Rainbow Islands is the red-headed step brother of Bubble Bobble. It’s not as loved, nor as memorable, nor as entertaining. Still, it hangs around the table at night, begging for scraps of your love.
Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure! is an “updated” remake of the original. I use the quotation marks because an “update” implies an improvement. You will find no such thing here.
You play as Bubby or Bobby, two generic Microsoft avatar-esque humans with the power of rainbows. You’re tasked with climbing a 10,000-meter tower to have your wish granted by a girl that lives on a comet. Along the way, there are plenty of insect/animal/robot baddies trying to stop you from reaching the top. Seems simple enough.
You need to scale the tower FAST. There is the constant threat of a giant robot moving up the tower slowly from the bottom, and there’s an obtrusive timer ticking down in the corner of the screen. Instead of a life bar, Taito opted for a unique mechanic: getting hit by enemies knocks precious seconds off the clock, while defeating them makes them drop crystals to add seconds back onto the timer.
This is where we come to the most glaring problem in Rainbow Islands: the actual gameplay. The moving and jumping feels tight enough, but instead of falling with normal physics, you float downwards like you have a parachute strapped to your back. In a game where battling the clock is so vital a mechanic that Taito saw fit to remove the life bar completely, floating feels out of place and, ultimately, frustrating.
You can also shoot rainbows out of your… uhhh… crotch. True story. You shoot the rainbow straight ahead and can use it as a platform for walking/jumping on, or you can jump up into the rainbow from below to rain stars down upon your enemies. The rainbows can be powered up with pick-ups to shoot farther or faster, but they will always just shoot straight ahead. The enemies, however, come at you from every angle.
I have never felt so limited by my attack range in a game. Ever. You will find yourself doing ridiculously unnecessary acrobatics, climbing all across the screen to merely avoid a mecha-owl with bomb droppings. And you’d better avoid it, because the thirty seconds you’ll lose if he so much as taps your character will not make up for the four seconds you’ll recover by defeating him and collecting his crystals.
“But Mega Man and the original Metroid only let you shoot in one direction, and those games are classics!” you cry. And it’s true, but those games came out in the 1980s. It’s time to move on, Taito.
About two-thirds of the way up, each 1,000-meter level, you have a boss battle. The robot that has been on your heels for the entire level catches up to you magically, and you shoot rainbow parts at him while trying to avoid his far superior weaponry. You can try to keep running (he’ll abandon the chase if you reach the next 1,000 meters), or defeat him to automatically conquer the level and get a star. Note: if you don’t defeat the boss and earn a star on every single level, you’ll receive the most unsatisfying ending in the history of video games.
There are power-ups to collect, and killing bad guys on different sections of the screen nets you crystals to use on the robot bosses, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this game – with its bright pastel aesthetics and almost-too-friendly atmosphere – shouldn’t be this frustratingly difficult. You will die often, and you’ll rarely know how you could have prevented it. After a few hours, it will (barely) begin to feel slightly less unwieldy, but I can’t see many gamers giving it that much of an opportunity to sparkle.
After the ten-level standard mode, there is also Challenge Mode (the same game, but you start at the bottom with only one life, and see how high you can climb before time runs out), and Time Attack Mode (beat each level as quickly as you can to get on the leaderboards). Then… that’s it. There’s not much else to do after about four hours of frustration, except for some ultimately unsatisfying same-screen multiplayer. At least you can use your personal avatar to play through Challenge and Time Attack modes. It’s kind of funny/bizarre if you’ve decked yourself out in some Spartan armor, and then use rainbows to squash bugs.
In the end, the game is playable; it’s just not that much fun or interesting. Even with Space Invaders cameo-ing as enemies in the later levels, this 800-point Arcade title won’t scratch your nostalgic itch. Pop the original Rainbow Islands into your Amiga instead.
It stays true to the essence of the original game, but the trippy rainbow aesthetics make you feel like Lisa Frank decorated your bathroom while you were sleeping. Just... weird.
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The rainbow shooting/jumping/attacking mechanics take a while to get used to, and never seem to work as well as they should. Also, the game is unnecessarily harder than it should be because of it. The timer/life gauge mechanic is interesting, however.
You'll manage to squeeze maybe five hours of "enjoyment" out of this title, then there's no reason to ever play it again, unless you're a leaderboard hound.
An "update" of a classic that's only barely fun, and even then only for a little while. Stick with the original to get your rainbow-jumping jollies.