Welcome, one and all, to something that I’d like to make a regular feature here: Retro First Impressions. You see, the joy of having AllGen so close to where I live is that I get to experience a whole bunch of games, both old and new. In particular, I love to venture into the retro room and see what old gems I can find. Now, the idea of Retro First Impressions is for me to try out an old classic that somehow passed me by. This time around, I’ll be looking at the Amiga port of Rainbow Islands.
So, originally released into the arcades in 1987, Rainbow Islands is the sequel to Bubble Bobble. Here, those lovable bubble dragons Bub and Bob, are in their human form and wielding mighty rainbows to defeat the Dark Shadow and save the titular Rainbow Islands. The version that I played was the 1990 Amiga port, though that wasn’t the first time that I saw the game. Nope, that would be the Mega Drive port from the same year. I never got to play it because … well … OK, so what happened was this. I read a glowing review of it in C&VG magazine (which was one of my gaming mags of choice at the time), and then, years later, saw it available to rent in my local corner shop. Unfortunately, Ecco the Dolphin was also available, so I went with that. Then I saw Decap Attack and went with that. Then I saw Risky Woods … and so it went on.
Anyway, eventually, I forgot about it. Recently, while wandering through AllGen’s retro room, I spotted that it was already loaded up and ready to go on the Amiga. Well, I couldn’t resist giving it a go. But how did the classic hold up for me?
The first thing I noticed with Rainbow Islands is how bright and colourful it is. Honestly, I loved it. The backdrops and levels themselves are simple in design but never become either dull or garish, and the enemies are suitably varied and fit in well with each island’s theme. Where the game really shines artistically though is with the playable characters. There are some really nice little touches to be found there, like when they flap their arms to sow their descent or the flailing before they fall over. It’s really nicely done, especially for the era.
Being the first time that I’d used an actual joystick for a while (bar the stiffer but smaller Atari 2600 models), I must admit, it did take me a few attempts to get used to playing the thing. The controls are simple enough, it’s pretty much move with the stick and launch rainbow with a button, but where I’m used to using a D-Pad or analog stick, it almost felt unwieldly initially. Once I got going though, it was a joy to play. In particular, the rainbow mechanic is great fun to work with. For those that don’t know, the multi-coloured arcs serve two purposes. First, they’re a weapon. Launch them at an enemy and if you bop them in the face, it will take them down. If it lands above the enemy and traps them, it will also eventually fall and take them down. The second purpose those is that they work as temporary platforms. And you don’t even have to jump on them (unless you’ve thrown them up mid-jump)! You can just hit fire, run up them, shoot another when you’re part way up, keep running, keep firing, and so on! It’s actually the quickest way to reach the top of the levels, albeit one that risks running you into enemies if you’re not careful.
Now, the way the levels work is thus: each island has four areas, and each area runs the same way. You start at the bottom and run to the top. For areas 1-3, that means clearing an area. In area 4, you find the end of island boss at the top of the level. But, there’s more! Take too long traversing the level, and water will start to slowly fill the stage, forcing you to speed up, whether you want to or not. I had no idea that that was going to happen until it did, and it sent me into a blind panic. It really does add a frenetic element to the game.
So, I played the game for about an hour. How far did I get? Area 8, but not quite up to the boss. So basically, the final part of the second island. There are seven islands. Meaning that I was nowhere near the end of the thing. Personally, I found that the increasing difficulty as it went along was quite a quick growth. I do think that if I’d kept at it then I’d have found my footing and finished the game eventually, but there were a lot of games that I wanted to play.
The question is, did my first look at the Amiga classic yield a new favourite or was I bitterly disappointed? As it happens, I thought it was a fantastic title that is more than deserving of the praise that it gets. Yup, Rainbow Islands gets a big thumbs up from me!
But what about yourselves? How do you find the game?