Late To the Party
In the UK, Mothers day falls on the 22nd of March. This entry is now a little late to the party thanks to some sudden changes that occurred in the world recently. Better late than never though. And in my opinion it’s never to late to celebrate your mother.
This article is going to focus on why a certain game constantly tops my lists of best games ever. And it all center’s round my mum.
A Mini History Lesson
My earliest memory when it comes to gaming is of the Amstrad computer. This was a micro computer released back in the 80s and was a later competitor to the C64 and the ZX Spectrum (in the UK). My father obtained the Amstrad his first home computer for work purposes and to do accounts. My mother would help with this task.
The computer sat in their bedroom and I often remember hearing my ma tap away at that keyboard with speed working away on my fathers accounts. Of course it didn’t take long before we would discover that you could also game on the Amstrad. This was pretty obvious as it came with a controller that looked a lot like the one which came with the NES and a pack in game called Burnin Rubber. A racing game that I attempted to play, but mostly just crashed all the time. But I did have a lot of fun watching my car flip around on the old colour monitor until the timer inevitably ran out and the game over screen was displayed. I would even attempt this game later when I was older (but certainly not wiser) and I still sucked at it. The controls are just awful. A common stable for the micro computer generation.
I’m not ashamed to admit I was just not very good at gaming at the young and tender age of 6. The only stuff I remember really being any good at was the Fun School games. These were the Amstrads attempt to teach children something. Though I was very good at the three school levels we owned, I’m not sure it actually helped me be any smarter at school. The mini games were a lot of fun though.
What is Rainbow Islands?
There was one game though that my mother loved more than anything on the Amstrad. That was a little game called Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2. Originally released to arcades in 1987. Rainbow Islands was designed by a man named Fukio Mitsuji. He also worked on the previous title Bubble Bobble a popular co op game in arcades. Rather than just release a sequel of the same type of game, Mitsuji would do something incredibly brave in the game industry. He would try something different. Bubble Bobble was a single screen game where you played cute dragons Bub or Bob (or both in co op) and took out all the enemies on screen with bubbles then moved to the next level.
Rainbow Islands was a vertical scrolling platformer. Where you played human Bubby or Bobby (2 player this time alternated play rather then together). The game was made up of seven themed islands such as Bug Island and Toy Island. The goal was to simply reach the top of each level on and Island safely and after four levels defeat a giant boss like the dreaded giant spider. You defeated enemies by shooting rainbows at them. All this while a retro tune of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ played over and over again. Somehow I never got bored of that and it somewhat haunts me to this day.
Watching from the Side
I watched my mother play this game for hours on end and it become somewhat hypnotic at times. It was just great watching her try over and over again to get as far as possible in the game. Getting frustrated with tricky enemies and bosses. But despite all the stress, she kept at it. Unfortunately, despite her best efforts, I don’t think she was ever successful enough to complete the game despite reaching the final island (Dragon Island) multiple times. I was always in her corner hoping she would when I was in the room. What was most memorable for me was how the experience cheered me up and seemed like an odd bonding experience with my ma. I did attempt to play the game myself, and I well and truly sucked at it. I struggled to figure out the controls and rarely progressed further than island 3 (Monster Island).
Time passed and the Amstrad disappeared. I grew up and got better at games and Rainbow Islands become a nice childhood memory. Something my mother would later tell me was how she enjoyed watching us play the latest game consoles for the first time. For example Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast. She enjoyed watching the fun we had playing games. So in a way the roles started to swap.
Of course childhood doesn’t last for ever. I left home went to University, and kinda left video games behind for a while as well as my life at home. I know my mother found it quite sad seeing all her children gradually leave home, and moving to separate areas of the country or world.
At some point I acquired the PC version of Rainbow Islands which I initially brought my mum to play on her laptop. However, this version was based off the arcade version. Faster, more challenging and a bit tough. So instead one evening I sat down and gave the game another go. Things were different this time; I was able to use a plug in controller which suited my gameplay preference. Whilst I still sucked at the game to begin with just like when I was younger, I found something strangely compelling about the experience and persisted with it.
Learning the Ropes
Simple to pick up but difficult to master. For example holding the jump button when jumping on one of your rainbows allowed you to jump off it to reach higher platforms. Whilst releasing the jump will cause the rainbow to collapse and destroy any enemies underneath it. Balancing these techniques was essential for success. The game was fast and frantic and if you took too long water would steadily rise from the bottom and the music would speed up. You needed to outrun it or face the consequences.
Then there are all those collectibles. You can upgrade rainbows to a max of three in a row. Upgrade the speed you shoot them and upgrade your own speed. You could also find various stars which explode and take out nearby enemies. The most common collectible was the rainbow gems. You needed to collect all seven per island to unlock a giant coloured gem after the boss fight. Collecting all 7 gems across the 7 islands would unlock another three secret islands and lead you to the real final boss and the true ending of the game. These extra levels were absent from the Amstrad version. Then there were the super secret collectibles. Collect all the coloured gems in the order of the rainbow red to violet and you unlocked a secret door in the boss room to grab a permanent upgrade. All of these experiences I discovered, and shared, with my mother while she watched on the sofa with the TV on in the background.
I assumed it would be boring for my mum to watch me play but I soon discovered that not to be the case at all. She enjoyed watching it just like I did when I was younger. In a way I think it kind of helped both of us. I think it cheered her up to share time with me even if I spent most of it babbling about the games mechanics. For me it took my mind of everyday stresses and worries I was dealing with.
I’ve long left home and don’t see my mother as much as I would like these days due to distance and work commitments. But I still play Rainbow Islands. When I do it reminds me of all those happy moments and I smile.
This is one of many special memories I have of my mother and I guess this is my long attempt to say thank you to her. Not just for this but for quite frankly being the best person she could be. But if I went through all the reasons she is great I would run out of articles to write in the future.
So that’s why Rainbow Islands will always top my best games ever lists.