Taito’s Bubble Bobble series needs little introduction, but Parasol Stars – the unofficial sequel to Rainbow Islands – rarely gets a mention when retro fans reminisce about Bub, Bob and food-based bonuses. Unlike earlier entries, Parasol Stars never saw an arcade release (though unsubstantiated rumours of prototype boards persist), but it did find its way to a number of home machines, including the PC Engine and Amiga.
As a Bubble Bobble game, it’s sublime. Keeping to the series’ signature vibrant palette and charmingly cute graphical style, the game takes on scrolling-stage elements from Rainbow Islands but retains the small playfield and clear-the-enemies mandate of Bubble Bobble. Parasol Stars also includes themed worlds (such as musical, where the enemies are instruments, or casino, which pits you against rampaging playing cards and poker chips) and naturally, an arcane underbelly of secrets and special conditions.
Players wield a magic, rainbow-coloured parasol which, when deployed, freezes small enemies and allows you to pick them up and fling them against a solid surface, where they’re removed from play in classic Bubble Bobble style. Levels can contain larger enemies that generate small enemies, and these point pumps can be frozen by flinging small enemies at them.
The other key aspect of play lies with hidden routes on each level, where throwing a frozen enemy along them conjures a glorious line of bonus items. These are critical to a high score run, as successive activations throw up increasingly valuable items until, right at the end, the final item in the whole lineage grants the player a whole credit.
I still regularly pop the HuCard into my (now yellow) PC Engine. Going through the motions of setting up a PC Engine is a delight in itself. As a machine, it’s a miniature delight: the same size as an open DS Lite, it’s still a marvel that it packs so much power into such a small case considering when it was designed. HuCards remain the most elegant and charming of all cartridge media, with their vibrant painted labels and cyberpunky edge connectors. Slotting in the card and turning on the power flashes the title screen onto the display and with a button press and a happy burble, you’re on your way.
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