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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Some Retrospective: Air Zonk

Bad dudes in shades? Just another one of the countless things ripped off by Will Smith.
Just a quick blurb to assure you all that I'm just busy and not dead. I thought I'd take a moment to remember one of Red Company's greatest games. Air Zonk is the one title besides Bomberman '93, that I always find myself coming back to on the TurboGrafx-16. I'm not certain how many times I've beaten it, but I thought I'd take a second to share my feelings with everyone out there.

Air Zonk is a shoot em up from 1992 from the famed developers of Gate of Thunder, and Lords of Thunder. Oddly enough, it actually fits into the Bonk's Adventure canon, as the main antagonist is King Drool, and Zonk is either a Cyborg Bonk, or sent into the future by Bonk to fight Drool's descendants. Zonk was primarily created to "out-attitude" Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog, and took over as mascot for the Turbo-Grafx 16 in North America. A Horizontal shooter, the difficulty isn't really on par with R-type, and other games of its ilk, but the gameplay far exceeds them as far as I'm concerned. 

It just doesn't get much better than this...
Beyond it's beautiful color palette, complex parallax scrolling, and the insane amount of sprites on screen at any given time, Air Zonk can best be described as "whimsical." Even hardcore shooter fans admit that the cartoony chaos has a charm all its own. Gamplay wise, Air Zonk is packed with powerups. Though powerful in their own rite, your weaponry feels downright cheap at times when charging up the alternate-fire mode and filling the screen with shards of hot death flying everywhere. The only thing that may deter you from getting crazy with the big guns is periodic slowdown. Sometimes the Turbo just can't handle the sheer amount of crap onscreen and slows up a little bit. That aside, this is still a crowning technical achievement for the system, and well worth playing if you haven't.

Along with the impressively huge selection of weapons peppered throughout each stage, you can also charge button I to spit out a huge, sunglasses-wearing bomb that fills the screen with destruction and kills everything. It seems that not even your console is safe as this attack almost always causes the game to hiccup, but kudos to Red for not cutting back on the devastation! You also have rocket shoes that either activate automatically when someone gets too close from behind, or that you can fire by hitting select. There's an assortment of buddies you can choose from as well, who appear and fuse with Zonk once you receive two giant smilies to create even more attacks! Have you ever encountered so many different ways to kill things in a game?

I could go on and on about the bosses that fill up the screen, insane powerups and beautiful levels which aren't just rehashes and palette-swaps, but this is already running longer than I'd like. Suffice it to say, you should drop what you're doing and either find an original copy at a place like eStarland, or download it on the Wii Virtual Console.

Summing it up
+ Beautiful graphics that seem to go beyond the TurboGrafx-16's native capabilities
+ Fast action that keeps you on your toes despite how much firepower you're boasting
+ Incredible music
+ Weapons, weapons, and more weapons
+ Rocket shoes!
+ Massive bosses that fill the screen
+/- Though incredible to execute, some of the attacks are so devastating that it almost 
      feels like cheating to use them
- Random slow down
+ They had me at "Lightning bolt mohawk"


  1. Sigh, I *love* this game. The art is amazing, for starters, and then there's the parallax and the music and the weaponry. Truly one of the best games on the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16.

  2. Agreed! One of my favorite bits in ANY game I've ever played is the "Cyber-Bonk" bit of the last stage. Where they pull back the curtain and robot-dinosaurs attack you within the inner-workings of Drool's fortress. Classic!

  3. Ha! Yes, I love that part too. I really have to play this again. It has been *way* too long...