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”