One of my favourite games of all time is the 1987 sensation that was Taito's Rainbow Islands the story of Bubble Bobble part 2. The game was ported to pretty much everything out at the time. For the benefit of this review I'll be reviewing the original arcade port which I played on the PC.
So the goal of this game is simple you are Bubby (or Bobby if your player 2) your goal is to get to the top of the stage using rainbows. You can use them to defeat enemies along the way or even to use as an additional platform. If you take too long the music speeds up and it becomes a frantic race to reach the top as you slowly see the pixelated sea rise up to get you, if you touch it you die.
Graphic wise Rainbow Islands is incredibly colourful and jolly. All character and enemy sprites look cute and cuddly and enemies match the themes of the level. For example, spiders and caterpillars in insect island, vampires and werewolves in monster island. Everything always seems so happy in the game. Some levels are even based of beloved arcade games for example, island five is doh island and is based on the hit game 'Arkanoid,' the final three secret islands are based on the well-loved Taito arcade games but for this review I won't spoil them here, let’s just say you’re in for a treat on the final island should you make it that far.
Music wise in most original cuts of the game play a mix of the song "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", from the Wizard of Oz film (just in an arcade-style tune). This song plays pretty much on every level, for some this may get on your nerves quick, for others like me it never gets old. The music does change on specific levels and every boss level has this awesome threatening boss music. Interesting to note if you’re playing this on the Taito Classics Collection for PS2 or Xbox the music is changed as Taito never had the rights to copy "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", so the music was altered to avoid a possible law suit, the level music really isn't as good in these versions of the game and feels a lot less happy not complimenting the feel of the game.
In Rainbow Islands there is no longer two player co-op. Though you can play as Bubby and Bobby (the hero’s from the first game), instead you alternate in turns. In fairness with Rainbow Islands design a co-op may have proved messy and even difficult without the use of spit screen. The game is more a vertically scrolling platformer instead of all the action occurring on fixed level screens.
Several power ups can be obtained in the game which drop randomly after killing enemies with the rainbows. Red potions increase the number of rainbows you fire, the max being three. Yellow potions increase the speed they appear, shoes speed you up. Effects of these upgrades is permanent until you die then you lose everything. If you’re lucky some very rare power ups will appear randomly to assist you like the jacket which gives you invincibility and the book which gives Bubby (or Bobby) wings, effects of these power ups is mostly temporary and only lasts till the end of the level. All power ups are removed instantly if you die.
If you crush rainbows above enemies there is a chance they will drop a gem. The gems are vital if you want to complete the game one hundred percent. Once collected they are shown at the bottom of the screen and effects are permanent even if you die. If you get all seven gems on each island you received a giant gem at the end of the stage after defeating the boss. If you collect all seven giant gems after the first seven levels you can progress to three additional islands and have a chance to unlock the true ending of the game. Failing to collect all the giant gems will see you complete the game after the seventh island and you receive a very much sub-par ending which encourages you to re try.
If you really skilled collecting the seven gems in the correct order (e.g. red, orange, yellow...) will unlock the 'shilver' door in the boss room which might just be bad Japanese translation and instead be 'silver,' door. You can enter the door even before defeating the boss, however, you won't obtaining the highest score doing it this way. In the door is a secret room which gives your character a permanent upgrade even if you die, one example is giant shoes will make you permanently fast. If you die on the boss before entering the secret room it does not re appear. In the arcade days players would not know they could unlock the secret 'shilver' door the only way to know this secret if you collected the rare magic wand item which instructs you to do it in a hint screen. This was an incredible discovery for gamers that invested heavily into the game.
Difficulty-wise Rainbow Islands can come across as incredibly difficult on a first try. This is old school arcade at its finest. One hit from any enemy, projectile or falling in the sea sees you die instantly. However, the game does provide three checkpoints per level and even lets you retry the boss from the start if you die in the boss room itself, additionally any enemies killed before you die do not respawn. With much practice you will find yourself flying through the early levels.
End of Island bosses tend to be giant versions of smaller enemies in the game which show a health bar at the top of the screen and require several hits to defeat, unlike standard enemies which can all be defeated with one hit. Most bosses can be defeated with ease once you memorize their pattern, though this may take you several attempts.
Game designer Fuki Mitsuji also known as MTJ, created Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands as well as many other Taito games, went on record to say his goal for Rainbow Islands was to create a game that was completely different from the original and challenged players in a completely different way. The man deserves a round of applause for this concept as very few game designers would even dare venture from the tried and tested approach when creating game sequels, hell even games in general these days refuse to attempt to innovate. Sadly MTJ died in 2008 but left behind quite the legacy that is recognised by many gamers today. Before he died he used to lecture at Universities and encourage students to make innovative but most of all enjoyable games.
Super Mario Bros 2 shares some history with Rainbow Islands on NES. Apparently the creators goal of that game was to make a successful vertical scrolling game, as opposed to a horizontal scrolling game like the original Super Mario Bros. Play-testing however, did not sit well with Nintendo and instead they combined horizontal and vertical level scrolling. It’s interesting because Super Mario Bros 2 and Rainbow Islands were released the same year in Japan and yet Rainbow Islands is a successful vertical scrolling game. A port of Rainbow Islands was also released on the NES.
Verdict:- Rainbow Islands is a fantastic game which I feel is still very playable today even for young gamers born after the eighties.
The game is still relevant and a highly recommended; it will reward the brave who persist with it and punish the player who struggles with the one hit death difficulty.
It tries something which I don't feel has ever been replicated in the arcades and if nothing else will make many gamers smile and leave you returning to it again and again. This is one trip over the rainbow you will never forget.
Second Opinion:- Transbot concedes: If anyone wants to know what a perfect game looks like then welcome to the answer. Besides Transbot, that is.
Rainbow Islands as an arcade game was immense and almost all of the ports of it are of either a great or very good quality. The PC version mentioned here is fantastic as is the Amiga version it essentially is.
Transbot won't give this a perfect 10 however as that game does not exist, theres always something that can be improved but this is so close it's insane. Everyone go out and get a copy of this on either the PC, the Amiga, ST, Master System or MegaDrive as soon as you can.
Transbot Scores:- 9.5 out of 10
Name: Rainbow Islands
Format: MULTI/PC (tested)
Region Reviewed: PAL
Year of Release: 1987/1996 (UK)