Killer launch and pack-in titles are keys for a fledgling console to succeed. The TurboGrafx-16’s pack-in game upon it’s 1989 launch was Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, an average at best platformer that didn’t sell many consoles. Less than a year later, NEC released Bonk’s Adventure exclusively (for the time being) for the TurboGrafx-16 and instantly had a new mascot and a new killer platformer for it’s struggling console.
Bonk is supposed to be a caveboy in prehistoric times that is on a mission to rescue Princess Za from evil King Drool (a large green dinosaur) and return the residents of Moonland to their home after being brainwashed. As you would expect based on his name, Bonk uses his big, bald noggin to bonk his opponents either from the side, above or below. A regular bonk won’t do as much damage as a jumping spin bonk from above. While more powerful, they are harder to land as you have to time it just right especially when your opponent is constantly moving. It’s also a critical attack for level ending bosses that are much larger than you. If you find and eat meat during the course of the game, it will increase your strength/attack, allow you to stun enemies by bonking the ground and eventually if you eat enough, Bonk’s head splits open and he becomes a dark, angry red color. At this point, Bonk is invincible for a short period and even after your invincibility ends, you still retain your angry Bonk strength for a little longer. Amusingly enough, Bonk can also use his teeth to climb up cliffs. Less amusingly, when Bonk dies, he falls on his back and foams at the mouth which is kind of gross when you think about it. Even my 8 year old daughter questioned what the hell was coming out of Bonk’s mouth as she watched me play.
The gameplay is standard platforming with 5 stages until you reach the end bosses, brainwashed prehistoric creatures you must bonk from above repeatedly while dodging their attacks. Bonk’s Adventure allows you infinite continues but if your game ends you have to start at the very beginning of each stage, no matter which section of that stage you were at when you died. That would be like starting over from 8-1 if you die in the castle level 8-4 in Super Mario Bros. The length of each stage varies too, which is odd. Some stages are long, for example stage 2 which goes all the way to 2-7 and some are short like stage 4, which only goes to 4-1 before meeting the boss. Once you reach the end of the game, you must run the gauntlet of level bosses (similar to the Mega Man games) before reaching the sub-boss and final boss of the game, King Drool. I recently spent a few hours completing the Bonk’s Adventure so if you have the time, it’s definitely beatable.
Due to the original Bonk’s popularity, NEC knew it needed to strike while the iron was hot and get a sequel out for TG-16 owners to enjoy. That sequel, Bonk’s Revenge, was released in 1991 and attempts to improve on the formula created by it’s predecessor. Bonk 2 is similar to the first in gameplay mechanics and plot (Princess Za is kidnapped again, King Drool has stolen half the moon) but there are enough differences that prevent it from simply being a retread. One of the immediate changes I noted was the improvement in graphics. The first Bonk looked fine but a bit washed out and red-tinted. The colors are more vibrant and the backgrounds more detailed in Bonk 2. Bonk appears to have learned the value of junk food between the first and second games as he now not only eats fruit, vegetables and meat units, but also hamburgers, fries, ice cream. When Bonk gets fully angered his head still splits open grotesquely and now he can breathe fire which is a nice addition. When Bonk dies he no longer foams at the mouth but instead just lies there with his eyes crossed out. I guess they realized how odd that sprite was in the original and decided to tone it down. Bonk’s Revenge is a longer and more difficult game, which can be considered good or bad depending on your perspective. You also now have limited continues so I have not yet been able to play all the way through Bonk’s Revenge. I think there are definite improvements with Bonk 2 but the things they messed with make the two games about even in my opinion.
The Bonk games were certainly packed with a lot of personality and quirky humor. They are both fun and addictive games with simple control and most importantly for NEC, Bonk became the face of the console. Bonk was someone with personality to challenge Mario and Sonic in the 16-bit wars. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough but for a few years in the early 90’s, Bonk was the bald headed man-boy to represent the TurboGrafx-16. The developers held up their end of the bargain by creating stand out titles both are must owns for any TG-16 fan.
Currently in my collection:
- Bonk’s Adventure – game in case, manual A
- Bonk 2: Bonk’s Revenge – game in case, manual A