Those of us who had a TurboGrafx-16 back in the day usually remember the system fondly. There's something about being an oppressed owner of the 'wrong' console that fosters a stronger attachment to the device. Every now and then though we could point to a game we were playing that justified our affection, something that the other consoles didn't have, something that didn't suck as mightily as most of our games. Bonk's Adventure, and its sequel Bonk's Revenge, were two of these games. Released as PC Genjin in Japan (Genjin roughly translating to 'prehistoric man') the title was an obvious play on PC Engine, the Japanese name for the TurboGrafx.
Both of them were very amazing platform games, with unique gameplay elements, excellent graphics and sound, and high production values. Bonk became the mascot for the TurboGrafx and until its death was the face associated with the console. It was a very, very good game. All the subsequent releases however failed to impress: A third PC Engine release, a game boy outing, and two appearances on the Super NES. None of these were very good - the tight design and restrained presentation were lost, and instead these games were a non-stop cavalcade of ludicrous unfun. The careful, steady pacing was turned into a jumbled mess. Gone too was the linear progression, replaced with more open levels demanding backtracking and exit-hunting. Suffice it to say that in my humble opinion the Bonk series began and ended with the first two PC Engine/TG releases.
It was with no small amount of concern then that I approached the Bonk demo running on a GameCube at the Hudson/Konami booth at TGS in September. Would they go back to the original formula, or would they go berzerk and heap the goodies in like they did with the latter games, ruining the experience? To my great delight they went with the former path,and the few minutes I spent with the game were a great joy. Together with Scott of Insert Credit fame we both came away feeling that not only was the new Bonk faithful, it was good on its own merits and in fact was our game of show.
Fast forward to now, December 4th 2003, when Bonk's Adventure is finally being released as title #3 in Hudson's retro collection, alongside such classic remakes as Adventure Island and the previously released Star Soldier + Lode Runner. Hudson has really outdone themselves with this release. Featuring many familiar looking levels the new game has been shortened considerably. There's not really any question the levels in the first game were too long, with too much unnecessary repetition. The new version has cut out all the filler, leaving only the good stuff behind. I'll let you know how that affects the overall longevity as soon as I dig up that answer for myself.
The graphics are, of course, all new. Utilizing polygon player and enemy characters the range of expression from every creature in the game is thrilling. A serious danger of making the move from 2D to 3D is losing the charm and character that makes hand-drawn sprites so appealing, and in this respect Hudson has not by any means let us down. Bonk's moves are now gloriously animated, with delightfully deranged expressions for everything he does. Indeed, the new Bonk has been carefully crafted by artists who know exactly how far to push the angry cross-eyed lunatic look without making it ugly or unappealing - a line Bonk 3 crossed. Everything is happily animated, from the enemies to the now fanged smiley-faces Bonk collects on every stage.
Most of the items from the earlier games have made their comeback here. The floret flowers are there, as are the bonus fruits - though in the new game fruits are used for more than just points, You can collect all six fruits in a stage for a 1-up. Collecting plays a larger part in this game, as 1-ups are no longer awarded for points (though you can still juggle baddies for points if you like). Collect all six fruit in a stage or 100 fang-faces and you'll receive a 1-up. Early on this results in a lot of extra men, which is a good thing 'cause you'll chew through 'em all quick when you meet the bosses for the first time. Familiar though they may be, they're back with new tricks and they're not as weak this time. Back too are the mini-games between and during levels: jump into the air and spin as many times as you can; chew your way up a cliff face before the timer runs out and similar madness.
Oh, yes, the meat. The meat is back too, larger and better looking than ever, with new animations when you eat it, and more deranged glares from our hero. Different this time around is the timing - no longer does the meat time out after a while, reducing you to a lesser Bonk. When you eat one or two pieces of meat you'll remain in that powered-up stage until you take a hit (which happened all too often, I confess). The exception is the 'invincible meat' which makes you indestructible for only a short time.
The levels are, by and large, very familiar. There are a few new tweaks, but you have played this before. It's not all new this time, but it's certainly, as far as I'm concerned, new enough. The graphics overhaul alone when done for such a deserving game is worth the price of admission. There are the obligatory bonuses too, such as original TV commercials and extra game modes (harder and way harder, and something else I haven't yet translated), as well as a sound test - the only thing unlocked from the start.
Music is overhauled, with a lovely modern remix of all the familiar bonk tunes. Most of the sound effects are similarly redone but some of them, like spinning in mid-air, sound like they've been sampled from the original. This is not a bad thing. There is one questionable design decision though - the use of written cartoon-like sound effects that float into the air and fade away from nearly every action, including walking. There are many of these, and they differ depending on how much meat you've had, and there's random sounds for many actions like hitting enemies. I got used to them more quickly than I thought I would, but I might not have used 'em were it my game.
If you liked Bonk, you'll like this. It's that simple. A simple, no-nonsense platformer with oldschool values, making this what all remakes should strive to be: in every way an improvement over the original. It's very cheap too, all of the Hudson Collection series is priced at under three thousand Yen.
It's the same, but different!
I don't remember this part
A new expression when swinging
Still using teeth as climbing tools
Loves the meat!
A subtle clue
Old boss, new tricks