One of the strangest franchises I’ve ever come across was Bonk. Mascot platformers were already plenty strange to begin with, but this caveman focused series decided to just going into subject matter of pure nonsense and randomness for the sake of it. Super Bonk, the SNES entry for the series, may very well be one of the damned weirdest games I’ve ever play, and that at least deserves some applause, even if the rest of the product has some problems.
The game begins with King Drool, Bonk’s regular giant dinosaur villain, tricking the poor guy with the promise of meat and sending him to the future with a time machine (just roll with it), leading to Bonk having to track his way back to Drool and get his revenge. Everything that happens from this point on makes absolutely no sense, but hey, that’s the point. If Super Bonk has a style to it, that style would be described as absolute absurdity.
All six stages take place in wildly different settings. For example, you start out in China, or some “China Town” in some unknown part of the world. Not long after, you’re in Paris, which is referred to in the game as “The Bad City” (I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried). Stage one ends with a fight with a giant moon-robo-dragon on the top of a commercial airplane. Other levels include a house owned by dinosaurs, ancient pyramids in the moon, and the death star. As I stated earlier, the style here is absolute absurdity.
This lack of sense carries over to power-ups, as grabbing blue candy makes Bonk grow huge, while grabbing red candy makes him shrink. He doesn’t become weaker, just smaller. You gain special abilities in these modes, like removing your head and rolling it around as a weapon of mass destruction when giant, or shouting “RAGE!” and then riding the physical stone letters of “RAGE!” around when small. Getting meat can also turn you into stern faced Bonk, who’s normal attack is changed into a death stare that turns enemies to stone, and becomes half chicken and lays exploding eggs when giant. You can also turn into what can only be described as a nightmare drawn by a 1960s manga artist that has a ranged attack with its freakishly long tongue, and turns into Godzilla on some sort of high grade crack when giant. Oh, and when this perversion of Bonk is giant, it can turn invisible, and therefore invincible. Yup.
I haven’t even begun to describe the sheer lunacy on display here. It’s like the entire development process behind this entry was to see just how much the developers could top their previous games in sheer sanity assault, as something bizarre and new is constantly being thrown at your face. There are even extra parts of the stages you can only access by letting certain enemies eat you! What game does that!? It’s just so manic that I can’t help but be impressed, helped by the colorful and crisp SNES pixel work.
The problem is that the game proper can’t really match its presentation. Level design is a bit mixed, as not every stage takes into account Bonk’s weird set of power-ups, which becomes a problem when you’re giant. Enemies range from non-threat to obnoxious, especially when they re-spawn quickly, like with the dragonflies. Difficulty is in a similar range, as the game is generally very easy, outside some spots that drag on too long. Any area that requires you to platform with “RAGE!” shouting sucks all the fun out of the wonderful oddity on display, as momentum comes to a complete stop.
The bosses are especially disappointing. There’s only six of them, but only two are any good. The first two are dirt easy, the third is designed in an obtuse and frustrating manner (though is still little of a challenge), the forth is just a pain if you’re not giant, and the fifth and six are absurdly difficult for this particular game.
On a positive note, the Bonk series has always had interesting combat and platforming systems, and that’s not exception here. Bonk can headbutt nearby enemies with his noggin, but he can also jump up into them or slam his head down at an arc while in the air. That dive attack can also be cancelled out of, giving a glide of sorts. The game makes great use of these abilities, and Bonk’s added invulnerability gives the game its own flavor you can’t find in any other series. You can even fall jump by bonking, which is a tad confusing at times because it requires the use of the attack button and not the jump button, but it works well enough, especially when tiny. However, the jumping here is really floaty and difficult to control at times. It’s not as bad as the suicide dive of a jump from Actraiser, but it makes segments that require precisions a bit tricky needlessly, like the bouncy cloud sections.
As a platformer, Super Bonk is very mixed, but I think it works for the most part. Its problems aren’t too serious, and what it does right gives it a style no game could ever possibly copy properly. Bonk has always been something so strange mechanically and aesthetically, a breath of fresh air that we desperately need back on the scene. It’s a gem of a series with a lot of poorly made cuts around it, and Super Bonk is definitely the prettiest of the bunch. You can play a better platformer, true, but you can’t play another game just as headscratchingly enjoyable as Bonk.
Final Score: 6/10