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NDS Review - 'Rainbow Islands Revolution'

by Agustin on Nov. 29, 2006 @ 12:15 a.m. PST

Rainbow Islands endeared itself to an entire generation of gamers in the late 1980s with its playful mix of intense platforming challenges, a delightfully cute visual style and, of course, a heavy emphasis on rainbow-firing action.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Marvelous Interactive
Release Date: October 3, 2006

Rainbow Islands Revolution is a re-imagining of an obscure old Bubble Bobble spin-off that three or four of us over the age of 25 may or may not remember. That isn't a knock against the game; there's nothing wrong with being referential to the past, even if it's something nobody remembers. The real knock is how Taito decided to bring this title to the DS, considering not many people remember it.

The back of the low-budget box design has says something funny about Rainbow Islands Revolution: "Beautiful graphics." Really, the graphics are spruced-up sprites pulled from the original arcade game (that you've never played) and in the DS context, they aren't spruced up nearly enough. In the process, Taito manages to lose that "old-school" flair that so many hipsters in their early 20s seem to love. This puts the game in a hard place: It's too simplistic to be modern, yet too modern to be referential. Think of a slightly less ugly Mario Vs. Donkey Kong, and you're in about the place Rainbow Islands Revolution is.

Usually, DS games have a "normal" control setup, and the stylus-only controls are available for the more adventurous subset of gamers. Usually, I'm one of the adventurous types; I couldn't even tell you how to control Atlus' Contact without my precious touchscreen-only setup, even though the game can be played stylus-free. I can't help it. I love the idea of boiling an entire game down to a few swipes and stabs on a screen.

Rainbow Islands doesn't handle this transition all that well. Most games that work well with this scheme -- Animal Crossing, Nintendogs, and obviously Contact -- have something added to them by using the stylus. In Animal Crossing, the lack of an analog stick is accounted for. Nintendogs, being mostly a non-game, has lots of menu browsing, which is always better with the stylus. And Contact, a simplified dungeon crawler with an auto-battle system, is in a genre that, for the most part, is reliant on mouse control anyway. The thing these games all have in common? They aren't exactly fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat releases. Contact probably requires the most real-time attention out of the bunch, and it's just a faster version of traditional turn-based RPG gameplay! So, in many cases, it's understandable why stylus control might not be the best way to control a fast-moving arcade game. Rainbow Islands easily fits into this category.

A trackball and buttons setup might have worked for Rainbow Islands, but the stylus-only setup used here is not exactly appropriate for the gameplay. A bubble with a cute little kid inside is guided around by pointing the stylus in the proper direction, which, when a sudden change of path is needed, proves to require a fantastic amount of reaction time, given how far the stylus needs to jump from one part of the screen to another to enact such a maneuver. Simultaneously, rainbows drawn with the stylus (we should start an official count of how many DS games involve drawing rainbows!) are used to poke enemies from the sky. This is where the control gets a little shady. To keep moving the player, the stylus cannot be lifted. If it is, when it has contact with the screen again, it will begin drawing a rainbow, unless placed perfectly within an invisible "control box," which happens to be very small, considering how important quick movement can be in a fast-paced arcade game.

The gameplay boils down to floating from the bottom to the top of increasingly longer and wider stages, avoiding enemies and static dangers all the while. How this justifies the full $30 price tag, I cannot tell you, and why this should be purchased over the superior Bubble Bobble Revolution, not to mention why Codemasters thought it a good idea to release both games at the same time, I do not know.

There's nothing wrong with releasing simpler, conceptual games at retail in this next-generation climate. If anything, it's refreshing to see simpler, well-executed ideas competing with the usual 18+ hour, (badly written) story-driven action-a-thons and 40+ hour generic RPG experiences. However, like Animal Crossing, Megaman Powered Up, Nintendogs, Exit, Ultimate Ghosts 'N Goblins, and countless other games that have done it right in the past, there needs to be a justification for the higher price tag; something that keeps consumers from logging onto Xbox Live Arcade and getting similar experiences for 500 points, or getting on their computers and downloading freeware labors of love that might be even better than a professionally released game.

Every 2D game is basically competing with these new changes, and Rainbow Islands Revolution does not give any good reasons for a gamer to spend time with it instead of collecting thousands of pieces of furniture, creating their own stages with a feature-packed level editor, playing through hundreds of large stages with extras downloadable online, or running through a game with so many difficulty levels and big, involved, beautiful stages that hundreds of hours can be put in before boredom sets in. These are all features of games previously mentioned in this review, and they're games that would be much more worth the price of admission than this one.

Every single one of the games I've mentioned has fairly low production values given that they have all come out within the past year, and don't feature high-definition graphics or particularly advanced sound features. I'm pointing this out because these are games that are on the same general level of quality that Rainbow Islands is, with the possible exception of the Nintendo-developed games, yet they were obviously thought out much more on the developer's part than Rainbow Islands. So it's not the low-quality, 2D graphics that make this game seem so cheap; it's how they aren't presented in a way that seems modern enough. The blippy, "old-school" soundtrack isn't wrong to use the very bottom-barrel of the DS sound chip in its production; it just doesn't do it in a way relevant to a new game.

If this port/remastering/remake/whateveryou'dcallthis of Rainbow Islands Revolution was created with so little effort, I wouldn't recommend anybody make the effort to pull the box off a shelf and trade currency for it.

Score: 4.0/10

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