Tuesday, May 19, 2009

VC look: Bonk's Revenge

As the story goes while Nintendo systems had Mario, Sega systems had Sonic, Turbografx-16 systems had Bonk(okay the SNES game got a couple Bonk titles as well). From the name you expect a little caveman who crushes his enemies with his giant head and that's about what you'd expect. It seems a bit odd perhaps that I'm focusing this review on the second game in the series but from what I've heard this game just happens to be considered the best in the series, leaving me little reason to pick up the other releases.

Like any other platformer you must lead Bonk through a variety of strange and wonderful prehistoric levels. Also like most other platformers a boss awaits at the end of each level, testing the skills you have honed throughout the course of the stage. Also hidden throughout each level are little flowers that when picked up lead Bonk to a bonus round. Here he can perform simple tasks for smilies. At the end of each stage you can trade your smilies in for some great rewards(like 1ups and hearts that extend your maximum health). While the typical prehistoric trappings pervade the game the designers never play it serious as you're likely to stumble into a vacation paradise, break into an boat, and generally see more than just volcanoes and caves.

Many of the levels are broken up into high & low paths. The high path is easier and contains more goodies while the lower path has more traps and enemies, but at times a very useful shortcut or maybe a really good hidden item. Many platformers uses this style of level design(like the Sonic The Hedgehog series). 

Like any other platform-hero Bonk can walk and jump. His strongest ability however is his head and all the moves that are tied to the proper usage of it. While standing Bonk can deliver a decent headbutt which can be used to move spring-flowers around and take out enemies nearby. Your main source of attack however is going to be your jumping headbutt, which is sort of a combination of Mario's jump and Yoshi's butt-stomp from Yoshi's Island. With a bit of momentum you can jump and then come crashing down upon your poor enemies. If you make contact the enemy will be damaged or destroyed and you'll bounce upward ready to keep going or go for another hit(it's important to note that even though you land head first you rebound feet first, so with good timing you can handle enemies quickly and efficiently). Also while jumping any enemies you bump into from below are taken out as well. Also by mashing the button(or just using one of the handy turbo-buttons) you can slowly glide which is always good for those harder jumps and finding the many secrets hidden throughout each stage. You'll find many other uses for your head(& absurdly large teeth for that matter) like bouncing off walls, swinging through trees, and so on. Bonk has many abilities in this game but they're easy to figure out and even simpler to use, making exploration a fairly painless process.

The very first stage is sort of an in-game tutorial(but without the text telling you exactly how to do everything). There's tons of goodies floating or lying around and your only enemies are actually asleep. Goodies take the form of food(while they all give points only healthy items give...health), the previously mentioned smilies, pretty things like butterflies and flowers(points), 1ups & health-extenders & meat. Meat not only gives health but doles out special powers. The first time you grab meat you can turn enemies to stone, a second piece of meat while in this state(or a giant meat) leads to flame breath and a short period of invincibility. 

Your enemies mostly consist of egg-shell wearing evil dinos that take on a number of abilities depending on the theme of the stage. If you're in a cave they'll be wearing miner-hats and wielding pick-axes, outside they could be dressed like a caveman and throwing hatchets, you get the idea. Most enemies are a simple one hit & done affair but mid-bosses and many larger enemies take more hits and must be hit from in a specific spot(which is usually the one that doesn't look spikey and dangerous). Thankfully for the most part the mechanics are quite solid(your own head actually has a smaller hit-box) and the game is quite generous with the extra lives and food. Enemies also tend to telegraph their attacks by pausing for a second, which makes everything just a little bit easier. Though one also has to be careful because if Bonk lands on his head after a missed jumping headbutt he's left open to attack. 

For a bad game one has to look harder to find positives while for a good game one has to look harder for negatives. Since Bonk's Revenge is a good game I managed to dig up a few. The biggest fault is the over-abundance of bonus rounds. In order to assure the maximum reward at the end of each stage you have to get 50 smilies, that's five bonus rounds. Sure there are smilies sitting around each stage but if you're going for the highest possible scores you'll have to do every bonus round you can find. Though there's a decent variety in the rounds you'll have seen them all by the third stage and it'll get tiring having to do them over and over. Even if you don't care for the bonus lives you're still missing out on a ton of points. But if you don't care for score I guess it isn't a big deal(especially since this game doesn't even keep track of high-scores). Another more minor annoyance is that when you die only three of your hearts are refilled(completely ignoring all of those bonus hearts you've picked up). This kind of goes against all those smilies, bonus points, and extra lives you've picked up and can be quite frustrating. Also while it is balanced out by the tons of food lying around the amount of times the player can get hit through the course of the stage can be a serious nuisance. The third boss is for me at least the lowest point of this game. She represents a very un-even jump in difficulty and until you figure out her admittedly easy strategy it can result in a couple lives lost. Another minor issue is that somehow I triggered a warp and I ended up skipping a stage. I really wish these were optional. Also some areas have an unfortunate lack of food yet a large number of enemies, which again leads to quite a bit of frustration. The bone-pteradons aren't exactly perfect either, as while you can only hit them from the sides or above fighting two or more is an absolute pain. You may say I'm reaching on a few of these issues but for me they all take enjoyment away from the game. 

A really good aspect about this game is that when you hit an enemy but don't kill them the game gives it a specific sound, which is great as many enemies share the same animations for getting hit and getting killed, making it easier for the player to deal with their surroundings. Also the game provides clever ways of re-inforcing the basics of the gameplay. Near the beginning of stage 3 is a tri-ceratops. It's an easy fight but in order to reach some of the nearby goodies you have to bounce off of him. In the very next section of the stage you can reach a 1up among other items by bouncing off the snowflakes. Also nice is that your slightly smaller hitbox isn't affected by goodies, making them very easy to pick up. One other interesting aspect is that when you fall off a ledge as opposed to jumping off, there's a tell-tale sound and you drop much faster than if you simply jumped. This can be useful in some situations if you know where to apply it.

To conclude if you haven't bought this game already via the VC or your TG-16 you should consider it. It's a decent platformer with a good mechanics and great level variety. Though Bonk's Revenge is barred from greatness by some unfortunate issues you could probably do worse.

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