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Bonk's Adventure (NES) artwork

Bonk's Adventure (NES) review

"There’s a level in which you bash a giant dinosaur on the head, then climb into its mouth and go spelunking inside its stomach. Bonk’s Adventure knows it’s a fairly straightforward game, so it goes out of its way to be adorable."

Bonk’s Adventure is a simple and charming NES platformer. You play as Bonk, a child with a gigantic head who lives in a prehistoric world full of dinosaurs, forests and active volcanoes. The game’s greatest asset is its goofiness. When Bonk falls on slippery ice, he slides along on his head. One boss is a long-haired, boxing Pachycephalosaur called “Punchy Pedro.” There’s a level in which you bash a giant dinosaur on the head, then climb into its mouth and go spelunking inside its stomach. Bonk’s Adventure knows it’s a fairly straightforward game, so it goes out of its way to be adorable.

Unsurprisingly, the main mechanic involves you bonking things with your comically oversized cranium. Bonk isn’t Mario, so jumping on top of enemies won’t hurt them unless he turns himself upside down first (although jumping upward at foes is equally effective, when you can do so without getting hit yourself). Repeatedly rotating Bonk upside-down and back again will also slow down his fall speed, allowing him to move further horizontally than he normally could (much like pausing the game mid-fall in Mega Man 2). Few pits in the game actually require use of this trick in order to be crossed, but it’s still a cool feature that gives the player lots of control over Bonk’s movement.

On top of having impressively fleshed-out mechanics for an NES-era platformer, Bonk’s Adventure is notable for actually teaching you how to exploit its physics. One bonus game rewards you for doing as many midair flips as possible before hitting the ground, making it obvious that flipping affects aerial momentum without blandly announcing the technique’s implications to the player. Another minigame places you next to a high wall and simply instructs you to “Beat the clock to reach the top!” Without these sections, I wouldn’t have even known I could climb walls until much later in the game. Finding myself in a narrow pit with no way out but to climb up, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Super Metroid.

My one qualm with the gameplay in Bonk’s Adventure is the questionable hit detection on bosses. All of them are unique and fun to fight, but they tend to be either too difficult or too easy to damage. One boss in particular gave me trouble because it had weird vulnerability periods, and the necessary waiting time between attacks made for a tedious fight. Others were content to sit in one place while I dive-bombed them over and over. In all cases, there were several instances which left me wondering, “Why didn’t that one hit?”

However, the game’s biggest flaw is its music. The soundtrack is uninspired and repetitive. One song in particular sounds more like a ring tone than a composition, yet it’s used in every bonus game and in several full stages. There isn’t much else to say; the music just sucks.

Most of the levels in Bonk’s Adventure are relatively interesting and coerce you to explore the game’s movement mechanics. The prehistoric theme holds up well throughout, and stages progress in multiple directions rather than only from left to right (though they typically stick to one direction at a time). Unfortunately, several stages are overly simplistic, consisting entirely of jumping along rectangular walls and houses with no variation in scenery or platforming obstacles. Still, the good parts outweigh the bad.

Each level in Bonk’s Adventure is littered with small flowers which either give you items or pop out and try to eat you. Carrots restore health, rare heart containers increase your maximum HP, and meat makes Bonk cause full-screen earthquakes when he smashes his head into the ground. Eating more meat will grant Bonk temporary invincibility, as well as changing his dopey smile into a menacing glare. These power-ups are fun to start off with, but they won’t be enough to sustain your interest throughout the experience. The gameplay would have benefited greatly from a few more wacky transformations; for instance, Bonk could have gained some sort of Flintstones-inspired pterodactyl backpack, or his head could have expanded even more and turned him into a boulder. The game is still fun without these things, but crazier upgrades definitely would have made the levels more interesting.

Even though it stands well on its own, Bonk’s Adventure for NES is actually a port of the original TurboGrafx-16 version. And the original is better in every way. The TurboGrafx-16 title has far richer visuals (not surprising since the “16” stands for 16-bit) and smoother animations. It also has better music, but that only bumps the soundtrack’s quality up to “average.” I haven’t played through the original version, but the gameplay appears to be pretty much identical, except for its slightly improved level design. Even though there’s a clearly a superior version available, this is a case where the lower-tech port of the game is still a passable alternative.

I initially started playing Bonk’s Adventure just to see if I would want to review it, and before I knew it I was in world 3. It has that coveted Super Mario Bros. quality of being easy to pick up but hard to put down. Simple fun is its main draw, but the game also has a few more complicated mechanics for interested parties to explore. Its awful music and merely decent level design don’t detract too much from the fundamentally enjoyable gameplay, and both of those aspects are better executed in the game’s original version. It’s easy to see why Bonk became the official mascot of the TurboGrafx-16.


Whelk's avatar
Freelance review by Kyle Charizanis (August 05, 2013)

Lifelong gamer and unabashed nerd. Not even a little bit bashed. He was originally drawn to Honest Gamers for its overall high quality of writing. He lives inside his computer which is located in Toronto, Canada. Also, he has a Twizzler (@Whelkk).

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