Alastair’s chimp stars in the intro of Landmine by Perry Rosenboom / PR Software
Given the Amiga was treated to such an immaculate conversion of Taito’s Rainbow Islands coin-op you have to wonder why anyone would bother trying to recreate it. Shouldn’t remakes be reserved for cases where there’s some scope for improvement? Don’t ask Hollywood. By way of evidence for the defence, they’ll present to the jury the RoboCop and Total Recall movie rehashes.
Nevertheless, digress I do; we’re here to talk games, not pointless movie cash-ins.
If you love the concept of climbing platforms, collecting gems and eating cakes, but have always hankered after a reinterpretation that swaps Bub and Bob for a chimp and their rainbow projectiles for bendy simian fuel, ‘Banana Islands’ will be right up your yellow brick road.
When you step back for a moment to consider it was thrown together using AMOS Pro by one person in three weeks you start to appreciate what an achievement it is.
It’s not the best or most interesting game ever created by former Nottingham University computer science student, Alastair Murray. Just the most quirky, and ranking highest on the blatant-rip-off-o-metre I felt I had to put it through its paces.
Coded in 1996/97 on an A1200 packing 6 megabytes of RAM, the graphics were retro even back then. Well, they would be – most of them were ripped from the original port by Graftgold, published by Ocean.
You’ll recognise many of the enemies I’m sure, and not only from the cloned title. For instance, the seagulls and penguins appear to be on loan from Fire and Ice, while the clam-shells have apparently escaped from Parasol Stars, Rainbow Islands’ semi-pseudo-sort-of-sequel.
As well as the level themes the key mechanics of Rainbow Islands have been transposed. Your goal on each level is to travel from bottom to top, out-running the hurry-up rising tide. If you can make it without enduring a dunking you’re rewarded with an erupting chest stuffed with point-scoring munchies and jewellery.
One difference you’ll notice with this fruity reimagining is that everything above the sea line is reflected upside-down beneath it. A nice touch I thought.
Your ‘nanas work just like Bub and Bob’s rainbows. They can be employed as temporary platforms, multiplied (by collecting potions) to extend their reach and used to kill or imprison enemies. If you don’t shatter them over baddies soon enough, or leave them to roam unfettered for too long they become agitated and attack you with greater ferocity, much like in Rainbow Islands.
Getting to grips with the latter’s controls wasn’t something that happened overnight. So too here they take a bit of practice to get a handle on. There’s always a temptation to bounce on rainbows/bananas to climb upwards rather than running up them first and then leaping. Of course, they crumble on impact so you need to be ready to springboard to the next ledge without stopping to catch your breath. It’s unlikely to be a technique you will have had the opportunity to master elsewhere; an idiosyncratic device Alastair did a great job replicating.
Like the game from which it takes inspiration point-earning collectables abound. Grab five distinctively coloured diamonds and we snag an extra life, while go-faster shoes do what you’d expect them to.
Three worlds/11 levels is your limit with the PD version, though you were invited to email or write to Alastair in Middlesbrough to acquire the extended edition if they failed to satiate your appetite.
Traversing these we face just two bosses; a giant teddy bear and a snowball-bombing overgrown version of the seagull enemy seen previously. Actually these are both supersized varieties of ordinary baddies. This was also true of Rainbow Islands in some cases so makes perfect sense… as much as shooting bananas at land-sliding snow-whales anyway. I love those. Anything ridiculous and you’ve got my attention.
Use of copyright-protected music is sometimes avoided more so than graphics and game mechanics. Not so here; the opening title theme is a remix of that heard in Infogrames’ Jumping Jack’son.
Other levels feature reworked renditions of the Red Dwarf theme tune (sing it with me… “It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere…”), Inspector Gadget intro, and the popular hymn, Morning Has Broken. Less surprising, the Rainbow Islands theme tune – itself a remix of Over the Rainbow – pops in for a cameo. Even the later released official ports swerved that particular track.
This late in the Amiga’s death-span you’d expect Banana Islands to feature simultaneous music and sound effects. And it does.
Amateurish as it is (by Alastair’s own admission I should add) Banana Islands – and other public domain Amiga titles – paved the way for a lifelong career in games development. You can read more about Alastair’s ‘next-gen’ work and his involvement with the ‘Backbone’ Amiga game maker kit in an interview conducted by Mike Nurney, posted on the English Amiga Board.
So, returning full circle to address the question, what’s the point of recreating the perfect game? it would seem the answer is another question… why not?