Rainbow Islands / Ocean Software 1989
Screenshots: play/stop

Rainbow Islands was the sequel to Taito's highly popular Bubble Bobble and featured the heroes Bub and Bob – turned back into their human form.

The idea is to get through seven worlds, each with four rounds. Each round is made up of a long vertical playing field, and you have to guide Bub or Bob up through the level by jumping onto platforms. Your hero is also given Rainbow Power – pressing the fire button will release a small rainbow that you can walk on top of – handy when the platform above is too far out of reach.

Although Rainbows can be makeshift platforms, there is a far more useful need for them. As usual, there are all sorts of nasties after you, and you can kill them in several ways: firing a rainbow directly at them (the nasty dies when the rainbow touches them), trapping a nasty inside the bow of your rainbow and then jumping onto it, or making a rainbow above a nasty and jumping onto it. When you jump onto a rainbow (rather than walking on it), the rainbow will fall, and any nasties below it will be killed.

Trapping a nasty or killing it from above is always the best way to kill them, because this is the way to get power-ups and rewards. Power-ups come in the way of a pair of training shoes (for extra speed), red color pots (which allows you to fire two or three rainbows in serial in one go) and yellow color pots (which doubles the speed in which you make rainbows). Rewards come in the way of diamonds – seven different colors of them, each representing a main color of the rainbow. If you manage to collect one of each color, then you will receive a higher bonus at the end of the world.

As well as these power-ups and rewards, there are the usual fruits and other food that is randomly placed around the level, or are created as the result of hitting a nasty with your rainbow. These fruits add extra points to your score. Some of these fruits are also stars, which come in handy. Red stars explode upwards, whereas yellow stars explode in every direction. Any nasty touched by the shrapnel of a star is killed as if you dropped a rainbow on them – time to pick up those power-ups!

Like the original Bubble Bobble, there is a time limit imposed on each round. Failure to get to the top within a certain time limit (denoted by a warning and the background music doubling in speed) will result in the round slowly being flooded with water. If your head goes below water level, a life is lost.

When you reach the top of a round, you are rewarded with a chest full of fruits that you have a number of seconds to pick up, and then it's onto the next round.

And of course, there's the Bosses! A boss appears at the end of the World (i.e. round 4). Each boss is different, but the way to kill them is basically the same – you need to hit them multiple times with your rainbows. Definitely a good idea to have picked up some power-ups on the way! If you kill the boss, then a big treasure chest with lots of high-scoring items appears. As mentioned before, if you also picked up all of the seven coloured diamonds, then a huge fruit will jump out of the treasure chest too, giving you a big bonus.

The Commodore 64 conversion of the arcade is a brave attempt at a game that obviously relied on the higher-spec hardware that Taito had to play with. The gameplay itself is quite similar, although it does suffer from the "only one fire button" syndrome that a lot of conversions suffer from. The arcade version has two buttons – one for firing and one for jumping. The C64 version gets over this by pushing the joystick up to jump and using the fire button to release a rainbow. Because C64 users are used to "up to jump", this actually works out rather well.

The graphics system was a clever idea – the main character and the nasties are sprites, but the rainbows, fruits and rewards are character-based. This idea is good because it means the items can have their own colors that are independent of the sprite colors, and it keeps the number of sprites needed on-screen to a minimum. But, unfortunately, there is a price to pay. Because they're character-based, the items can only move 8 pixels at a time, and you notice that when the fruits and nasties are falling. Also, they replace a part of the background wherever they lie and this can look quite ugly. Gameplay noticeably slows down when a rainbow is falling, too, as it has to redraw the part of the screen where the rainbow was, and then draw the rainbow in its new position. This takes quite a bit of CPU time up and slows the sprite system down, which can be frustrating sometimes.

Sound and music, programmed by Jason Page, is also disappointing. The in-game tune, a pastiche on Somewhere Over the Rainbow (which the arcade game also uses), seems to suffer from timing problems here and there, and the harmonizing channel also hits bum notes sometimes. Sound effects are sparse but adequate, notifying you of any special items picked up or events which you need to know about.

Fans of the original arcade game will be intrigued by the C64 version, just because it's a home version they can play on their favorite home computer, but it will leave them slightly frustrated with the sometimes dodgy gameplay and the music that can make anyone with an ear for music wince on occasion. People who have never seen the arcade game, however, will probably not even bother with the C64 version.

Reviewed by Boz.

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