Parasol Stars – PS5 Review

Parasol Stars is a port of a 1991 platforming game that many younger readers will not have heard of.  But, older readers may not have either.  It was a sequel to a game in a beloved arcade series but it wasn’t an arcade game.  Instead it was initially developed for a console called the PC Engine, itself nothing to do with PC gaming.  Confused?  Well, you really will be if you ever look into the series as a whole.

Indeed, this series started with Bubble Bobble, a very popular platformer that used single screen levels and interesting mechanics to become a bonafide classic.  Its popularity exploded thanks to a host of excellent coin-op conversions for home gamers.  The game seemed to run well on any format.  And that popularity led to several sequels including, Bubble Bobble Part 2 (for NES and Game Boy), Bubble Symphony (itself also known as Bubble Bobble II) in the arcades and Bubble Memories: The Story of Bubble Bobble III.

But you also got Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2 (itself also a stone-cold arcade classic), just to confuse matters.  And then in 1991 we got Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III.  Jesus…

We played it back on the Commodore Amiga where it enjoyed very positive reviews and now the budget publisher Ratalaika have brought the game to PSN and, hopefully, to a brand new audience.  And that audience gets a classic port and an ‘enhanced’ one.  There’s no visual or gameplay difference between them (so it’s not really enhanced) but what you get are options to rewind the game in real time (as well as the usual quick saves that we get from Ratalaika ports).  Be warned though, if you want any trophies you’ll need to go for the unenhanced port.

Once you get into the game, you can immediately feel what made Parasol Stars great.  The core mechanic of the game sees you using an umbrella to catch enemies which then lets you fire them off as a weapon.  You can also catch water droplets too and, later, weaponised droplets that let you use water, fire, electricity and stars as weapons.  It’s all very accessible and arcade-y.  If you’ve dabbled with the series (or similar games like Rodland), you’ll be right at home with what’s going on here.

Set across eight worlds, each with seven levels, you’ll work through increasingly tricky arena style stages.  Sometimes just attacking everything is the way to go but other times parts of the level are harder to access, or just totally inaccessible, and then you’ll need to use the droplet weapons to attack from distance.  It’s all cleverly designed and it still plays excellently.

But there’s a reason maybe while Parasol Stars isn’t universally loved and that’ll be the boss battles.  The bosses on Rainbow Islands were pretty miserable once you got to Dracula on stage three (or four, we can’t remember) and it gets pretty bad here.  Some of the bosses here are so difficult to beat and back in the day it was a real game killer.  We pretty much never saw the game beyond world three.  It’s a shame as the levels between the boss battles are always pretty playable and fun.

Thankfully, you can just abuse the rewind feature if you want to see everything.  You won’t get the trophies for the game but you’ll get the joy of seeing the lovely visuals that the game offers and that’s not nothing.  And look, there are some of you out there that will get through this game.  Some of you are gaming beasts.  But, damn, Parasol Stars still has us licked unfortunately.

And so this version of the game solves the biggest issue of it while offering an equally big problem.  Being able to see all of Parasol Stars is a joy but having that rewind feature just mapped to the left trigger means that ultimately it’s just too easy to ‘cheat’ your way through it.  Or you just pick the regular mode and never see past the third stage.  Difficulty is definitely an issue here either way.  And there’s also the “bad ending” that you’ll likely get (given that the game doesn’t explain how to get the good one) and that should really be called the ‘worst ending in gaming’ as it just traps you on a level and doesn’t let you finish.

But there’s some great gameplay on offer here and the game looks as great as it ever did.  The visuals are bold and colourful and everything feels so deliciously retro.  Perhaps the best way to approach this port is as a museum piece rather than a game that you’re realistically going to do very well at.  And that’s absolutely fine.

In conclusion, this is a solid port of a great game and it gives some quality of life options that really help things along.  But with all the great stuff Parasol Stars brings back, it also brings problems too.  So, while the cute visuals might suggest a fun and breezy experience, this port might be best suited to either expert level players or older gamers who have familiarity with the original.

Parasol Stars
7 Overall
+ Classic gameplay
+ Lovely visuals
+ The rewind feature is very welcome
- The difficulty, especially on boss battles, can be savage
- Might have very limited appeal
- The 'Bad Ending' is awful.
Parasol Stars remains as cute, fun and pretty as ever. It's also just as savagely hard as we remember at times.

About Richie

Rich is the editor of PlayStation Country. He likes his games lemony and low-budget with a lot of charm. This isn't his photo. That'll be Rik Mayall.

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