Months of controversy about ownership of the licence have served only to enhance Rainbow Islands' reputation. For a while back there, it even looked as if we'd never see it at all, but at last Ocean have unleashed on the world a game every bit as addictive and entertaining as its predecessor, Bubble Bobble. Cuter than a button...
Five years ago, anything that dared to be "cute and cuddly" would be exiled instantly to the furthest dark reaches of the software shelves. Taito changed all that by releasing the extremely "cute and cuddly" Bubble Bobble, which had an extra trump card up its sleeve - sheer simple addictiveness.
The game became an instant success and had an almost religious following with badges, caps and T-shirts being worn by ardent fans. Firebird has similar high praise heaped upon them when they superbly converted the game to home computers - virtually producing an exact replica of the brilliant coin-op.
The inevitable follow-up game soon appeared in the arcades in the shape of Rainbow Islands and Firebird quickly snapped up the licence, commissioning Graftgold to carry out the conversion. When MicroProse bought out Telecomsoft and their subsidiary labels they failed to secure the rights to the conversion, leaving the project hanging after whetting the appetite of the software world with endless previews. Now, at long last, the licence has been tied up by Ocean, so Bub and Bob fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief - Bubble Bobble II: The Revenge is here!
In Bubble Bobble, the two heroes Bub and Bob had been turned into cute little dinosaurs by an evil wizard monster. The brontosaurii were then placed in a castle containing 100 rooms inhabited by strange creatures like rotor-heads and clock-jaws. Bub and Bob had to kill all the creatures in each room to progress through the screens, until the final confrontation with the monster himself in room 100.
Of course, everything being nice in the world of cute and cuddly computer games, they managed to escape and return to their human form. Now they're ready to plunge headlong into danger once again, because another nasty creature has turned their homeland - the Rainbow Islands - from a friendly paradise into a dangerous and frightening realm.
The once-peaceful inhabitants of the islands have been enslaved by hordes of creatures controlled by the evil oppressor. All the monsters are matched to their surroundings. The Insect Island, for instance, is terrorised by caterpillars and bees, while vampires and Frankenstein-like creatures roam the Monster Island.
Bub and Bob have to make their way from the bottom area of each island to a goal platform at the top. Once the last area of the island has been completed, a helicopter or a spider-like creature must be overcome.
Fortunately, the little heroes are not totally defenceless. They have a magic star that leaves a rainbow in its wake when thrown, and is used as a bridge or stepping stone to reach higher platforms. It also doubles as a weapon for tackling monsters. If a rainbow traps a monster beneath its arch, the monster becomes very agitated, turns red and tries to escape. Leave him alone and he breaks free to hound you until you drop, but stamp on the rainbow and it falls, crushing him to death. Every dead enemy drops bonus pieces of fruit which can be picked up for points.
At first, Bub and Bob can only fire one rainbow at a time and move around rather slowly, but by picking up objects like pots and trainers they can run faster and fire up to three rainbows at once. Other icons such as sweets, diamonds and emeralds may be collected to boost the player's score.
One thing that must be stressed is that there is no time to hang around. Take too long on a screen, and the island slips into the sea, gradually filling the playing area with water. Be warned, Bub and Bob aren't the world's greatest swimmers, so, as the game says - hurry up!
Not surprisingly, the style of Rainbow Islands is reminiscent of Bubble Bobble - with cute sprites, bright colours and a bounce-along soundtrack. The flat objects and black backdrops of the original have been replaced by even cuter creatures (Bub looks particularly neat in his blue dungarees and red trainers) and pretty backgrounds, complete with clouds.
It has to be said that firing rainbows looks much prettier than those piffling little bubbles! The game kicks up with a superb loading screen, which it's difficult to believe was drawn in sixteen colours, and things certainly don't deteriorate from there! Real care has been taken to create an exact copy of the arcade version and all the elements have been brought flawlessly onto the ST, even down to the "Over the Rainbow" backing tune.
Until you've played the game, it's a good idea to withhold judgement on an arcade conversion, but with Graftgold's track record it's hard not to be a touch excited. That excitement is entirely justified. Graftgold's version of Rainbow Islands is one of the best ST coin-op conversions to have appeared.
Once you get past the cute and cuddly appeal of the graphics and actually start playing, it soon becomes apparent how immensely addictive and playable the game is. I found it hard to drag myself away from the machine to write the review! Not only is the addiction instant, it will have you playing for weeks to come. In fact, the only way to stop is either to finish all the levels or be forcibly dragged away from your joystick. But don't take ST Format's word for it: have a go at Rainbow Islands yourself - then just try and stop playing!