I'm old enough to have seen the arcade game, but I guess I frequented the wrong arcades because I never laid eyes on this game until I bought the Bubble Bobble collection on the original Playstation. It's a rather unique platforming game in which you travel vertically rather than horizontally through worlds subdivided into stages a la Mario World. Each world had a different theme like Bug World, War Toy World and Monster World (I never could beat that third boss...) for a total of 7 worlds with associated bosses.
The WiiWare game is called Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure! It's quite massive compared to Bubble Bobble Wii clocking in at 295 blocks, but the same price at 800 points. There's no downloadable content and no online leaderboards unlike the previous two Taito's Collection games, but let's focus on the game itself.
After creating your game save you can jump into one of three game modes: Story Mode, a Ranked Mode and Time Attack Mode. Story Mode starts out with a little dialogue between Bub and Bob, now transformed back into boys -- but much taller and less cute than in the original arcade game. In the middle of this dialogue an old fellow floats down and seems to be giving them a hard time. He then floats away and a menacing machine comes up from the ground. Then the game begins and you progress upwards on your little rainbows, jumping to different platforms trying to escape this thing until a showdown at the end of the level.
Players familiar with the arcade game will notice several similarities in this game: rainbows are used to attack enemies and travel between platforms that are too far apart for jumping and enemies from the Bug and Toy levels will be seen. What is immediately different is the graphical appearance. Like Bub and Bob the characters are rendered in 3D and a bit less cutesy. Backgrounds are quite detailed with bits of city seen in the background rather than the sky of the arcade. In the arcade game you could cause your rainbows to fall and eliminate enemies and get pick-ups below by simply jumping upon them after casting them; now you need to jump under them which makes for a more challenging game and provides a slight learning curve for experienced Rainbow Islanders. The bottom of the screen has a timer counting down seconds from 300 and a counter for the number of vertical metres you've jumped, which is reminiscent of Mr. Driller and Crazy Climber.
The last major change is that there are no lives: you play until you run out of time; every enemy collision costs you 30 seconds and some power-up strength. In the course of play you will be clobbering caterpillars and little tanks with rainbows; when this happens you'll have various power-ups released to upgrade your character speed, rainbow speed and rainbow range (all tracked by separate bars in the upper right corner). You'll also see large and small gems released. The large gems are in the colours of the rainbow. In the arcade game getting all of them would get you a 1up; since there are no lives, instead you just keep your power-up levels when you collide with an enemy. The little gems get you seconds added to your timer and become more important than anything else as the game goes on.
Every 1000m you fight a boss and end the level. In the arcade game boss fights happened in separate closed screens with little platforms similar to a Bubble Bobble level; not so here. In this game you have platforms on the sides and continue up to the finish whilst the boss shoots at you. The first boss fires giant missiles straight up; the second webs. Running back and forth above the boss on rainbows is a bit risky, so you'll find yourself jumping up to cast rainbows and then jumping again to make them fall on the boss. Not quite as interesting or engaging; besides you hardly see any of the boss since that would mean your doom. Clobbering the boss takes you to the level Finish complete with power-ups and time gems. In the arcade this was the end and you then started fresh at the bottom of a new stage; here you had better grab some gems because the game just continues upward without resetting your time clock. The effect is a bit deflating -- especially if you were down to your last 60 seconds on the boss! On the positive side you can play again starting at the last level reached in any of the three modes.
Playing the second mode I'm calling "Ranked" skips the opening dialogue, but is otherwise the same game as Story Mode. The only other difference is that the result is tracked in a couple of graphs showing you how high you've gone from game to game and the time taken to reach the level finish. These graphs can be viewed by choosing the second option from the opening menu. I guess this is supposed to give you some incentive to better your performance, but I don't see why there's a separate mode for this -- surely the same data could be tracked from the Story Mode? This mode and the Story mode can be played with one or two players; the second player can jump in at any time. Since you both share the same timer (and therefore run it down by hitting enemies) it's not clear this will result in better progress, but it's nice to see the same multiplayer co-op aspect as the arcade game.
The third mode is Time Attack and tracks how fast you can clear a level. Unlike the other two levels this one is only single-player. You can choose from levels that have been previously unlocked, so I've not tried this extensively, but I don't see the point of this really. I mean I play the game to see how far I can get not how fast I can complete one level. Still, it's an extra and I cannot complain about that when you're otherwise just looking at the one game.
Overall the game is decent; it's Rainbow Islands in general look and feel. What is missing is a lot of the charm of the original and the themes of the different worlds. I've only been to the first two levels, so maybe there's new stuff further on, but I couldn't see much different in the enemies of the first two levels. It's not a bad game, but it falls short of the appeal of the original arcade classic and is therefore not as satisfying an experience as Bubble Bobble Wii was. I could enjoy it for what it is, but unlike Bubble Bobble or Drill World, I don't feel the desire to play; it just doesn't grab me. If you're a big fan of the original (and I'm more of a Bubble Bobble fan) I think you'll get something out of it, but if you feel like waiting to see when the PC Engine port on the Virtual Console is coming out, I wouldn't blame you.