Woe is the child who grew up with a TurboGrafx-16. Whereas battles of words and wills cropped up endlessly in the schoolyard by stalwart Nintendo and Sega fans in the great console wars of the early 90s, anybody with NEC's home rendition of the PC Engine was the gaming equivalent of Switzerland, a neutral entity that was more interested in spreading peace than sowing the seeds of comeuppance. Or so one can imagine was the case for the solid bronze finisher in said console battles for greatness.
Not to be dismissed entirely, Hudson made sure that it too had all the staple genres covered on its humble machine. Amongst them was the crème de la crème of any proper console launch, the mascot platformer, here represented by a big-hearted (and noggin-ed) cave boy named Bonk. Thanks to some irrelevant accords and peace treaties, Bonk's Adventure has found its way to Nintendo's Virtual Console for Wii U with the love and care you would hope for in a release of one of gaming's oft-maligned historical notes.
Bonk's Adventure doesn't stray far from convention; the titular prehistoric hero must save the dinosaur princess Za from the clutches of the carnivorous King Drool by hopping and bopping his way through jungles, ruins and the occasional innards of a tyrannosaurus. Unlike a certain plumber or hedgehog we know, Bonk isn't as immediately intuitive to control. His large head and small body makes gauging jumps a little trickier as does his head-banging attack. Jumping then attacking proves to be a better solution, but it too suffers from inconsistent hit detection, and your chances of getting hurt increase as it takes Bonk a few seconds to recuperate. Once you've gotten a handle on the finicky controls, however, you'll be floating like a butterfly and head-butting like a bee in no time.
Bonk's Adventure has an interesting power-up system that likewise takes some getting used to, and affects how you play the game once you get a handle on it. As our hero eats conspicuous cuts of meat his colour and temperament change. At the first stage he looks slightly perturbed, but can freeze enemies when he does a diving head-butt on the ground and does double damage. At the next he becomes downright frenzied, which makes him invincible and three times as powerful as before. However, these effects wear off after a time, which tends to make the player rush through levels in order to maximize their damage output before becoming vanilla Bonk again. It's a peculiar approach, but one that makes Bonk's Adventure stand out in what even then was a crowded field.
On your way to King Drool's lair you must traverse five worlds that are littered with levels. Unlike his contemporaries, Bonk's Adventure lacks a certain cohesion or at best a reliable pattern to fall back on. Some worlds contain as little as three but as many as seven levels at a pop. While the game offers unlimited continues, you must start at the beginning of a world should you fail to make it to the next one. This is obviously rectified a bit by the restore point option in this Virtual Console release, but those looking to have a more pure run through may struggle and get frustrated in the process.
Also aggravating are boss battles, which take the aforementioned spotty hit detection and matches it with an equally inconsistent target. For the most part there's an obvious spot you must hit, usually a mind-controlling egg shell on top of your foe's head. Sometimes you can hit it…and sometimes you blithely fall through, often taking damage in the process. Their weak spot's not always weak, and without any kind of tell letting the player know this, annoyance can creep in. Like most boss battles though there are recognisable patterns, but often you won't catch the cues the first couple of times. But being mindful about that is a must, because the popular "boss gauntlet" trope is in full effect towards the end.
It's worth noting that there are a few extra bells and whistles with this Virtual Console release than not only the Wii equivalent, but standard Wii U VC releases as well. The visuals are suitably crisp in the standard 4:3 view, but you can also opt to pull the game into full screen if you so wish. The TurboGrafx-16's turbo switches are back, now represented by X and Y in the default setting. While maybe considered cheating by some, having the option is great and it honestly makes things like floating in the air and climbing walls or trees a little easier knowing you don't have to mash buttons. Add to this its stylized menu and loading jingle and you can tell that there was a lot of thought and care put behind putting Bonk's Adventure on the Wii U.
Unless you grew up throwing down on the little PC Engine that could, Bonk's Adventure doesn't fully stand the test of time. While fun after overcoming its slight learning curve, there's a reason it couldn't compete with the likes of Mario and Sonic back in the day beyond its humble beginnings on a niche console. That doesn't mean it's not worth your time, rather you'll get more out of it if you're either a fan of platformers or gaming history in general. While maybe not entirely solid on a technical level, Bonk's Adventure is as endearing and charming as the grumpy cave boy who stars in it.