Review: Bonk’s Adventure

Bonk’s Adventure is about a caveman with rabies.

Every time he dies, he foams intensely at the mouth.

It comes from a time when mascot platformers were required to make both companies and customers happy, and also from a time when games were rather difficult. Things change; the genre of choice is now FPS for everyone (but me, although I am interested), and games get easier by the day.

Playing this title is a welcome return to the days of my youth. Hours spent in front the television on lazy, sunlit Saturday mornings, usually a Genesis or NES controller in hand. Moments of awe whenever I found a new secret area. The inexplicable feeling of genuine happiness upon stumbling on a new secret in an old school platformer still resides in my bones, for I felt it many a time in Bonk’s short Adventure.

Gameplay involves slowly running left to right, and sometimes right to left. Instead of usual platform tropes, you use your only move — head-butting, naturally… you are a caveman (with rabies) — to one up the plethora of enemies you will encounter. Level design starts off feeling uncreative, but then takes interesting left turns; at what appears to be a dead end, you must head-butt the head of a giant dinosaur to have him eat you. The next level takes place inside said dinosaur’s body. Neat!

Whenever you “bonk” any enemy with your head, the bad guy will fly into the air and usually dispense something along the lines of uncooked meat or fruit. Apparently, those two are somehow interchangeable.

Digesting two pieces of uncooked meat makes Bonk go from sickly, yours truly pale to one really red dude. I think this might have something to do with the dangers of consuming E. Coli. This transformation also involves him becoming a stark raving lunatic (mad cow disease?) and grants him the ability to destroy everything in his path, albeit for only a moment. Or, more and less accurately, he hit a block with his head and got the invincible star power up. Er, never mind.

The entire experience is actually less reminiscent of Mario and more of Alex Kidd or Decap Attack, early Sega platformers that have a very specific feel and tone. Not the classic experience associated with Ninty developed bliss, but maybe something more “goofy.” It‘s a game that doesn’t have the balls to take itself seriously, nor should it ever have to.

As previously hinted, the difficulty of this simple platformer is hilariously high. The enemies are everywhere. Some require head-butting from below and some from above, and you will die a lot. A thankful concession on part of the developers is of unlimited continues. No matter how many times you die, and no matter how many Game Overs you accumulate during its short playtime, you will still beat the game if you persevere and have enough patience for an afternoon.

Above all else, though, it still is a rather simple platformer among many from its era.

This is an experience that will ultimately be more compelling to those who have already played it or similar platformers in the early ‘90s. If you have, and want your nostalgic bone creepily tickled, this is a pretty great way to do it.

+ Its inherent challenge and/or frustration at least makes it more interesting than the million cookie cutter platformers littered across 8 and 16 bit’s history
+ Graphics are pleasing and decent enough
+ Some interesting level design
+ Great fun for nostalgic junkies

– The controls are not perfect
– It’s really short
– Sometimes too many enemies to really handle
– A little too simple
– Standard non-”story”

 OUT OF 

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Review: Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

It was more than a disappointing decade ago when Nintendo unleashed Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards onto the masses — a game most have since described as “mediocre,” “not Kirby’s best,” “too easy,” and “only meant for kids.” How delightful! These same thoughts echoed through my mind while playing the Virtual Console re-release in early 2008. It just felt dull — Kirby appeared to move about two miles an hour in what seemed like overly simplistic environments. I made it halfway through world two and promptly called it quits before nearly falling into a deep coma.

Alas, slow ass Kirby and I were destined to meet again. The hilariously sad nature of my checking account has resigned me to actually playing through the dozens of old games I already own via the oft neglected Virtual Console but had never finished. Which accounts for probably, oh, 90% of them.

Thanks to the recent Return to Dreamland haunting my brain with glowing praise from many a Nintendo fanboy, I found the second (or third or fourth) best Kirby related thing I could play: this here goofy title. After pushing myself through the first two worlds and reaching the third (only three years later), SURPRISE SURPRISE! I realized I was having a pretty great time!

One caveat: you must accept the easygoing, carefree nature of the Kirby world before playing. Kirby is not just meant for eight year olds — it is also for those who want to have simple, lighthearted fun. Who doesn’t want that? Except like, a lot of people apparently?

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards is a 2.5-D platformer, and that is where most of my enjoyment comes from. The 1/2 is a totally superficial bullet point regarding its presentation, but there is some odd magic derived from this. (Basically, your character moves on a 2D plane — left and right — in environments that are actually three dimensional.) These types of games are rarely made anymore; most developers creating a platformer now settle for a more “classic,” flat look established in the 16-bit era. This is of course fine, but the fake 3D in these forgotten titles is a rather cool distraction. (Game series like Pandemonium and Klonoa fit the bill quite nice.)

As with most Kirby platformers, the pink puff of happiness has the ability to suck up different enemies and mimic their powers. A swiftly moving ball of flames will give you “fire,” a tiny volcano will give you “rock,” etc. These powers are humorous and rather simple by themselves, but unique to this entry is the option of combining two powers — be it the same two ones, like fire and fire (which just amplifies the original power up), or two different ones, like bomb and fire (which transforms Kirby into instant, screen-destroying fireworks).

Every level also contains about three Crystal Shards, thus the title. Of course, there is a general Nintendo-like non-story about collecting all of these to rid Dreamland of evil (which is manifested in black orbs with a creepy eye in the middle), but this will easily be ignored and merely looked upon as The Actual Challenge For Those Who Want It, a transparent feature experienced in all modern Nintendo platformers. The challenge is not finding them per se, although locating some in the later worlds will be difficult — it is more about experimenting with different combinations of powers to obtain the titular objects.

The amount of levels you get is not that many (three/four in each of the six worlds), but collecting all 100 Crystal Shards will take at least a good seven or so hours. The more you play, the more enjoyable the game gets as well; the level design gets tighter and the graphics become kind of pretty — if only in that hilarious N64/PSX way I will always be nostalgic about.

The Crystal Shards is also an anomaly in a couple of ways; while the recent landslide of Nintendo developed 2D platformers has rendered its specialness quite moot, it was absolutely rare in the N64 era — an honest to goodness 2D platformer devoid of those three dimensions and all the awkwardness they used to entail (sluggish camera controls, mostly). The simple nature of this game turned off many a nerd back then, as it almost seemed reductive to just be moving — slowly, too — left, right, and nowhere else.

Another noteworthy thing for useless fact junkies like me, is that it is also one of the only (to my knowledge) 2.5-D platformers Nintendo has ever made.

It is an easy game in hindsight. Once you get past the sections that kill you a few times and grab that shard, there is little reason to go back again (other than for some simple fun, something not many people seem to enjoy). But, hey, I had a lot of fun despite its few shortcomings. It was worth the $10 I spent three and a half years ago, and it is worth your $10, too.

+ A very charming game
+ Simple, relaxing fun
+ New combinations of power ups are always gratifying
+ Great graphics for the N64

– A little too simple and easy
– The music is mostly forgettable late 90s “techno”
– Kirby moves really slow, which makes it hard to get into at first (hint — press the d-pad twice in the direction you want to go)

Percentage of game complete: 100%, about 6 or so hours

 / 

Review: Super Mario Land

Review is for the 3DS Virtual Console re-release.

Super Mario Land is exactly what you expect, and maybe some of what you didn’t. We have (somewhat miraculously) received new 2D iterations of the Mario franchise in recent years, although the results have been slightly disappointing. New Super Mario Bros. for the DS had almost everything but memorable level design — every area was a mishmash of retro ideas and ideals and left barely an impression; coincidentally it is my least favorite Mario main-game. It’s not terrible, but it’s just nothing special, especially in comparison to the other releases.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii was a lot better but still felt somewhat lazy, with “meh” graphics and weird presentational choices (Arial-like fonts in a Mario game? The Wii-ization of gaming complete). At least most of the levels were fun, and there was some decent challenge.

It’s coming to the point where I’m expecting the lesser experience in the new 2D designs versus the new 3D ones, something a nostalgic twit like me never thought would happen. The 2D Mario of the 90s and before was something always truly magical — every single game was a memorable, genre defining experience.

Super Mario Land just reaffirms this belief over and over again in so many ways. The game came out in 1989 for the original Game Boy, is in black and white, and has only a paltry four worlds with three levels apiece, yet is still so much better than the “New” Mario games.

Memorable music, exciting level design, interesting enemy placement/quirks — this is classic Mario through and through. Better yet, it is one of his rare pre-00s adventures that hasn’t been whored out since the invention of the Game Boy Advance — Super Mario Land was released back in the late eighties, and only just now a second time for the 3DS Virtual Console. There’s a good chance you haven’t seen this game with your own eyes in a long time. Or perhaps ever.

(Well, unless you’re a pirate.)

It’s basically a new Mario game for many of us. And it’s still an interesting Mario game, too — 1UPs are achieved by gathering hearts; stepping on paratroopas somehow leads to them becoming bombs and exploding; Mario’s trademark fireball power also doubles as a pinball that zigzags throughout the stage, bouncing off random obstacles; you’re now rescuing a princess named Daisy (Mario was such a whore); the levels have things like Easter Island statues and caves with hieroglyphics everywhere; etc.

Emulation is spot on with the 3DS. Aside from a lengthy (obviously digital) game manual, you’ll get two resolution options and a quick save feature. The ability to save only makes the game about 100 times easier than it was before, but it’s still nice to have. Sadly, the button placement is a little off — run should be where Y is, not B. This is a minor nitpick and has nothing to do with the game itself, and you do get used to it. But it just doesn’t feel as good as it could have.

If you have a 3DS and even a passing interest in the Mario series, you owe it to yourself to download this game. It’s really short but it’s so fun and charming that it’s easily worth the small amount of time you have with it.

*****/*****