𝓡𝓮𝓽𝓻𝓸 𝓖𝓪𝓶𝓲𝓷𝓰 𝓐𝓾𝓽𝓱𝓸𝓻𝓲𝓽𝔂: Bonk’s Adventure

Red, Atlus / NEC Home Electronics


The early to mid 1990’s – arguably the hottest time, of all time, for the medium of video games. It’s been said that iron sharpens iron, but as the almighty Nintendo and their mustachioed mascot continued to introduce hit after hit in the forms of MetroidThe Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario Bros. 3, it would seem as though the company was constructing a militia of top notch titles that next to no contender could whet. The war waged between Sega and Nintendo is well documented by way of popular books and documentaries, but to this day, one corporation mascot that actually arrived on the scene before Sonic the Hedgehog still fails to garner enough approbation for his early efforts to challenge for the shiny throne that was market supremacy. The little bald caveboy that could, Bonk (also known as PC-Genjin, or PC-Kid), head butted his way into Japan on December 15th, 1989, launching for NEC’s PC-Engine (the Japanese equivalent of the TurboGrafx-16) console. The TurboGrafx-16’s prehistoric pal wouldn’t come stateside until the following year, but when he did, he most definitely made a splash with game enthusiasts in the western hemisphere. In typical 90’s fashion, an aggressive advertisement of the time claimed that Bonk was about to knock video games back into the Stone Age as the carnivorous cave-dude smashed some Mario lookalikes into toothpaste. From the character’s American introduction, NEC was loading their carronades and had Nintendo in their sights. After all, Bonk didn’t just jump on his enemies to dispatch them, he thwacked them with his huge head and ate hunks of meat while doing so. He was packed with power and poised to take down any old lame, play-it-safe video game mascot that stood in his way, eating cubes like Yoshi for breakfast. Bonk and the TurboGrafx-16 had officially arrived, and the competition was about to be put on notice. 

Bonk’s Adventure revolves around the game’s chief protagonist in his attempts to rescue Princess Za from the evil King Drool. Throughout his quest, Bonk is confronted by several nasties of the prehistoric variety including birds, insects and dinosaurs. I really love the character designs as they all look menacing, but in a goofy, friendly sort of way. The aesthetic of Bonk, the world that he inhabits, and his counterparts are all major contributors to the seemingly endless charm of the game, almost as if attempting to resemble a primordial episode of Nickelodeon’s Rugrats (the show would launch two years after Bonk’s initial arrival, but I digress). As mentioned earlier, Bonk deals with his foes by smacking them with his dome, but he can also jump above them, torpedo downwards skull first, and deliver an even stronger attack via that headache inducing method. If Bonk’s enemies manage to lay several hits on him, his initial three hearts worth of health will eventually turn to blue. If all of Bonk’s health is depleted, along with all of his extra lives, the game will predictably come to an end. Bonk can, however, restore his health by collecting red hearts as well as by consuming various fruits and vegetables as he progresses through the game’s stages. He’s a healthy little cave-dude. But just when it seemed as if Bonk was a full-blown vegetarian, he goes and attains special powers by consuming small to large portions of meat. As Bonk ingests meat, he first gains the ability to stun enemies by smashing his head into the ground mid-jump, but as he eats more or very large portions of meat, Bonk becomes temporarily invincible, capable of waltzing his way past enemies and pitfalls with ease thanks to increased speed and jumping capabilities. Bonk can also collect bonus points called Smileys (similar to coins in Super Mario Bros.) throughout the game’s levels, with the total amount of Smileys collected added up upon a stage’s completion. 

The music and graphics of Bonk’s Adventure work synergistically with one another to deliver something truly special. As far as traditional platformers go, Bonk’s brand of hopping around and collecting things looks and sounds phenomenal. The genuine feeling of strolling through a dinosaur-inhabited kingdom is perfectly conveyed by way of the game’s beautiful aesthetic and superb soundtrack. The appearance of lush, green grass in the foreground, meshed with soon to erupt volcanoes on the horizon instantly warps the player into an average day with Bonk, all as he head-butts his creophagous way to King Drool’s doorstep accompanied by some of the most tuneful music I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing from a game released in 1990. Composer Tsukasa Masuko (the mind behind the tunes in one of my favourite NES games, Mighty Bomb Jack, in addition to the music heard in the early Shin Megami Tensei titles) absolutely nailed the antediluvian ambiance that Bonk resides within. To further illustrate just how noteworthy Bonk’s Adventure is, Bob Strauss of Entertainment Weekly had this to say about the game back in 1991: “Cute, cartoony, and highly imaginative, this is one of the rare games that’s as much fun to watch as it is to play.”  In addition to his comments regarding the game, Bob also ranked Bonk’s Adventure as the third greatest game available in stores for that year’s holiday season, besting the likes of TetrisToeJam & Earl, and even Super Mario Bros. 2. It was quickly becoming evident that the TurboGrafx-16 had a winner within its procession.

I’ve mentioned this in reviews past, but video game company mascots were a huge deal back in the 90’s. Heck, even into the early 2000’s, the standout heroes of their respective consoles, such as the Xbox’s Master Chief, courtesy of the immensely popular Halo series, led the charge towards hopeful prospects of luring in potential fans and swaying them over to their brand of living room domination. Perhaps Bonk’s brawny attempts to attract new players to the TurboGrafx-16 weren’t as widespread as those of his rivals in Mario and Sonic, but what may have slipped under the noses of enthusiastic players in 1990 was another five star, fun and addictive platformer with an appropriate level of difficulty, not unlike the offerings from his contemporaries.

Bonk’s Adventure is one of my favourite platform games of all time, and easily ranks within my top ten for the TurboGrafx-16 console. Iron most definitely does sharpen iron, and Bonk’s efforts in the 90’s by way of his excellent music, graphics, and gameplay, brought out the best in himself and his competition. You simply cannot deny top tier quality, and Bonk’s Adventure is chock full of it.

Original article