Thursday, 29 September 2016

Parasol Stars (TurboGrafx-16)

parasol stars title screen
Developer:Taito|Release Date:1991|Systems:PC Engine, Amiga, Atari ST, Game Boy, NES

This week on Super Adventures I've chosen the wrong game to play, because what can I say about Parasol Stars? You play a dude with an umbrella who keeps on beating up enemies and taking their lunch until you run out of credits, stages or patience. Unless you have a friend playing too, then there's two dudes with umbrellas, and matching dungarees.

I suppose I could mention that it's actually Bubble Bobble III, except it says that on the title screen above, so you already know that. Also this TurboGrafx version was published by rogue game localizers Working Designs, but I don't think there's much scope for them to inject their idiosyncratic humour into this one, seeing as there's probably like six words in the game and they're already in English.

There's a good reason why I'm playing the TurboGrafx version instead of the original arcade game, and that's because there isn't one. Unlike the first two games, this was for home systems from the start. I always used to play the Amiga version and I always used to suck at it, so I'm curious to see if I do any better on a two button controller instead of a one button joystick.



Well it's a good job that our hero's mastered interplanetary umbrella flight between games, as Music World is in distress! I remember visiting Music World in Zool. It sucks.

Hey I've just noticed that he started off on the Rainbow Islands planet from the last game, Rainbow Islands (The Story of Bubble Bobble II)! It's surprising it didn't end up looking like Waterworld, the way those stages all disappeared beneath the ocean. I'm a little disappointed those gits living there didn't all drown.

It doesn't seem right for me to start writing about the third game when there's all this rich backstory to delve into. I've actually been putting off replaying Parasol Stars for years now, waiting until I'd gotten around to the other two first. But that never happened because Rainbow Islands is a dick and Bubble Bobble's likely even more straightforward than this is. So I'm going to give them a paragraph or two each right now so I can finally move on.

Bubble Bobble (Arcade)
Alright, the series started in 1986 when Bubble Bobble was released to arcades. It must have done well there as soon every game system in the world got a port, except for the NES which got two.

You play as a bubble-breathing dragon called Bub (or his brother Bob if you're player two), who jumps around a fixed screen imprisoning foes with his bubbles. Once an enemy is captured and helpless, the dragons then have to pop the bubble, turning the dead monster into fruit, ice cream, cake, cocktails, McDonalds fries, beer, chicken legs, hamburgers etc. for points. Get them all and you move down to the next floor of the Cave of Monsters, on your way to rescue your loved ones and reclaim your humanity.

And all the time you're doing this, the Bubble Bobble theme plays on a loop in the background, constantly. Fortunately the melody's so tinny and high pitched that only dogs and young children can hear it.

Rainbow Island (Arcade)
Bub and Bob descended through all 100 floors, saved their girlfriends, rescued their parents and regained their human forms, but that was just the Story of Bubble Bobble I! A year later in Rainbow Islands the two ex-dragons find themselves trying to climb a series of islands before the tide rises and drowns them.

Humans can't breathe bubbles, that'd be ridiculous, so Bubby and Bobby (as they now like to be called) instead shoot deadly rainbows to trap and destroy their enemies. This time the stages have some vertical scrolling to them, and instead of murdering all monsters you have to use rainbows as both a weapon and a temporary platform to get to the top and reach the goal before the water gets you. Also you need to collect gems in the correct order and stuff, it's complicated.

The game's pretty different to its predecessor but it's got the same obsession with fruit and secrets, and this time you're stuck listening to a remix of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' from 'The Wizard of Oz' on a loop until you're desperately trying to reach the next boss fight just to get some relief.

Bubble Memories title screen
Bubble Memories (Arcade)
Then after Rainbow Islands comes Bubble Memories: The Story of Bubble Bobble III.

Except no it doesn't, Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III comes next! Bubble Memories came out four years later, but it apparently thought it could kick Parasol Stars out of continuity just because it wasn't an arcade game!

Bubble Memories (Arcade)
Nice frog.

It gets worse though as Bubble Memories is actually the sequel to Bubble Bobble II, better known as Bubble Symphony. There's also two different games called Bubble Bobble Part 2, one for NES and one for Game Boy, each with different plots.

Super Methane Bros (Amiga)
And then there's Super Methane Bros, which has absolutely nothing to do with the Bubble Bobble series, but when else am I going to get a chance to mention it?

It's a Bubble Bobble clone where you have to suck the enemies up and slam them against a wall to kill them, and after playing it I've gotten a new appreciation for the proper games because this really isn't great. I've got endless fondness for that incredibly Amiga looking art style though, and the continually looping level theme (YouTube link) is so catchy and annoying that I'm writing a whole article about Parasol Stars just to trick people into listening to it.

Speaking of Parasol Stars, I should speak about Parasol Stars already.


ROUND  1-1.


Oh man what is this music? I'm sure it's inspired by a famous song and I can kind of remember a few words from it but not really. Not enough to start searching lyrics sites with.

Parasol Stars returns to the fixed screen areas of Bubble Bobble (at least for now) but instead of a long range bubble attack or rainbow powers Bubby has to get in close to grab enemies with his interstellar umbrella. Then once he's grabbed them he can use them as a long range projectile! Even if he doesn't hit anything it sometimes makes food appear out of mid air, because... well, it's tradition at this point.

Evolution of Bubby's sprite.
You know, looking at the sprites I think Bubby might have actually been happier as a dragon. I'm really surprised to learn that his Parasol Stars sprite is basically the same as his Rainbow Islands one, except with a weird red outline. Funny how one tiny change makes it look more like a SNES sprite than a NES sprite.

NES
This is what he actually looks like on NES though. This port seems to be basically the same game, except more flickery. It's harder to keep track of enemies as they're always disappearing.

Though I did notice that the NES version has replaced the traditional Bubble Bobble WackDonalds' fries with McDonalds' fries. Actually now that I'm looking at it up close it's more like a box of straws, so now it's making me thirsty as well as hungry.

Well that was a dumb way to throw away my first life. I knew I couldn't jump on him, but I guess I figured I could glide over his head like Mary Poppins. Thing is, Mary Poppins always remembers to open the damn umbrella first.

At least now I've learned for sure that Bubby has no hit points and that the level doesn't reset when I get him killed. So now I never have to get hit again.


ROUND  1-2.


Don't worry Music World, I'll save you from your instruments! Anything to get rid of this looping melody.

Interesting, it seems that the pink piano is basically harmless, it just sits there and spawns new enemies. But that works out for me, as enemies are its kryptonite. I couldn't hurt it directly, but after throwing a couple of accordions its way it was successfully stunned and ready to go meet a wall.

I like how it's really obvious when a monster is stunned in this. If they're blue and spinning, they're knocked out. And if they're red it means I waited too long to finish them off and now they're awake and pissed.


MEANWHILE, ON THE AMIGA.


Amiga
Wow, it's getting late over in the Amiga version

The TurboGrafx-16 wasn't the most powerful console of its generation, but it's got the Amiga beat in this case with it's bright visuals and twice the colours on screen at once. It's got the SNES and Mega Drive beat too, as the game didn't come out for those systems. The Amiga version also suffers from its one button joystick controls, meaning that you pull up to jump and down to raise the umbrella.

Atari ST
The Atari ST port's very similar, except with a brighter background and rubbish scrolling. It either skips it entirely or saves it until the last moment. Not that there's much scrolling going on for this stage, but the levels eventually get bigger.

Game Boy
Finally there's the Game Boy version, and I'm finding this far harder than the others for some reason. There's little changes that are throwing me off, like the big piano taking more hits to kill. Plus you can walk right through it in the other versions and it'll kill you in this one.

Other downsides to the Game Boy port include: tiny screen, no colour (besides green) and likely no co-op.

There was nearly one more port, for the Commodore 64, but it was cancelled due to catastrophic data loss. It was apparently going to be the final C64 game published by Ocean Software, and the sole developer on the project was making good progress working on it from home. Unfortunately he was having problems with his marriage at the time and his wife destroyed all the disks and their backups on her way out of the door. Ocean decided to get out of C64 publishing early after that.


ROUND 1-3.


Oh right, I have to point the umbrella forwards to pick enemies up, duh. Having the umbrella facing upwards does keep the raindrops and enemies off my head though, so I need to be mindful of my surroundings and use the appropriate parasol stance.


ROUND 1-5.


Wow, collecting speed up boots and then using a water bubble to wash enemies away is such a Bubble Bobble move. Though in Bubble Bobble you just touch a water bubble to make it burst, in this I have to collect enough droplets on my umbrella first.

Another similarity to Bubble Bobble is that the stages all loop vertically, so enemies falling off the bottom of the screen come back around to turn into fruit at the top.


ROUND 1-7.


Oh shit it's a boss fight! Bubble Bobble never had boss fights! Or maybe it did, I never really got anywhere in the game as I'm crap at it.

These magic potions let me charge up super attacks without collecting droplets, which is handy as I've got no other way to attack this guy. You know, I think this may be the only floating one-man-band kick drum boss with two tiny figures dancing on the top I've ever fought. Though I've no idea what song they're dancing to, and I feel like I should. This music's so familiar.

Hey I won! Though I had no luck remembering where the boss music is from and had to look it up in the end. It's a cover of a track called 'Lambada' apparently.

The constant looping level music on the other hand seems to have been composed for this game. That song I was struggling to remember earlier turned out to be "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag", but now I'm sure it isn't that.


MEANWHILE, ON THE GAME BOY VERSION.


Game Boy
Uh, what just happened? What are these doors about? Did I unlock these by doing something clever by accident or were these added for the Game Boy port?

That's the trouble with these Bubble Bobble games, their universe is built upon arcane rules and hidden counters, and even when I manage to make something happen I rarely know how I did it.

Game Boy
I jumped into the top door and ended up in the victory zone where everything's coming up 'WIN' and lolly ices rain from the sky! I didn't even need to put in 25¢.

Game Boy
Even the world transition screen is entirely different on the Game Boy, because the poor hardware can't handle something as taxing as a static image of planets I guess.

With the boss defeated Music World is finally safe from anything that can produce a note, so I'm moving on to Woods World to save them from their trees.


ROUND  2-1.


Wow I really am fighting a tree here, and some cute little lions too!

It wasn't much of a fight though, as I collected a third symbol and earned a MIRACLE! Which turned out to be a thunderbolt from the heavens that killed everything on screen and gave me a 1UP.

In Rainbow Islands to get the best ending you need to collect a whole set of coloured gems, created by waiting for an enemy to be in the right place on the screen and then dropping a rainbow on them, and these symbols are similar to that. Though one major difference is that I've got no idea what I need to do to make the symbols appear.

This level scrolls a little sideways by the way, though I'm still in a small-ish arena. There's no risk of the game turning into a proper platformer with an exit to reach any time soon.


ROUND 2-7.


Second boss didn't take too many hits. It'd be nice if it had a health bar though so I can tell you how many exactly.

Anyway I killed the sinister potted penguin plant with fire and then moved on to Water World!

And then immediately threw away my final life. GAME OVER.

Fortunately I have continues, so I've lost nothing here but my score. And a continue.


ROUND 3-3.


Hah, my escape plan worked! I could've tried jumping on droplets but who wants to mess around with that when there's a tiny drain to slip out through?

Right, now that I'm out I can attack the two shells that keep spawning new enemies.

I wish that bloody seal would swim down here so I'd have something to throw at this shell. He looked like he was going to do it for a moment, but then he snorkelled off the other way again to hang out with all his friends at the other shell.

Fine, I'll jump down the hole, fall to the top, get the an umbrella full of water and flush the shell out then. And then I'll go flush the other one on the other side too, though that's going to be much better guarded seeing as none of the enemies want to come out after me.


ROUND 3-4.


The game is getting a bit more tricky with its level design now. I bet I could get in there though if I really wanted to.

Wait, I really do want to! There's dessert and a symbol in there to grab and these lightning bolts I'm throwing aren't picking up treasure like a thrown enemy would.


ROUND 3-7.


Whoa, the Water World boss doesn't just have an island on his back, he has a volcano! And I have a defensive device that protects me from things falling from above. Poor bastard never stood a chance really.

Speaking of things that don't stand a chance, I'm down to my last credit at this point so I don't expect I'll be continuing much further.


ROUND 4-5.


Oh that's interesting, the missiles on Spinning Background Cog World only stun me instead of being instant death. That makes things a lot more fair. I'm a little disappointed that the background cogs don't actually spin though.

Also I just noticed I've got 1 extra credit now. You can tell this was never an arcade game as I'm earning them through gameplay! Somehow!


ROUND 4-6.


Well that wasn't exactly fair, he just laughed off that robot I threw at him! What was I supposed to do here, fall through the floor? Oh actually that would've worked, I totally should've done that.

When I respawned I had a scheme to go around, collect some electric balls and fire a lightning bolt up his ass, but he shot some spark plugs at me and ended it. This robot tank is my new nemesis.


ROUND 4-7.


Actually this asshole's my new nemesis. He doesn't just keep firing like that though, in fact he often transforms into a jet fighter and tries to dogfight with me around the level, but this loops so well like this that I decided to cut all that.

The trouble I have here is that water flows downwards, so I'm basically playing liquid pachinko. I don't just have to get in the right place at the right time, but I also have to choose the right gap to pour the water down.

Hang on, is he wearing a nappy? I'm fighting a robot with a diaper!

I killed the robot, stole his watermelon, and it only cost me a single life.

That means I've cleared four worlds now, which by my count is half the game. Not bad for my first try I reckon. I'm definitely getting further in this than I did in Bubble Bobble or Rainbow Islands.


ROUND 5-2.


Whoa, what's this? Am I in the Jammie Dodger zone? How did I trigger this?

I guess I'm supposed to be competing with player 2 to see how many of these things we can grab before the time runs out, but he didn't turn up so I get to walk away with a perfect score. Maximum biscuits.


ROUND 5-3.


Speaking of things I'm clueless about, how am I supposed to hit that pink unicorn spawning fruit machine down there? I've got plenty of water to flush at him, but he's protected by a hole in his platform so it just drains away. Same thing happens when I try to flush myself down there to get a better shot, I just get diverted through the hole.

Well I came here with two lives left, but unfortunately they couldn't keep me in the game long enough to solve this puzzle. GAME OVER, for good this time.


CONCLUSION

Parasol Stars is almost certainly the best arcade game about two boys who used to be a dinosaurs travelling across a solar system to throw lions at a tree using their umbrellas. Well okay it's not literally an arcade game, on account of it never being made as an arcade cabinet, but in its gameplay it 100% is.

In fact it's much closer to Bubble Bobble than Rainbow Islands in gameplay, going from scrolling platformer levels back to tiny arenas. Though I wouldn't say it's a more primitive game, it's just less about about ascending and more about genocide. It's definitely the prettiest of the three and I personally I think it plays the best as well. It helps that the way Bubby and Bobby get around the levels feels less awkward.

The worst problem with it is the same one that Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands share, and that's the constant looping music track that only lets up when you're fighting a boss. Sure it's catchy, but the human mind wasn't designed to withstand a constant bombardment from one melody for an extended period of time. It wasn't a good idea for the first game and it definitely wasn't a good idea to keep doing it for the sequels.

The third worst problem is that it's really short like an arcade game, but that's less of an issue thanks to its second worst problem, that's it's really repetitive like an arcade game. It took me around 40 minutes to get halfway through and I was happy to walk away where I did. To be fair though I'm not that all that into arcade games, and I definitely found it fun for a while. It was fun whenever I turned it back on to double check something as well, and I haven't even been playing it in co-op.

Those ports aren't bad either but they're not quite so fun, for various minor reasons. I didn't do an overly thorough analysis but it seems to me like the TurboGrafx original is outright the best in every department, making other games seem a bit miserable by comparison. Though the Game Boy one does have those nice parallax transitions between worlds. Plus it's portable, which is always handy if you want to twirl umbrellas on the go.

There's lots of games like Parasol Stars (and not just because it's the third in a series), but there's nothing exactly like it and I think it's more than earned a Not Crap award:


Here's another game clue for you. You've got a week, but somehow I don't think it's going to take that long this time.

Leave feedback if you want!

3 comments:

  1. Nice review! I really appreciate your doing some Turbografx-16/PC Engine reviews from time to time.

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  2. Was that story about the C64 version true? How awesome would it be if that happened to the latest iteration of FIFA or COD: "no fifa this year sorry, the developers wife deleted it".

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    Replies
    1. Well I wasn't there to see it happen, but the developer mentions it himself about two thirds of the way through this interview: http://www.c64.com/interviews/porch.html

      Also I bet that's what happened to The Last Guardian.

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