Saturday, April 29, 2017

Welcome to WonderSwan World: Rainbow Islands Putty's Party

Before you get too excited about this portable reimagining of Taito's classic quarter-muncher--and Bubble Bobble sequel--from 1987, I have to share the following, potentially buzz-killing details:

* A company called DigitalWare developed this version of Rainbow Islands. Besides Putty's Party, the only other releases on its resume are a small handful of "Simple" series games for the PS2 and DS. (In other words, neither legendary developer Fukio Mitsuji nor anyone else at Taito had a hand in this "port.")

* Less damning than the above, but still plenty relevant to this conversation: a company called MegaHouse published Putty's Party (in 2000). The only other games it helped bring to the masses are another WonderSwan game (Tetsujin 28-gou) and a trio of fairly random, Japan-only DS titles.

* Unlike basically every other Rainbow Islands game around, Putty's Party is rendered in black, white and a few shades of gray.

* As far as I'm aware, Putty's Party doesn't include all 10 of the arcade original's islands.

Sorry for that last "as far as I'm aware" bit, but up 'til now I've only been able to complete the game's first four islands (Darius, Doh's, Insect and Monster)--which, intriguingly, can be tackled in any order.

Unfortunately, simply finishing those islands doesn't cause any new ones to appear. My gut tells me more are revealed if you manage to nab all seven collectible diamonds on each of the initial isles, but I can't say that with any certainty since I've yet to accomplish that far-from-simple feat.

As for what I think of the stages I have experienced, well, let's start with a positive impression. An obvious one is that Rainbow Islands: Putty's Party is played with the WonderSwan system held sideways, so its screen is oriented vertically. That may sound gimmicky, but it's not. In this game, as in others made for Bandai's would-be GameBoy competitor, it lets you see quite a bit more of the playfield than you would if everything were depicted horizontally.

Speaking of which, the playfields in Putty's Party--as well as every other visual aspect of the game, really--are surprisingly impressive. I want to call them "arcade perfect" besides their lack of color, but I'm not sure that's technically true. Regardless, they look better than most Rainbow Islands ports of the time. (I'm also rather fond of the manga-inspired intermission screens that follow every stage, I've got to say. They're completely static, but they're also well-drawn and add a welcome bit of flair to this release.)

One caveat I've got to add to the above: the protagonist Putty's sprite isn't quite up to snuff, in my opinion.

Another component of Putty's Party that disappoints, at least at first, is its controls. I've always thought the arcade original seemed kind of stiff, especially while executing jumps, but this WonderSwan version feels even more rigid. It's also noticeably slower than its quarter-munching predecessor, which is sure to increase the annoyance felt by some players.

Here's the thing, though: after a while, and after accepting its existence, the stiff slowness of Putty's Party stopped bothering me. That's not to say I now "like" it, mind you, but I also don't hate it to the point of wanting to smash my WonderSwan Color to smithereens, so I'll call it a wash, if not exactly a plus.

I've also come around to another of this port's quirks--that being how the third (of four) level of each island offers up gameplay that's subtly and strangely different from what Rainbow Islands veterans are used to encountering.

For example, water starts flooding Insect Island's third stage basically from the word go, adding an element of tension that usually only pops up if you dillydally or otherwise take too long to reach an area's summit.

The third stage of Doh's Island, on the other hand, requires you to expose a secret door that acts as an exit rather than climb to a giant treasure chest in the sky to escape its clutches. (Note: at the moment, I don't really know what causes that door to appear, although I suspect the culprit is jumping onto a specific platform or dropping a rainbow onto one.)

Although curious, I wouldn't describe either of these additions as entirely welcome. Still, they provide a unique take on Rainbow Islands' traditional gameplay, so I it's hard to discount them completely.

Given all of the above, I'd warn against spending too much money on a copy of this game if you're at all uncertain you'll enjoy it due to its eccentricities. (I can't help but assume the majority of WonderSwan owners will not respond to them as favorably as I have.)

That said, if you've, say, spent time with Nintendo's Ice Climber and it didn't cause you to put a controller through a wall, and if you aren't horrified by the idea of a colorless Rainbow Islands, you could do worse than add Putty's Party to your WonderSwan collection.

See also: my first 'Welcome to WonderSwan World' post about the WonderSwan Color system

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