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Rainbow Islands Evolution
Score: 78%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment USA
Developer: Marvelous Entertainment Inc.
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Arcade/ Classic/Retro/ Platformer

Graphics & Sound:
Arcade conversion this is not - if you came expecting the classic you remember from the days of Miami Vice, you'll be sorely disappointed. I'll be honest and say that I didn't come to Rainbow Islands Evolution with many expectations; I honestly don't recall being a big fan back in the day. When you look at screens of the original, you'll see some resemblance to titles like Mario Brothers with chunky platforms and enemies gliding from side to side. The new iteration, this Rainbow Islands Evolution thing, draws heavily on the look of the original, but obviously has less chunkiness. You'll either thank the gods for pixels and polygons or shake your fist at the sky and cry about being forsaken by the lords of retro.

The story behind why you are climbing into the sky, dropping rainbows left and right, has a lot to do with music. You can imagine that there are lots of nice touches in the sound and music department as a result. Almost everything makes a sound... and not just bleeps and bloops. The rainbows shimmer and chime as they break up since they're made by some weird organ-grinder instrument, and there's a more powerful weapon that you charge up and use during the level. This device, the Resonator, is used to attack bosses mostly and creates a rhythmic guitar-chord sound. The bosses follow a musical theme since the premise behind the game is that an evil (aren't they all?) record company has taken over the land and is corrupting all the flora and fauna with terrible tunes. Luckily Rainbow Islands Evolution includes some very catchy music that plays throughout and keeps things interesting.

One indication that this attempt to translate the Rainbow Islands franchise into the 21st Century was successful comes from the reaction most gamers will have, something along the lines of, "Eh?" Most retro gaming seems very thin in comparison to the games of today that throw everything and the kitchen sink at players in terms of character actions, environment, item collection, combat, etc. Rainbow Islands Evolution eschews the complicated gameplay and sticks to what it did best all that time ago. You play as either Bubby or Bobby and set off to storm the record-company headquarters and demand justice. To reach your destination, you'll have to climb through level after level of the terribly off-kilter denizens of your land, and face off against bosses in each stage determined to keep you from your goal. The ability to play music that can stop the menace before it gets out of control is passed to Bubby and Bobby in the form of the Hurdy Gurdy. Most folks wouldn't think of playing music on a hurdy gurdy, and it's not like this one makes it easy to play music. No, all the Hurdy Gurdy does well is create rainbows and magic bubbles. One wouldn't expect these things to have that special, world-saving power, but in fact they do. It all sounds like a great plan until you realize that you'll have to use every rainbow and bubble at your disposal, AND climb up higher than Jack ever did on his beanstalk, to save the land.

The gist of the gameplay is to use your special power for creating rainbows and climb up a series of levels, defeating enemies and bosses along the way. The rainbows you create are solid enough to walk on and double as weapons. The two playable characters have slightly different stats, but nothing that makes one a strong choice over the other. There are special abilities you'll gain as you move through the game, including the additional support of the Resonator. This device must be charged by cranking it up, or rotating the analog stick. The outcome of a successful Resonator charge is that you send a burst of energy off into the distance. It's wasted on most enemies, but incredibly useful for boss battles. There are big bosses at the end of each major stage and you'll meet up with them as mini-bosses along the way. The mini-boss is strangely positioned since you aren't really required to battle it in order to complete the level. Most of Rainbow Islands Evolution is built this way, with lots of item collection, power-ups, and enemies to battle that are technically optional. As the game helpfully points out, you'll have a much more difficult time defeating bosses if you haven't powered up your character and continuously charged the Resonator along the way. The multiplayer is even more stripped down, the goal being simply to outclimb your opponent and achieve the goal in the shortest time. The biggest difference between Rainbow Islands Evolution and its ancestor is the addition of new depth, literally. Instead of just climbing vertically, you can jump onto platforms that slide between islands you can see off in the distance. Again, this doesn't really make a huge difference in the ultimate goal and can actually slow you down, but for players that love finding all the extras it means there's at least twice as much game here. Depth plays a big part in boss battles since you use the Resonator to blast them as they hop around in the distance.

The hardest part of the game is learning how to navigate through the level and comprehending the goal; it seems too simple on the face of things that the only point of playing Rainbow Islands Evolution is to climb level after level, collect items, and defeat enemies. The tutorial that is included as a precursor to the first level can be skipped, but it provides a really good introduction to all the basic gameplay. It's basically a long movie, versus a more interactive demo. Tutorials are fine when they are interspersed with the regular game or when they can be completed in chapters as you need them - this one runs long and doesn't actually help you get the moves down since you can't really practice. The actual in-game difficulty is minimal; if you push yourself to grab all the goodies and interact with enemies, you'll find Rainbow Islands Evolution more challenging than if you skate through with the goal of climbing quickly to get through to the next level.

Game Mechanics:
Making rainbows works just as it sounds. Tap a button and you'll have a nice little rainbow stretched out in front of you. Clamber right up on that sucker and then tap again to summon Rainbow #2, and on and on... There are a limited number of rainbows that you can have out at any one time, so you'll frequently find yourself out in the open waiting for one rainbow to expire so you can call up another and keep moving. This has some interesting application in terms of avoiding enemies since you don't want to be exposed for too long. The other interesting property of rainbows is that they are durable for a period of time but susceptible to being jumped on. One jump creates a weak rainbow and two will destroy it completely. This was a key mechanic in the old game because falling rainbow particles are one way to destroy enemies. This works in Rainbow Islands Evolution and you can also fire off a rainbow directly in the path of an enemy for the same effect. Other weapons you'll use along the way include rainbow bubbles that have a slight homing ability and rainbow wheels that can be generated and fired through to distant layers.

There is some rationale for defeating enemies and gathering items. You'll find that leveling up is useful and makes progressing through Rainbow Islands Evolution much easier. The level of difficulty isn't extreme, as mentioned, so leveling up still feels like a nice-to-have and there's some inevitability about it anyway since there is very little lateral space in which to play. You'll come across enemies and items along the way as you climb, because each level is like a well-decorated elevator shaft in its size. This doesn't mean that Rainbow Islands Evolution isn't worth checking out; it's a peculiar formula and not one that seems likely to have a lot of mainstream appeal. The effort that went into making each level jam-packed with items and enemies is evident and the design of the game is pleasant. It's not really retro in the true sense but it is true to its retro source material. Perhaps a better weekend rental for most people, and even those coming to Rainbow Islands Evolution with love for the original will have to decide if this version does right by the Rainbow Islands legacy.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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