I'll come clean - cute platformy arcade games are the bee's knees as far as I'm concerned, so don't expect an unbiased review here. They're brilliant, aren't they? Lots of lovely huggable little characters, hundreds of snappy sub levels, billions of jumpy platform-and-laddery bits - you can't go wrong. And the best bit is, they've nearly all got playability coming out of their ears! Even the crap ones. (And Rainbow islands isn't a crap one, I can assure you of that!)
But hang on a minute! Before we go any further, let's step back a few months for a quick look at the Speccy version of another cutie game, Super Wonderboy- not an especially brilliant conversion, saddled as it was with monochrome graphics and a vague floaty feel to the characters (plus a dismal multiload), but still a winner in my book. It couldn't really fail, you see - the original Wonderboy coin-ops were so strong that you could totally muck up the conversion and it'd still come out brilliant.
Or what about The New Zealand Story, an excellent conversion of a cutie coin-op, just as playable as the original (no floaty characters or anything - at least, none that weren't meant to be!) and blessed with a reasonable multiload to boot. It just had to get a Megagame, didn't it? Let's flick back through the issues - ah, here we are. Yep, it got a well-deserved 93 degrees - but how much more would it have been worth if it'd been in colour (NZ Story was in fetching yellow monochrome, if you remember)? Well, it'd have to be at least a 94, wouldn't it? And (spook!) guess what I'm going to give Rainbow islands? Yes, that's right, 94! In other words, it's just as good as The New Zealand Story, but it's in colour! Hurrah!
So how does it all work then? (What d'you mean, at last?) Well, basically it's another variation on your Mario Brothers/Wonderboy-type game, with a very cute little character bouncing along, jumping over gaps, shooting and dodging equally cute-but-slightly-more-vicious baddie characters, and collecting oodles of fruit and stuff. But (but! but!) there is a bit of a difference here in that you're working your way up the screen, not along it, and against a very tight time limit too! Y'see, the islands (one island equals one level of the game) are sinking, and that means that if you don't hurry up (which the game constantly reminds you to do) the ever-rising water level will swish up and drown you. It's a nautical nightmare and no mistake! Each island has a theme, and a selection of about six basic creatures populating it - for instance, on insect island they're all insects, on Toy Wand they're all toys (not that hard, is it?). Though the baddies look different on every level, they all behave in more or less the same way. For instance, each level has its own type of flying creature (bees, helicopters, bats etc), walking-back-and-forth sort of creature (caterpillars, trucks etc) and so on. They all have giant end-of-level baddies too (normally a bigger version of one of the baddies from the level), and are divided into handy bite-sized sub-levels, which take a comfortable two minutes or so to play.
You yourself area bouncy, jumpy sort of Wonderboy character (unfortunately they've junked the dinosaurs from the original Bubble Bobble, which I find a bit of a shame - though to be honest this is a very different game and hardly a sequel as we normally mean it at all), and you're equipped with a single weapon - rainbows. These come in single, double or triple loop shots (upgraded by collecing potion bottles - one of many pick up-able doobries littered through the game) and perform a multitude of tasks. You can trap a Daddy by dropping a rainbow on top of him, zap one by hitting him with it, and form bridges to run up over to help you reach higher platforms.
Brilliant they are, and learning how best to use them is a lot of the fun of the game - a lot, but not all of it, because once you've sussed out how to complete each level there's still the challenge of gathering more points while you do it. There are far too many ways to score (oo-er) than it's possible to list here, but the order in which you collect things (like diamonds, which most monsters release if killed in a certain way), the use of magical items and the finding of the secret rooms all count for something (actually there isn't a secret room in the Speccy version - it wouldn't fit - but if you do all the things you'd normally do in the coin-op to find it you'll still get the extra points. Try it and see). Anyway, enough of this detail stuff the game is packed with it, and learning all the different things you can do is part of the fun anyway. Let's take a look at the levels.
This is the first island you come to - it has a nice blue sky background and is populated by hundreds of cartoony bugs (it's the one they illustrate on the advert if you've seen that). Touching any of the bad guys is fatal, but avoiding them can be too because they tend to get more aggressive if ignored - for instance, the ladybirds will just walk around normally, but if you jump past without killing them they get angry and fly up after you.
Other baddies include caterpillars, crows, spiders and the occasional hive (which spawns more bees - shoot it quickly before any of them escape). At the end of each sub-level you jump onto the top platform and lots of fish-like objects bounce up around you, turning into yummy fruit ("Hurrah!" or "Goal in!" (?) as the game keeps telling you in best Japlish). The end-of-level monster is a giant spider - not the best giant baddy in the game, it's true, but still very hard to obliterate until you get the hang of things.
This one is packed with military-type stuff, from helicopters (which behave exactly the same as the bees)and trucks (read: caterpillars) to tanks, cannons and bomb-dropping planes. There's a giant, smiling, bomb-dropping helicopter at the end too.
All dark and spooky, this is where the bats, skeletons, ghosts and ugly Frankenstein monsters lurk. Again, they behave more or less the same as the previous baddies, but with nice touches of their own - for instance, the bats hang from the bottoms of the platforms, and some turn into lightning tossing vampires as they get closer to you. Yikes! The giant baddy at the end is a bigger vampire, who shoots out bats all over the place.
Like a sort of manic toy shop, it's got bouncy balls, teddy bear puppets, water pistols and sproingy boxing glove things which bounce around the screen. The end-of-level giant is a Mr Punch-type doll.
Um, didn't actually get this far, but from what we can gather it's sort of based on the famous bat-and-bricks game, with all the baddies (looking more like a set of wobbly shapes than anything else) from Revenge of Doh (the second Arkanoid game) making some sort of appearance. Weird!
There are two more levels (Robot Island and Dragon's Island) but apart from the names I don't really know that much about them, I'm afraid - would it be too much to guess that one's full of robots and the other's packed with dragons? Probably not (but write and let me know if I'm wrong!)
And that's it really. Just before we go though, I'd better explain the rather spooky circumstances through which Ocean got to publish this game. Y'see, what happened (roughly) was that when Firebird and Rainbird got bought from British Telecom by MicroProse last year there was a bit of a misunderstanding over whether the rights to Rainbow islands (bought by BT from coin-op people Taito) went with the sale or not. So even though MicroProse now owned the code to all five versions of the game (put together for Firebird by programmers Graftgold) they didn't have the rights to actually publish and sell it! in the end a sensible arrangement was reached whereby Ocean (who somehow got approval from Taito to publish the game) bought all the actual code from MicroProse, and Bob's your uncle - everybody's happy. Or something. (Just don't ask me to explain again.)
Phew! Just to reiterate then. Rainbow Islands - it's bloomin' brill! Go and buy it, you won't regret it! (Unless, of course, you hate all cutesy Japanese arcade games on sight, in which case you'll loathe it with a vengeance). It's probably the surest thing to being a monster hit since Chase HQ (but then it's a major Ocean release, so you knew that already of course) and, what's more, it deserves to be too! You can't say fairer than that, can you?
If you hate cute platform games you'll loathe it, but if you like them you'll think it's the best game ever played (or as near as dammit).