*Review based on the Wii U Virtual Console port of the TurboGrafx-16 version*
Though Bonk isn’t exactly a household name these days, there was a time when he was a relatively prominent mascot character for the TurboGrafx-16 console. The system would see no less than three different Bonk titles in its lifetime, the first of which was 1990’s Bonk’s Adventure. Though it may not be one of the best platformers of the 16-bit era (admittedly a difficult feat to accomplish), it still has a charm of its own, even if it hasn’t aged particularly well.
Bonk’s Adventure stars the titular Bonk, a young caveboy with a comically large head that’s as hard as a rock. Bonk is on a mission to save a dinosaur princess, and will have to use his thick noggin to take out enemies.
Whereas most platformers of the time simply had players jumping on enemies to defeat them, Bonk instead uses a headbutt as his signature attack. Bonk can headbutt enemies on the ground, or jump in the air to perform a diving headbutt. In a fun twist to platforming norms, Bonk’s regular jumps can only damage enemies if they are above him, as his head is harder than his feet.
Bonk has three hit points to start with, which can be replenished in increments by finding fruits and vegetables, while small hearts will replenish an entire hit point, and large hearts refill all of Bonk’s health. Meanwhile, two blue hearts are hidden in the game, and will increase Bonk’s maximum hit points by one.
Additionally, Bonk can find pieces of meat, which serve as power-ups. Finding one piece of meat supercharges Bonk, who can use his diving headbutt to stun all on-screen enemies (defying all logic, this includes enemies in midair). Finding a second piece of meat when powered up will send Bonk into a temporary invincibility. You can even skip the stacking and go straight to invincibility if you find a big piece of meat.
The core gameplay is decently fun, though it must be said that Bonk’s movements and jumps feel slower than those of Mario or Sonic. If you’re used to the more popular platforming heroes of the era, then Bonk’s relatively slower controls have noticeably aged.
Another downside is that the levels are incredibly basic. While there are some platforming challenges to be had, the levels really come down to little more than going from one end of the stage to the other. There are some fun ideas in terms of environments (including the belly of a dinosaur in an early stage), but the level structure never comes anywhere near the creative heights of Super Mario World or Sonic the Hedgehog.
Visually, Bonk’s Adventure still holds up, with the graphics and animations possibly being the game’s highlight. The character designs are simple but colorful, and the environments are fun to look at. Best of all is Bonk himself, who has some hilarious animations. Bonk’s transformations when grabbing the aforementioned meat, as well as his death animation, are both done in a Looney Tunes-esque cartoony style. My personal favorite animation is when Bonk climbs steep walls, which he accomplishes by biting them with his teeth.
Bonk’s Adventure also features some cute and catchy (if not entirely memorable) music. Once again, it can’t match many other platforming soundtracks of the time, but it fits with the game’s tone and simplistic nature.
Suffice to say that Bonk’s Adventure hasn’t aged as gracefully as many of its 16-bit platforming peers. Though it’s not necessarily bad, either. It simply lacks the depth and creativity that platformers of the 90s were quickly becoming adept in, which ensured their timeless appeal. Today, Bonk’s Adventure may be a good place to start for younger gamers and platforming newcomers to get a taste for the genre. But for platforming veterans, it may feel a little too vanilla.