I think it is safe to say that the Turbo Grafx-16 did not make a great first impression in North America. While the NES had Super Mario Brothers and the Genesis had Altered Beast the system was saddled with Keith Courage in the Alpha Zones. Now let’s be honest, Altered Beast is far from a great game but it at least looked impressive. In the age of the mascot platformer the TG-16 came packaged with a game that couldn’t hold a candle to the likes of DuckTales and Mega Man 2, both released the same year. Bonk’s Adventure would hit a few months after launch and eventually become the game most would associate with the system. While flawed there is no question this is the game that should have come with the system.
Where Mario has his butt stomp and Sonic has speed Bonk has a giant head. While hilarious it makes a more than effective weapon as you clobber enemies into submission. There is very little you can’t bash, from enemies to projectiles. While useful your range is limited. It’s much easier to dive bomb enemies with your head which can also be chained. The collision detection for this attack is very spotty unfortunately and you’ll suffer many cheap hits. The abundance of fruit does balance this out. It goes hand in hand with the stiff controls. Bonk’s movements are slow and clunky. He plants himself before jumping and you can only move him a little once airborne. It isn’t game breaking but not as tight as it should be.
While he doesn’t look it Bonk is pretty agile with a high vertical leap and can flip in the air repeatedly. Playing around with the turbo buttons will allow you to spin endlessly without hurting your thumbs in the process, a skill that can be used to skip large swaths of dangerous terrain. Bonk doesn’t concern himself with ladders and simply climbs walls and other structures with his teeth.
There are very few power-ups although the ones available are significantly overpowered. Meat comes in two sizes, big and small. Smaller meat will send Bonk into a rage. In this state dive bombing the ground will cause an earthquake that freezes everything for a few seconds. Ingesting a second piece or one large stack will cause him to go nuclear, becoming invincible for a short period of time. The meat power-ups wear off on their own after a while or when you take a hit making them very effective.
The world of Bonk’s Adventure is very strange. This is obviously set in prehistoric times as there dinosaurs of all stripes present as well as bipedal reptiles. However it isn’t uncommon to come across hybrid dinosaur tanks and even spaceships (!). Even though you are essentially cycling through the standard platforming tropes such as a jungle, lake, and fire stage the world and its humorous enemies are incredibly charming and what make the game fun. Even with that in mind there is a great deal of variety as most stages feature numerous changes in scenery. The boss battles are the clear highlight as these few encounters are challenging and graphically impressive although a bit simple.
The game is a bit on the short side for a platformer. There are only five levels with most consisting of multiple segments. Curiously the fourth level is the only exception as it has one brief area before its boss. Which is a shame as this is a very fun world that deserved to be explore more in depth although the sequel rectifies that.
The game’s brevity is compounded by the fact that it is so easy. Life restoring fruit is everywhere to the point you’ll actually have to go out of your way to die. Even more than just fruit however is the abundance of meat. It’s no exaggeration to say that you will spend very little time as regular Bonk because meat is so plentiful. The only trouble spots are the boss battles and that is due to the wonky hit detection. Even if you do die you respawn at the exact spot and can continue onward. You’ll breeze through the game and be left wanting more.
Bonk’s Adventure was designed around the system’s capabilities and it shows. The world is incredibly bright and vivid with large sprites; outside of the arcade there were probably few titles this colorful. The overall look is very simplistic with its flat backgrounds although I think that was a deliberate choice. It fits the game perfectly and helps it stand the test of time along with its great animation. The soundtrack is great, so great in fact that its sequels would simply recycle most of the music.
Although it was never in the same league as the games it competed against Bonk’s Adventure was a solid first attempt for the series. While I would recommend Bonk’s Revenge first this initial outing is worth revisiting at a cheap price.