Rainbow Islands (NES) review
"A while back, I had the coolest idea ever. Rather than a side scrolling platformer, I would make a vertical scrolling game. Jumping from platform to platform is what truly defines how fun a Mario clone is, and so how about a game where you're jumping all the time? How about a game where your goal is to climb a tower, constantly going up? It's brilliant! Forever climbing, you will feel the satisfaction of a well timed jump far more often than in Mario or Sonic. And best of all, it's never b..."
A while back, I had the coolest idea ever. Rather than a side scrolling platformer, I would make a vertical scrolling game. Jumping from platform to platform is what truly defines how fun a Mario clone is, and so how about a game where you're jumping all the time? How about a game where your goal is to climb a tower, constantly going up? It's brilliant! Forever climbing, you will feel the satisfaction of a well timed jump far more often than in Mario or Sonic. And best of all, it's never been done before, right? Well, yes it has. By some cruel twist of fate, Taito beat me to it in one of the oddest sequels ever made- Bubble Bobble Part II: Rainbow Islands. I guess I can't complain about my cool idea going down the tubes. After all, this is a good game.
Remember the cutesy dragons from Bubble Bobble? Well, forget them. Instead, you control Bub, a cute little kid who has the power to shoot... rainbows? Yeah, Bub can create a small rainbow in front of him. He can then walk up the rainbow like a staircase in order to reach higher platforms, but they aren't the sturdiest of structures- jump on them and they collapse. However, any enemies under it when it collapses will be destroyed, as will any enemy that touches the rainbow as it is formed. So it's a weapon as well as a tool. Items abound; most simply give you extra points, but some will speed you up, destroy other enemies on the screen, speed up your firing rate, etc. The best of these is doubling your rainbow power, allowing you to shoot two colorful arches in a row. Cool, huh?
There's seven islands of this, each one split apart by four stages. Thus, you can expect this game to last about as long as the original Mario. It's quite challenging too; you're constantly inundated with multiple enemies and projectiles, and you just plain can't jump when you're on a rainbow (thereby limiting your evasive maneuvers). Couple that with one-hit kills, and you will certainly die multiple times in your quest. Fortunately each level has plenty of respawning sites, and there's a plethora of lives and continues at your disposal. Besides, it's nothing you can't get used to, and a little practice will guide you through the game. At the end of each island lies a nice large boss. Rapid rainbow firing is your key to success here; there is no recoil or brief moment of invincibility. However, said bosses are quite large, and dodging them and their weapons will take effort. Each island has a different theme, from military to mechanical to the classic Breakout clone Arkanoid. And what do you get for your reward? A giant pile of treasure and a complaint for not finishing the game completely by getting all the big diamonds. You schmuck.
Sad to say, this challenge (while not too great) is hampered slightly by the controls. Little Bub jumps more vertically than horizontally, making it somewhat difficult to get him from platform to platform at times. I guess vertical is more important in this game, but you'll have to get used to it nonetheless. What's tough, though, is dealing with rainbow climbing. You may find that a slight tap of the D-Pad will send you further along than you thought, often leaving you sliding off your rainbow. It's no big deal, except when you are making a "staircase" of rainbows to move upwards. Trying to turn around to continue your staircase can be a hassle, as you may inadvertently fall off or have your rainbow crumble into nothingness underneath you. Building your staircases are often tricky situations, although the ability to fire multiple rainbows greatly alleviates this problem. Other than these two fairly minor annoyances though, the controls are not a problem.
And these minor problems don't detract from the game design. I've discovered that the levels I tend to enjoy most in Super Mario 3 were the vertical ones, and finding a game dealing exclusively in these was interesting to say the least. Missing a jump now means setting you back a few feet, not instant death. You must worry about jumping into a fray of enemies and quickly knocking them out rather than meeting a few baddies head on. The new orientation ends up as more of a gimmick, as the designers took into account these differences. It subtly changes every aspect of a platformer, turning a potentially mundane game into something refreshing and new. Enemies fly rather than walk, spikes are located in dubious positions requiring delicate rainbow placement, and platform locations are quite varied. Sometimes you'll have tons of empty space requiring quick rainbow stairways, sometimes you'll find lots of tiny platforms with loads of enemies (allowing you to jump normally while leaving your rainbows to attack), and sometimes you'll find multiple corridors you can take, each one dependant on your preferences. One might think such a simple thing like orientation would not make a game fundamentally different, but fortunately Taito made the effort to ensure that it did.
Likewise, the rainbow aspect was more than one might initially suspect. Like the bubbles in the prequel, they are useful for both transportation and annihilation, a double use rarely seen. Furthermore, you can either smack your enemies directly with your rainbow powers, or let a crumbling rainbow fall on them. The second option might be more difficult to pull off, but that's the only way to collect diamonds and other powerful goodies. You must quickly become adept at filling the screens with rainbow staircases, using them to reach higher platforms and new locations. Launching your rainbows becomes something of an art as you climb ever upwards. Moreover, your rainbows will also pick up items as well if they touch or fall onto them, giving them yet another use. Once again, we see something that could have been a gimmick turn into a fresh and fun aspect of an already sound game.
It should also be noted that there are tons of items everywhere in the levels, as previously stated. Of special note are the diamonds; you need seven different colored ones in each island to get the best ending. Of course, if you don't care about that 100%, then you can ignore them completely. With a little bit of observation, you will soon determine strategies of getting all those pesky diamonds, assuming you want to in the first place. As for everything else, you should have no problem with making it through the stages while collecting tons of powerups and points. It's not like a collectathon (as everything's optional), but it's not like a barren or pointless world either (as the powerups do help you). The amount of item collecting and their worth depends entirely on you, exactly what any good game should strive for.
With this rather impressive design, I would hope no one gets turned off by the ridiculously cute presentation of the game. The sickeningly sweet Bub has adorable little eyes that are half the size of his entire body, and makes a funny little face when he dies. The enemies are often just as bright and cutesy, even the vampires. Weird, huh? The whole package is wrapped up in an overuse of pastel colors, in case you didn't get the overall "kiddy" feel yet. In reality, it's not that bad, and it's not that hard to ignore. What is aggravating, though, is the backgrounds. Occasionally, there's just too much info, blinding you and hiding enemies in the background. The mechanical world is probably the worst culprit, and most of the rest aren't that big of a deal. Just deal with it and don't let it interrupt your enjoyment.
The music is just as cute as well. It's also pretty much forgettable and annoying, so much so that you might as well just mute it and play on. Especially after hearing the plethora of sound effects. Since you'll be jumping and firing rainbows practically the entire time, you'll hear them quite often. On the other hand, I must say the Arkanoid level impressed me. Whenever you touch any surface, the classic blip sounds, an attention to detail I wasn't expecting. Just a cool little egg, but not enough for me to care about the audio much.
I feel kind of ashamed that I never fleshed out my idea for a vertical game. All I ever imagined was the basic idea, but Taito turned it into a complete package. The concepts were executed, not quite perfectly, but better than expected. No, it's not as impressive as Mario or Kirby, nor is it as finely crafted. But it does take a few new ideas and insures that they are fun. The end result? A platformer that doesn't feel stale and rehashed, a rare occurrence. Don't be let down because this isn't a true sequel to the classic Bubble Bobble or the saturated cuteness. Just climb.
Community review by mariner (January 07, 2005)
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