So there you are, transformed from a bubble-blowing dinosaur into human form again, ready to start your life afresh – maybe get a flat, a new car and settle into a good routine. But then, before you can say "9 to 5", you gain the ability to fire rainbows and have to use this skill to climb a huge multi-coloured tower.
That’s basically the level of storytelling that this game gives you to bridge the gap between the ace WiiWare remake Bubble Bobble Plus and this title. Opening with the brothers Bubby and Bobby recovering from their last adventure, an evil scientist soon appears and proceeds to lay out a vendetta against the siblings, even going so far as to start up his powerful drilling machine to chase them up the stages. I know, I know –drilling upwards doesn’t make much sense, but not all scientists have common sense, right? Either way, this addition plays out like Mr Driller going upwards, and when combined with the time limit certainly adds a sense of urgency to the game.
The first thing you’ll notice is the game’s completely redrawn graphics, particularly the newly lanky Bubby and Bobby. Personally, I prefer the original arcade graphics (or the slightly smoother Rainbow Islands Deluxe on Sega Saturn) but the update certainly isn’t an ugly game, with the series’ flair for palette and lovely rounded enemies still intact. It’s just a shame they couldn’t have left the main characters as the fat-cheeked kids, but presumably their rainbow-running antics have slimmed them down over the years.
Once you’ve got past the title’s newly redrawn graphics, you’ll find yourself in familiar Rainbow Islands territory, with all the power-ups present and correct. Dropping a rainbow on top of an enemy results in one of seven coloured gems, although the collection of all seven seems easier than in the original – I never managed to get all seven in my hours of play of Rainbow Islands, but I grabbed them within an hour on Towering Adventure!
Each time you take a hit from an enemy, you lose thirty seconds from your timer, although you can earn extra time by defeating enemies and collecting the crystals they leave behind. By destroying enemies in quick succession, you can increase your multiplier and gain more time per crystal, and getting a chain of seven will level up your “Rainbow Jump” meter, one of two new moves in Towering Adventure. Basically a super-powered jump that sees you fly up the stage destroying all in your path, the Rainbow Jump seems at odds with the game’s heritage as a precision platformer – although it takes a high level of skill to attain, particularly at the higher levels, it’s still essentially a smart bomb that travels. The other new move included is a Rainbow Shield, activated by hitting Up and 1, which covers you in a circular spectrum for protection, useful in those tight spots.
One of the other significant changes is to the game’s structure. Instead of several levels of vertical ascent punctuated by single-screen boss encounters, the game is now a continuous climb, with fights against the evil upwards-drilling scientist every hundred metres. You still need to keep scaling the tower even in these boss fights, making an uncomfortable mix of platforming and boss fight that sees you climbing high to avoid his attacks, but then finding yourself too high to attack him. Once you’ve defeated or outrun the boss, you start the next level and the whole process begins again without even so much as a pause for breath or replenishment of your timer. Although this keeps the gameplay undoubtedly frantic, it doesn’t compare to the sense of achievement you used to feel when you cleared a world in the original.
There's a two-player mode included this time around too, with both players working together to ascend the tower and compete for power-ups. It's an interesting diversion that certainly makes the game a little easier with the right partner but nothing outstanding, and with a complete lack of leaderboards or online rankings the only battle is really for pride against your partner.
The original Rainbow Islands was a great arcade game of its time, with a bold art style, addictive gameplay and a sometimes unforgiving difficulty level. Sadly, Rainbow Islands loses the distinctive graphics, and although the gameplay resembles its predecessors on the surface it loses a lot of the elements that made it a superior platformer: there’s little difference between the stages of the tower, particularly compared to the original’s variety of themed worlds, and the removal of the static screen boss fights in favour of a constant climb just makes the game exhausting. Without wishing to sound like the kind of grumpy gamer you’d expect to object to this harmless update, Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure! is a classic case of “if it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.”