January 31st, 2001 was a historic date for the video game industry. On that day, SEGA, once a powerhouse console manufacturer who would be the first to truly take the fight to Nintendo on North American soil, announced that they were exiting the hardware industry and would proceed to develop and publish software as a third-party for the very platform holders that had only hours prior been seen as their sworn competition.
This came as a shock to many, SEGA fans especially. The company would go on to announce a port of Sonic Adventure 2 for Nintendo’s GameCube, as well as a new title for the Game Boy Advance, Sonic Advance. To this day, some still can’t quite get over the sight of Sonic the Hedgehog not only appearing on non-SEGA platforms (not that he didn’t when SEGA was still in the hardware game — Sonic Pocket Adventure on the NEOGEO Pocket Color, anyone? — but I digress), but even appearing alongside longtime rival Mario in a sporting setting such as the Olympics.
That said, it wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened. History has a way of repeating itself, and a similar scenario had played out some years earlier during the fourth generation of video game consoles. With the recent announcement of the full lineup of titles for the TurboGrafx-16 mini console, let’s talk about Bonk.
Bonk was created by Hudson Soft as the mascot for the TurboGrafx-16 console produced in a partnership with NEC Corporation. A diminutive caveman with an enormous noggin, Bonk would travel across the land and use his crushing cranium to do as his name suggests, all in the name of defeating the evil dinosaur, King Drool, and rescuing the good dinosaur princess, Za.
Bonk’s Adventure was a slightly unique take on the sidescrolling hop ‘n bop platformer. As you can see in the commercial above, the key is in how to use Bonk’s head, which often necessitates flipping him upside-down in mid-air so that he can properly *ahem* bonk his enemies, or keeping him right-side up to bounce projectiles back.
For the TurboGrafx-16 fan base, it was enough. Bonk’s Adventure (included on the TurboGrafx-16 under its Japanese title, PC Genjin) would inspire two sequels on the platform, Bonk’s Revenge (also included as its English version) and Bonk 3: Bonk’s Big Adventure (not included). A spin-off/sequel series would also be created in a shoot ’em up starring Bonk’s far-flung future descendant, Air Zonk (also included), who would act as the de facto mascot in his ancestor’s stead and go on to get his own sequel, Super Air Zonk: Rockabilly-Paradise (also not included) for the TurboGrafx-CD.
Of course, it wasn’t to last (you don’t see new NEC consoles fighting it out against Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch today, after all). The SEGA vs. Nintendo war eclipsed TurboGrafx-16 in the west, and while the console did find success in its native Japan as the PC Engine, its Japan-exclusive successor, the PC-FX, was not so fortunate.
The PC-FX would forego the direction its predecessor had taken with regards to the kind of software on offer, and so Bonk would find himself looking to Nintendo for a new home. Fortunately, developer/publisher Hudson remained a long-established Nintendo third-party, so it felt like a natural fit.
In 1994, Hudson would start the year by bringing Bonk’s Adventure to the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, and end it by bringing an all-new Bonk title, Super Bonk, to the 16-bit Super NES.
Much like the platform he represented, however, it seems that Bonk just couldn’t find the solid footing needed outside of Japan. Unfortunately, it could be argued that without a platform supporting him, Bonk wasn’t much more successful there, either. It was enough that Super Bonk would get a Japan-only sequel, Chō Genjin 2, as well as some Game Boy releases, but as other projects (such as a role playing game and a Nintendo 64 title that would become Bomberman Hero) were cancelled, 1995 would mark the end for Bonk’s adventures.
Or so it seemed. Bonk would reemerge as a part of the Do the Hudson!! line of 2008 mobile game releases (though specifics as to what these entail is tough to come by), and his original adventures would see new life on the Wii Virtual Console, with Bonk’s Adventure appearing on the service’s launch day and others following soon thereafter.
Bonk very nearly saw a resurgence of sorts earlier this decade, as Hudson was developing Bonk: Brink of Extinction for not only WiiWare, but also Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network:
Sadly, it was not to be. As stated by Unseen64, it was shelved (along with a planned Bonk 3D for the Nintendo 3DS that’s never been seen) by Konami following their purchase of Hudson Soft in 2011 as a means of saving money. The game was reportedly already finished, but with Konami showing interest in releasing video games again, perhaps they’ll decide to dust this one off again.
In the meantime, until and unless Konami decides to release a Bonk anniversary collection, we’ll just have to make do with the handful of offerings on the TurboGrafx-16 mini when it comes out next year.