Rainbow Islands

Triple rainbow all the way across!

Source // Wikipedia

Rainbow Islands. Rainbow. Islands. Right.

Ok, so, if this isn't bright and colourful then there's no hope for this video gaming industry, is there?

The sequel to Bubble Bobble (as alluded to in its full title, Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2) is indeed brightly coloured from the beginning, and is about as child-friendly looking a game as I can ever recall seeing on this list. But is it a game for kids?

Let's play as the now human Bubby and Bobby as they make more rainbows than you'd ever think you'd see.

Fun Times

Rainbow Islands sees you navigate islands that are slowly sinking into the sea, each with four sections to them full of platforms, enemies, and collectables, some obvious and quite a few hidden from view.

As you'd hope from a vertical scrolling platformer, you have a jump button and it's a generous one, allowing you to jump a good five times your own height it seems. You also have a button to create rainbows, and seeing as they're featured prominently in the title, you'd expect that button to be used just as often as the jump button.

But what do you do with a rainbow? Taking to the Sega Master System port to find out, rainbows are both your only weapon against any foes you encounter, and a means of navigating the levels, as they are of course solid rainbows that you can walk on and jump from. Sounds useful, doesn't it?

However, if you jump onto a rainbow, you'll find it disappear beneath you, crashing down into whatever is below it, giving you another method of dealing with enemies - trapping them under a rainbow then stomping on them. Do remember the rainbows, as jumping on enemies directly - or even just touching them - will kill you instantly. Learnt that one the hard way...

Three lives only go so far, so be sure to pick up everything that looks safe to pick up (fruit and flowers for example), as they'll mean points and power-ups, including extra lives and better rainbows - three for the price of one, for example.


It sounds so simple, but the amount of silly little bloody mistakes I made during the course of my gameplay really did get to me after a while.

You can plop down a rainbow to make yourself a little ramp or bridge to get yourself higher up the screen, and can chain rainbows together to essentially walk up the screen - I forgot you could jump on more than one occasion. The problem is that when you remember to jump, you don't always know whether you're jumping onto a platform or just into thin air, and so if you fall back onto your rainbow, you'll flatten the rainbow and land on whatever is below it - hopefully a safe platform.

As jumping needs a little bit of care, you can stick to making rainbow platforms up the level until you wonder just where you're able to go. Will I be able to walk up that rainbow onto the platform, or will I clip the bottom and need to go around? It's an arcade game of the 80s, you could jump through it from below, so of course you can walk up to that platf-oh, walked into that enemy didn't you. Another silly mistake to make. Breathing near an enemy without the protection of a rainbow is punishable by death it seems.

Further Fun Times

I switched things up by playing the NES port which sacrifices some sound effects and looks a bit more NES-like in the graphics department (what else would it look like, I guess), but thankfully doesn't slow down when there are a good few rainbows on the screen. I don't know if it was a problem on the Master System hardware, but the emulation wasn't too smooth.

The gameplay is the same, so off I went seeing how far I could get on the NES instead. The goal is to progress through the islands, but like it's predecessor, the 'true ending' requires you to hunt for seven small diamonds, dropped by enemies, which combine to form a big diamond. Do that seven times in total and you unlock the last three islands of the game, bringing the total to ten. Complete all ten islands and there you go, one true final ending to Rainbow Islands.

Further Frustrations

I knew I wasn't going to ever manage that before I found out that not all home console ports even bothered with including ten islands, but still I wanted to see if there was a version that I was comfortable with. The Sega Mega Drive saw an 'Extra Version' release that mixed the gameplay up if you wanted to switch around enemies and bosses.

Oh, did I not mention bosses? That'd be because I didn't get that far into the game, no matter the port I picked. Enemies I didn't even know were enemies, like that hanging thing above my head in the picture above, didn't help too much.

Final Word

It's one of those titles where you just know you're better at it than what you're actually doing right now, but this time, I don't see the incentive to get through it. It seems too simple, too shallow maybe, which is arguably quite far from the truth.

During the course of writing this up, I've had an arcade run playing to the left of my screen. The music is too jolly. The game is too bright and cheery. The player is too good. But damn, I can't fault Rainbow Islands for offering an hour and twenty minutes of content to players.

The game is touted as offering a lot of hidden depth, although that mostly means hidden items to score more points. When you're on a time limit, though - not that you're ever told of the time before the island you're on starts to sink, bar an audio alert - whether to go for a hidden cache of points or not might make for quite the decision.

Who am I kidding, there isn't a decision to be made - spam rainbows and don't walk into enemies.

Play Rainbow Islands because the idea of it is nice, and the way the rainbow button works is worth seeing for yourself, but sticking around to complete it is not my idea of entertainment.

Fun Times

What is it with glitches with the seventh level of video games? On the European Master System port, a glitch at the end of the seventh island would crash the game and chuck players back to the title. Unlike R-Type on the ZX Spectrum, you could get to the 8th level with cheat codes, though completing it would crash the game too.

Rainbow Islands, developed by Taito, first released in 1987.
Versions played: Sega Master System, 1993, via emulation.
NES, 1991, via emulation.
Sega Mega Drive, Rainbow Islands Extra, 1990, via emulation.
Version watched: Arcade, 1987 (ben shinobi)