Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bonk 3: Bonk's Big Adventure

RED/Hudson Soft - 1993 - U.S.A.

Long before Air Zonk led the TTi flagship as the TurboGrafx/Duo mascot, there was Bonk-- his slower, prehistoric cousin. Bonk's Adventure was a smash hit (no pun intended), a coveted honor its two TG-16 sequels failed to attain. It's hard to pinpoint a precise reason for this, as both were fully competent games and did plenty to cement the series as a milestone in video game history and spawn two further sequels on the Super Nintendo. If I had to venture a guess, it would be that Bonk's Adventure possessed a certain "magic" that was simply impossible to duplicate. All that said, Bonk 3: Bonk's Big Adventure is unquestionably the superior game of the three, and also happens to be my favorite.

I've observed over the years that there are two distinct schools of Bonk fans: the "Revenge (Bonk 2) is best" crowd and the "Revenge is worst" crowd. I fall into the latter category, personally, although part 2 is not a bad game by any means. Some folks in the latter school tend to favor Adventure, and others such as yours truly will stick by Bonk 3 through thick and thin.

Bonk 3 was an interesting animal, released in the later years of the Duo's life in the US. To confuse matters further, it was given releases on both on cartridge (HuCard) and CD. The CD version featured a fully redbook soundtrack (goodbye chiptunes) and more bonus rounds.

Bonk 3: Bonk's Big Adventure does quite a bit to live up to its name; honestly, the game is huge, almost to a fault. Levels are very large and quite dynamic in nature. There is so much to see and do, although not every nook and corner need be explored in order to complete the game. There are many secrets to find, tons of points to be scored and lots of fun to be had in the process. I was delighted to discover the bounce-enemies-on-your-head-for-major-points trick is back after being curiously omitted from Revenge. Also, the spin jump is once again easy to control after, again, being broken in Revenge. By far the biggest change to the gameplay, however, is the addition of candy that when eaten will allow you to change the size of Bonk to facilitate being able to reach otherwise unreachable areas. This feature is seemlessly integrated into the classic Bonk gameplay, done so without the slightest slowdown or flicker when Bonk is big and taking up 1/3rd of the screen. This concept stuck for following entries, and was even taken a step further in the 5th game in the series ("Super Bonk 2" on the SNES) with powerups that change Bonk's phyiscal shape, akin to the morphing in Air Zonk.

There are advantages to being both big and small.

There are plenty of secrets to find if you know where to look.

Back again are the bonus rounds, of course, better than ever. Some of the rounds in Bonk 3 take a little more skill to master than those in earlier adventures, and that's no bad thing. You'll find seven all new bonus rounds here, as well as one from Revenge that makes a return, with a twist.

After beating every boss, you get a chance to "pay-to-play" bonus rounds for bonus points.

Bonk 3 doesn't hesitate to inform you when you suck.

Level design is certainly a strong point in Bonk 3. Aside from the aforementioned sheer size of the areas, locations are varied and interesting throughout. You start the game in a familiar area (to anyone who has played Revenge) of the Dinosaur Kingdom, but quickly venture into uncharted territories. Of note are the intruiging Underground Pyramid and Giant's Room stages, the latter of which apparently inhabited by super-sized humanoids whose offspring you'll encounter en route.

One of the biggest complaints I hear regarding Bonk 3 is the recycling of enemies from past Bonk episodes. What isn't mentioned is that just as often the enemies you encounter will be completely new and original: the best of both worlds. One thing I really love in video games is when the developers show the gumption to develop an enemy or character for a one-off use. There are plenty such instances in Bonk 3, which makes the journey just that much more interesting.

This guy will swallow you up-- your only recourse being to make short work of his innards.

In general, the bosses in Bonk 3 live up to the Bonk standard with memorable, creative designs. "Snippy," the mechanical crab and "Angela," the snail-squid icognito are a couple personal favorites.

You can't argue the fact that from a technical standpoint, Bonk 3 is the best the series ever looked on the Duo. A large part of that aforementioned "magic" in the first episode had a lot to do with the artistic style of the graphics, an aesthetic I find has not aged very well, especially compared with part 2 and 3. Bonk 3 carries over the graphic engine from part 2 with a few minor improvements.

The soundtrack follows the rest of the game's standard of excellence, and features one song I consider to be the best in the entire series. Also of note is that the Bonk 3 soundtrack is composed of entirely original numbers, whereas parts 1 and 2 shared a few tunes. Despite the competency of the music here, I'll actually go out on a limb and say the soundtrack in Bonk's Adventure is superior, but only just.

There is just so much to do in Bonk 3, it's virtually impossible to take it all in in one playthrough, thus upping the replay value. I go back and play Bonk 3 a couple times a year and occasionally I'll even discover a new secret or something I didn't know about before. Sometimes I'll just go on a high score run to see if I can clear it and beat my previous record. Another aspect that shouldn't go unmentioned is a brand new simultaneous 2-player mode, a first for the series. Again adding replay value, this mode is just fantastic for tackling the game with a friend. It works so well, it's a real shame the prior two entries didn't have a 2-player option. It's a pity picking up the game proves to be so cost-prohibitive, but if you've got a JP->US adapter, JP system, or region modded console you can always pick up the JP version instead for a reasonable $20.

To be frank, really the only problem with Bonk 3 isn't with the game itself-- it's the price it fetches on the used market. You'd think a game that came out on both mediums would be plentiful in supply. You'd think wrong. I was lucky enough to pick this one up back in '93 when it first came out for a bargain price of $40 USD. Today, in '09, you'll be lucky to pay under $100 for the game, as a loose cart or disc. It's no small wonder people berate the game as "not being worth the money." Would you pay $100 for a loose Super Mario Bros. 3 cart? Yeah, I didn't think so.

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