Developed and published by Taito in 1987
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Foreword: Includes all secret rooms and power-ups
Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2 is a sequel to Taito's classic arcade game, Bubble Bobble. The game stars Bubby and Bobby, the protagonists from the original game, now in their human forms having managed to dispel the curse that turned them into Bubble Dragons. Now they must liberate each of the Rainbow Islands from the same dark force that caused all the trouble in the first game.
The game is set across multiple islands, each divided into four separate levels, the final of which contains a giant boss that must be defeated. Whereas Bubble Bobble's levels were each set on a single screen, the levels in the sequel are much larger and scroll vertically, with the objective being to reach the end of the level rather than having to kill all of the enemies.
The game takes the basic mechanics from it's predecessor, but implements them in different ways. Instead of spitting bubbles, the player now has the ability to cast magic rainbows. The rainbows serve as a weapon with which to defeat enemies, can absorb enemy projectiles, as well as being used as make-shift platforms that can be used to help reach the top of the level. Rainbows can be broken by jumping on top of them, or by hitting them from underneath. Any enemies hit by the falling pieces will be killed and this is a tactic that one must master if you are to beat the game.
As with Bubble Bobble, the game has multiple endings, the best of which can be unlocked only by collecting a giant gem in each of the first seven islands. In order to unlock the giant gems, the player must collect seven smaller gems, each representing a colour of the rainbow. These smaller gems are dropped from regular enemies, but only when they are killed by breaking a rainbow over their heads, simply hitting them with a rainbow results in an ordinary bonus point item being dropped. If the player has all seven smaller gems, the large gem will appear in the bonus chest received once the end-of-world boss is defeated.
Of course, there are a limited number of enemies per level, so the player has a finite number of opportunities to collect each of the gems. Enemies only drop items when their corpses hit a platform, but the vertical level design means that a lot of the enemies you defeat will often spiral across the screen and disappear from view before before hitting a platform. Even when a gem does drop, there's no guarantee that it will be one that you need (the same colour can drop multiple times), so there's no guarantee that you will have collected all of the small gems before fighting the end-of-world boss.
Should you manage to collect all seven gems, a further three islands emerge from the sea, offering up another twelve stages that must be beaten. The same rules apply here, except that the world bosses will drop a special mirrors that must be collected to reveal the true ending.
Considering that the game was released in 1987, the graphics and art style hold up well. With chunky, vibrant characters and levels, the game is a visual treat that manages to avoid looking dated.
The game's audio should also be commended, especially in the effects department. It's difficult to imagine what casting a magic rainbow should sound like, but the designers somehow managed to make it sound just right. As for the music, a version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" plays throughout the first seven levels of the game in sparkly, chip-tune fashion. I was surprised to find that the three hidden islands each have their own unique stage music and comes as a welcome change (should you make it that far...).
On the surface, Rainbow Islands might look like a simple, brightly-coloured platform game designed to appeal to a younger audience, but it is a game with surprising depth and one that demands patience, practice and skill in order to truly beat it. Personally, I think it's true value shines through in the various home conversions, where players could learn the intricacies of the game's mechanics and not be constrained by how much money they had in their pockets.
Praised upon it's release, Rainbow Islands remains one of the quintessential arcade games of 80's and, as far as I'm concerned, remains an enduring classic that's still just as fun (and frustrating) to play today.