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Rainbow Islands (NES) artwork

Rainbow Islands (NES) review


"This is the game where the Bubble Bobble timeline splits into two, like Zelda."



The title of Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2 (as it's called in Japan and arcades) might initially seem like a misnomer. Where are the dragons from the original Bubble Bobble, and where are the bubbles and bobble? The absence of those familiar elements only makes sense once you learn that Rainbow Islands actually takes place after the hidden true ending to Bubble Bobble. Returning protagonists Bub and Bob have finally reverted to their human forms. Now known as Bubby and Bobby, the two children can apparently shoot rainbows and must use this power to rescue villagers who were kidnapped from some random village.

Alright, so it’s not exactly Metal Gear Solid. The important thing is that, unlike its predecessor, Rainbow Islands is a vertically scrolling platformer. Bubby produces rainbows that then serve as either platforms or a means to defeat enemies. He can climb on a rainbow by walking onto it, but jumping on one will cause it to drop. Falling rainbows can also defeat enemies (a necessary technique if you hope to reach the final level). You can bounce off of rainbows by holding the A button, or you can simply continue to produce rainbows once you reach the highest point of the rainbow where you’re currently standing (effectively creating stairs in the process). Naturally, your overall objective is to reach the highest point in each stage so that you can move on to the next area. At the end of every fourth level lurks a super-easy boss. These guys are nothing. They move slowly around the screen and can be eliminated with a few quick rainbows. Many of them don’t even attack you; they just fly around and wait to die. After you finish them off, you move on to the next themed island.

Bosses aside, the game is harder than it probably sounds. Enemies are plentiful and it only takes one hit to send Bubby to an early grave. You’ll constantly be moving upwards towards the goal, but you lack any way to attack vertically by default. Rainbows only come out horizontally, arching in front of your character. Thankfully, there’s a wide variety of power-ups to help you out. They let you double your walking speed, shoot out two rainbows at the same time (or a “Double Rainbow,” if you prefer), gain a set of rainbow satellites that rotate around you for a time and defeat any enemies they touch, or they simply explode and destroy every enemy within a certain radius.

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The most noteworthy collectibles are the multicoloured gems that must be gathered in each world. There come in seven different colours, and they only appear when you defeat enemies by crushing rainbows over or near them. Collecting all seven gems will reward you with an enormous gem when you complete the island, as well as a power-up. Those special power-ups can be much more effective than the ones that you find in the stages, such as the book that essentially allows you to fly. More often than not, though, they’ll just be minor gifts like those you can find within the stages.

Collecting all of the large gems is still a worthwhile endeavor because it will allow you to reach the secret eighth island. The various islands all feature different themes, such as technology or that ultra-cute version of horror that shows up in adorable Japanese video games so often. There’s a decent amount of variety within the level design thanks to various traps that only appear in certain stages. Half of the levels are based on various Taito games, like Arkanoid or KiKi KaiKai, the prequel to Pocky & Rocky (and Pocky herself even appears here as a boss). The final island is actually Bubble Bobble-themed. The enemies and the ground tiles are all lifted straight from that game. The music also is the one song that plays for most of that other game, though the North American NES version of the game has a bug that makes the music sound weird. It’s still the same cute old tune, but it’s corrupted, with strange out-of-place tones playing over most sections. It actually sounds a little creepy, as though some horrifying bloody, severed head is going to slowly creep onto the screen and let out a terrifying 8-bit scream.

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Creepy music bug aside, Rainbow Islands has a suitably charming presentation. It doesn’t look quite as good as the arcade original, of course, but the characters and enemies are that special ‘80s Japanese brand of cute. Backgrounds are colourful and detailed, though one or two levels look a little busy and it can be difficult to tell which tiles are platforms or collectables and which are parts of the background. The first half of the game only features one tune that repeats in every level, but it goes away in the second half, not too long after it starts to drive you crazy. Sprite flicker can get pretty bad if you get overzealous with your rainbows. Perhaps this explains the game’s disappointing lack of multiplayer, which was one of Bubble Bobble’s greatest strengths.

Rainbow Islands is a nice little platformer that lacks the staying power of many of Taito’s other arcade games and NES arcade conversions. The references to other Taito games are a treat, and while it’s no Super Mario Galaxy in terms of gameplay variety, it has enough tricks to keep things interesting for the hour or so it will probably take you to finish. Unfortunately, the experience probably won’t be sufficient to tempt you want to play it again after that point. This is a game that would be tons of fun with a friend, but since that’s not an option, Rainbow Islands settles for merely being a decent way to spend an hour.

Rating: 7/10

Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (January 08, 2013)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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