RAINBOW ISLANDS: THE STORY OF BUBBLE BOBBLE 2
Nintendo Entertainment System
Genre: Action Platformer
It’s common knowledge in the video game world that if a game does well- let’s face it, well enough- it will warrant a sequel of some kind. Sometimes, the second game in a series will keep the exact formula of the originator. This can result in a boring romp through the ‘same crap, different color’ motif (unless you’re Mega Man). Sometimes, the game will stray so far from it’s source that the double take will snap necks. On occasion, though, some games will find their sequel to be a good mix of both. While it may be a good mix, does that make a good game, though? That’s what Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2 will show us.
In true Nintendo fashion, the story of Rainbow Islands takes place directly after the events of Bubble Bobble and the ‘true’ ending. Now, if you read my review on Bubble Bobble, you know that I did not get the true ending, but I can infer that Bub and Bob, our unfortunate heroes, were returned to a human form and escaped the cave of monsters. Now, Bubby and Bobby, as they are now labeled, find themselves on the Rainbow Islands, a chain of land masses that is slowly sinking into the ocean. The two boys can traverse to the top of each island with the help of rainbows that they produce. Yes, I said rainbows. These rainbows are not just for fun decoration, though. They serve as attacks, platforms, and even bring death from above for unfortunate monsters you can drop them on. Along the way, there are many secrets and power ups to help the boys out, but only by collecting the seven rainbow diamonds can they truly unlock the secret of the Rainbow Islands and save them once and for all.
There are a lot of things you’ll recognize as you travel through the levels of Rainbow
Islands. First of all, it’s a nice touch that you don’t have to kill every enemy to proceed to the next level. Just reach the top of each world and continue on. The game definitely has the same feel as the original, even with all of the cosmetic changes, and even watching the enemies ‘die’ brings up a familiar sprite sequence. For some reason, the enemies turn into enemies you faced in the original game. I’m not sure if this was a design choice or a lack of creativity on the part of those who made the game, but it did bring a nostalgic smirk here and there.
The power ups were probably the most nostalgic thing I encountered in the game. While there are some new and really awesome power ups, plenty of old ones appear. This includes the lightning storm, the quick sneakers, and a special item toward the end of world 5 that I may or may not have missed in the original game.
Not that I’m bitter.
In any case, some of the new ones are just as intriguing, including an invincibility cloak, a ring that lets you take one hit instead of dying, and a leaf the brings a fairy helper to circle around you and take out enemies as you travel. Players won’t be disappointed by how many ways they can protect themselves.
One factor I did miss, however, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, was the Baron. Anyone who spent too long in a level in Bubble Bobble understands exactly what I mean: the pale white ghost that you couldn’t kill and would attack mercilessly until it had the blood of a dinosaur in its horrifying maw. Replacing him is the rising water that is overtaking the islands. Now, this would be fine, but it rises really fast, and when you enter a new screen, it starts at the same level as you. Not to mention that sometimes, the game doesn’t give you enough time to get through the level before the familiar ‘hurry up!’ message flashes across the screen. Another bit of nostalgia, but this one could have used some fine tuning. Some people call it a strategic choice. It felt more like a cheap death mechanism. While
this is countered by the fact that you don’t have to start at the beginning of the game when you lose all of your lives (you start at the beginning of the world you were in when you lost them), it can still be infuriating in just the same way.
Before I jump into the praise, I will preface that I started out loving this game. In fact, when I read about it, almost every magazine at the time was holding it up to the sun like the second coming of Pong. By the time I put this game down, I was a raging mess. I found myself asking why I was bothering playing this game anymore when, by the end, I clearly wasn’t having much fun with it. It became more about who could break first rather than having a good time.
First of all, take this into account: if you consider the levels like one big boss and the bosses like little breaks in between ‘bosses’, you’ll be much better off. The bosses of each level are almost laughably easy. They follow really simple patterns, and I only found myself losing a life or two to these terrors. While they help bring the level together, they are big old creatures, half of which are based on other games. Note: while I hated the Arkanoid level, I loved the nostalgic trip I had playing through it.
The levels are the real problem. The first couple, you won’t really notice. They’re fun and simple enough to soar through. The difficulty spikes pretty steeply as you go, though, and by level five or six, you’ll be swearing at your screen. Keep in mind that you must also collect colored diamonds to spell out ‘RAINBOW’ in a level so that you can get the large diamond at the end, because with out those seven diamonds, you can’t get the extra stuff. I’ve read about it, but I’ll be honest again. I only got one of the diamonds, and it was far enough into the game where my already diminished hope flickered to black. Again, plenty of people heralded this game for the fact that if you’re determined enough to get all of the secrets, you get rewarded at the end.
I’ll be honest. I’ll possibly pick this game up and play the first couple of levels again. Other than that, you can keep your secret levels or true ending or whatever other reward you’re trying to give me.
That’s not to say that the game isn’t addictive. Even when I was frustrated, I was still trying like mad to get Bubby through each level in one piece. It’s a cute game, and it’s definitely one of those games that falls under ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’. It has the same charm as the original, and after taking a short break in between angry moments, I would find myself drawn back to the same level that made that moment a reality. There’s certainly something to be said for that.
Admittedly, I should write something about the reviews that this game got when it first came out. It held a few #1 spots on a few top 100 lists in it’s time, and generally speaking, everyone who played it really loved it. I didn’t know this chapter of the series existed until I stumbled on it in my reading, and I felt like I had found some lost treasure. I even played through the first couple of worlds and said that I really wanted to play through and review this game in case anyone hadn’t heard of it. Well, while I may not have come out unscathed, I seem to be in the minority. The accessibility of this game is deceiving to those who fell in love with the original, however, and I simply serve as a small warning label on the back of that package.
Retaining the feel of the original, the graphics are bright and cheery, for the most part. While I preferred seeing the Bub and Bob of yesteryear, the enemies are crisp and fun to look at. The backdrops are nicely made, as well, if not a little simplistic. Coming from an original that had mostly black backgrounds, though, it was a step up. There are a few sections were the colors or pieces the designer used are confusing or meld into the enemies a bit too much. The moments are sporadic, but there were a few times that I was pegged by a near camouflaged opponent or falling down a floor b
ecause of some strange layout choices. Some of the levels are clearly more pleasing to look at than others.
The music, on the other hand- I liked the title music. It was a nice build up for the game. The music when you die is nice, too. All of that stuff in the middle, I could do without after
a time. It was nice for the first fifteen minutes or so, but as the game went on, I couldn’t help but notice that I kept lowering the volume. It’s cheery, but it doesn’t change until level five or six, and even then, it was a welcome change. The background music for the original was nowhere near a
masterpiece, but it was fun to listen to. This just got grating, and especially with the sound effects. No sounds particularly stand out as ‘good’ in this game, but plenty stood out as ‘glaring’. The sound for shooting your rainbow, for instance, got to me with a quickness. The library of sounds isn’t vast, either, which makes them stale within a few levels.
I only enjoyed this game on to a minimal extent. Again, I would not pick it up anytime soon, but maybe once the wounds heal, I’ll try again, just to attempt getting the secret held therein. I know plenty of people who would pick this game up just for the challenge. Be warned, though, that while I played solo, I have read that you can only play two player ‘alternating’, which means you’ll play a level until you die, then your friend will play until they die. This takes away some of the fun that the original had, but if you’re up for a challenge and you’re very patient, I can recommend this game. In fact, I would recommend everyone play it and make your own decision since mine varies so much from the popular vote. I, however, will be going back to Cave of Monsters long before I go back to the Rainbow Islands.