dramatically altered in an attempt to avoid lawsuits, and although Chris Hülsbeck returns to provide the game with audio, you'd be hard pressed to find someone claiming its the better of the two games. It's a casualty in the war against piracy, but it's blood we're happy to have on our hands because frankly, Hard 'n' Heavy isn't a very good game.

In Hard 'n' Heavy, the sisters are history, with the game instead being obsessed with two armed robots, "Heavy" and "Metal" (there is no "Hard") jumping around in the "future". Though the engine is recycled from Giana Sisters, the mechanics are now centred around shooting things - rather than using your head (or feet) to solve the world's problems, the robots are tasked with gunning everything down with useless projectiles. So while the level design bears a resemblance to its prequel, the one-hit kills and abundance of awkwardly placed enemies lead to a much more agonising experience.

Hard 'n' Heavy is one of those games where the music is the only saving grace, but even then, it's hardly among Chris Hülesbeck's greatest works. Although the core gameplay mechanics are by no means broken, the levels reek of poor design choices and compromise. The game is built like a Super Mario Bros. clone, but the differing mechanics means the game no longer qualifies as such. Unless you're abnormally patient, Hard 'n' Heavy is barely playable, and the rest of the package is so unremarkable it's hardly worth discussing (that's some slick backgrounds there, guys - they almost look like something!).

Like Giana Sisters, the Commodore 64 version stands as more impressive of the versions on offer (there's an Atari ST copy too), but all variants of the game are easily displaced by a multitude of other late-80s platformers. While Hard 'n' Heavy stands as an interesting history lesson, its frustrating mediocrity means it cannot hope to be anything more than that - it's certainly not something to track down in the twenty-first century, but it can be admired from afar.

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