Friday, July 3, 2009

Bonk's Revenge

RED/Hudson Soft - 1991 - U.S.A.

Bonk's Revenge was the first Bonk title I ever owned. I remember saving my allowance for like 2 months so I could buy it the week it was released. I loved the game so much, it wasn't long before I made it a point to pick up Adventure. I even convinced one of my best friends to pick up Bonk's Revenge for the Gameboy. Much to our dismay, the Gameboy game..... sucked. It wasn't Bonk's Revenge, it wasn't even similar aside from the fact that it starred Bonk. I'm pretty sure this pissed my friend off, and made him even more envious of me because I owned a TurboGrafx-16 and he didn't. Oh well, I digress.

I look back on those early years of the TurboGrafx-16 with fondness, and much nostalgia. For a long time, Revenge ranked as one of my favorite video games. Over time, however, I grew more and more fond of Bonk's Adventure as the better experience. Then came Bonk 3, and at some point Revenge slipped from favorite to forgotten. I still go back and revisit Revenge every year or so, but unlike Adventure with its timeless magic, and Bonk 3 with its vast areas to explore, Revenge is just sort of..... there. I can't remember a time when I didn't know the game like the back of my hand-- every enemy, every secret. Being able to go back and replay the game with countless more gaming hours under my belt has afforded me the luxury of judging the game probably a little more objectively than my younger self.

Bonus rounds!

Collecting enough faces ears you a ride on a train where your friends offer moral support.

Bonk's Revenge is the black sheep of the series. The control is flawed, the classic gameplay is broken, and all the rules you know from part 1 and 3 you can throw out the window. Bonk is sluggish to respond, especially during the gameplay-crucial spin attacks. This artificially increases the difficulty of the game, a factor which is nullified by the surplus of extra lives to be found throughout the journey and the ease with which they are obtained. The result is a dynamic that becomes extremely irritating very quickly. Gone without a trace is possibly my favorite aspect of the Bonk games: being able to consecutively bounce an enemy combatant on your head for bonus points. Bonk's Revenge also borrows heavily from the soundtrack of Bonk's Adventure, making it the only game in the series to re-use music from a previous entry. Don't get me wrong. The Adventure soundtrack is a classic to be sure, but I would have appreciated more original numbers here. Florets also behave completely different in this episode.

Not that any of the Bonk games offer too much in the way of challenge, but Revenge was rendered unncessarily easy by increasing the maximum number of heart containers from five to eight. Add to this abundant extra men not-so-hidden in the levels and you've got a recipe for an easy clear. Too easy, if you ask me. The fifth stage doesn't even have a boss!

Revenge isn't all bad news, however; the new graphical engine gives Bonk a much needed facelift, seating the series a little more firmly in the 16-bit generation. You'll encounter waves of new enemies, many of which don't appear in any of the other four Bonk episodes. Level design is also much improved over Adventure, with stages less linear and more exploration-friendly, a concept not fully realized until Bonk 3. One success I'll grant Revenge is the revised Floret functionality, and I find it curious they didn't keep running with the idea in the later sequels. You can change the color of some Florets by bonking them (the color of the Floret determining it's behavior when you jump on it). Yellow Floret Sprungs can also be moved by bonking them, which if you ask me is a stroke of pure genius that wasn't even fully utilized.

Bonk's Revenge isn't an awful game by any means, but it's difficult to judge an episode in a series without comparing it to its fellows, and by those criteria I find it to be the weakest link.

Some of the bosses of Bonk's Revenge, including the iconic Dodogie (upper right).

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