When the sequel to Bubble Bobble first appeared, it may not quite have met the success of the Super Mario platform games, but its popularity as a cult classic cannot be underestimated.
Unlike Nintendo's constantly re-invented duo of Italian plumbers, the brothers of Rainbow Islands have transcended platform and leapt across gaps in console generations with a game that has ultimately remained unchanged for almost 20 years. Or rather it was unchanged, until the mediocre Rainbow Islands Revolution on the DS attempted to update the classic formula by carelessly adding stylus controls and upsetting the proven balance of the original game.
It is the understandable drive for change that also defines Rainbow Island Evolution's failings. The 1987 arcade game still stands as a prime example of the deceptively simple retro game, where a basic control scheme and single-minded gameplay model masked a challenge so packed with nuances it could take years to truly master.
In contrast, Rainbow Islands Evolution has been made so complicated and been stuffed so full of unnecessary baggage that at times it feels almost unplayable. You are expected to juggle countless different techniques and tasks, meaning that you feel completely overwhelmed for most of the game, even when the levels are at their most characterless and empty.
'There is at least still something left of the Taito release many will remember from their youth, as it concentrates on vertically scrolling platform jumping, but most of the similarities stop there.'
There is at least still something left of the Taito release many will remember from their youth, as it concentrates on vertically scrolling platform jumping, but most of the similarities stop there. The new plot sees the brothers Bub and Bob stepping up to fight off an evil corporate record company that is causing hideous mutations to the flora and fauna of the picturesque Rainbow Islands with the riotous music continually being produced. Capitalism and pop culture are unusual enemies for video game heroes to tackle, but Bub and Bob are not afraid to bite the hands that feed them, and need your help to climb towards the seven bosses that create the cacophonous output of the Million Records Company.
A new and rather silly storyline in the name of variation is forgivable, and even the tasteless modernisation of the game's visuals are bearable. The fearless twins have been reinvented as Bubby and Bobby, and now produce their rainbows with what might be the most ridiculous weapon in gaming's history: the hurdy-gurdy.
Turning the handle of the instrument in question produces the rainbows that can be used both to pacify the mutated locals and as platforms to ascend through the towering levels. It is from the moment that you fire your first rainbow that you notice just how many changes to the original formula there have been. A counter restricts how many rainbows you can use at any one time, and though you can still knock them down the screen to destroy monsters below, now they must be jumped on twice or whilst holding the down button before they fall. Whereas the original rainbow system was swift and smooth, now it is just too intricate, making it simple to get things wrong under pressure.
Another new direction for what must now be called a series is that the platforms are spread across three depth levels. The idea is nice in theory, but chances to slip between the layers are irregular, either demanding that you wait for a sluggish moving platform or find a one-way warp gate that places you randomly.
The final major change to the gameplay mechanic is the Resonator, which though far from perfect, is the better of the new features in the game. The small mechanical device follows you at a distance throughout the levels and can be called to your side with a flick of the analogue stick. Once the Resonator is in your immediate proximity, you can energise it by rotating the PSP's stick, building a deadly attack. Having charged it to full power, releasing the stick sends off one of two kinds of 'Rainbow Wheel' from your robotic accomplice, which fly through the various layers taking out any enemies they meet.
Alone the Resonator is a nice trick, but it is often too skittish, leaping around you, barely giving you the chance you need to take advantage of its abilities. It also has its own power levels that increase with every successful use, but this only serves to make it too complicated to use in the arena of a platform game.
Rainbow Islands Evolution does at least successfully duplicate one element of the original that allows it to claw back some playability from its inspiration. In the first game, as the levels grew harder, the rewards you earned aided your progress, but when you made a fatal mistake, you had to fight your way back to full strength with the odds stacked against you and you capabilities at a minimum.
This punishing device made your time with the power-up all the more precious, and your fight for survival without them incredibly compulsive. This returns in Evolution, and in some way justifies the myriad of complex levelling up, though the original release never needed to rely on such uncomfortable bonuses.
On the whole, Rainbow Islands Evolution is a disappointment, and more of a devolution than its title would have you believe. It will likely only succeed in frustrating fans of the classic retro game, and confusing newcomers to the once joyous world of Bub and Bob. If applied to a completely new title as opposed to a gaming icon, the ideas realised here by Rising Star may have produced a worthwhile release, but as it is your pennies are better spent elsewhere.
VideoGamer.com Score4 Score out of 10
- Unusually changes the Rainbow Islands formula
- Presentation could be far better
- Breaks a classic that doesn't need fixing
- Far too complicated