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Subject: A Video Game Review: Air Zonk rss

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Looking at these stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all the gravities of terrestrial life. I thought of their unfathomable distance, and the slow inevitable drift of their movements out of the unknown past into the unknown future. H.G. Wells
Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. Chief Seattle

If you have spent any time at all on the Turbo-Grafx 16 you are probably familiar with their mascot Bonk. Air Zonk clearly takes a number of cues from the Bonk series while at the same time branching out on its own. The character Zonk is obviously modeled after Bonk, and you will also find some in game references to the Bonk series, but that is where the similarities end.

Unlike the platforming of Bonk's Adventure or Bonk's Revenge (TG16) Air Zonk is a horizontally sidescrolling shooter. Air Zonk has a lot in common with other Cute 'em Up games such as Fantasy Zone and Parodius. These titles have cute, brightly-colored graphics and a lighthearted tone. But don't let the surface fool you. At the heart of Air Zonk game is a tough-as-nails shooter.

In many ways Air Zonk is a typical shooter. You have almost complete freedom to move around the screen (a small area on the far left is inaccessible), you have a rapid fire gun that shoots straight ahead, you get points for killing enemies, and you can upgrade your weapons with power-ups. But there are some details that separate this from other shooters you have played.

One aspect of Air Zonk that differentiates it from other horizontal shooters is the fact that there are not typically objects in the foreground that need to be avoided. There is at least one stage where there are objects that need to be navigated through, but these areas are the exception rather than the rule.

Another difference is how the weapon upgrade system works. There is a huge variety of weapon upgrades, but each weapon only has one level. This is not one of those shooters where you can keep upgrading your weapon and eventually be destroying most enemies almost as soon as they get onscreen.

While there are no shields in Air Zonk; if you get hit with a weapon upgrade, rather than dying, you will only lose your upgrade. What the upgrades lack in depth, they make up for in breadth. There are a huge number of weapon types available. The most common shrinks the size of your character and doubles your firepower by giving you a second gun that fires in the direction you are traveling and fires at enemies when they are around. Beyond this there are quite a few types of power up. You can get a weapon that fires boomerangs, punching gloves, lightning bolts in all eight directions, metal mouths, homing missiles, explosive playing cards, a steady electrical bolt and more. One of the best parts of Air Zonk is experimenting with different weapons in different areas and trying to find which you like best. These are fairly plentiful in the stages so you can change them up frequently. Unlike most shooters, though, you aren't going to be able to keep your weapon from one stage to the next. You will start each new stage with your base weapon whether you had an upgrade when you finished the prior level or not.

A really fun aspect to Air Zonk is the companion characters. At the beginning of the game you can select either auto, manual or alone. In auto the game will randomly select a companion character for each stage. In manual you will select the companion character yourself and in alone you will not have access to them. Each character can only be selected once, but there are far more than you can use for the five stages of the game. When you first get a companion character they are helpful, but not a huge asset. They fire a relatively low-powered missile straight ahead and fly around the screen rather aimlessly. They do seem they try to stay somewhat near Zonk, but you aren't going to be able to focus their attack say for example on a boss with any degree of precision. If you manage to get another large smiley face while you have a healthy companion character (they can be damaged), then Zonk will merge with the companion character and become super powerful (and invulnerable to attacks for a short period).

Each of these companion characters has a different effect when combined with Zonk. My favorite is the cow which allows you to fire milk bottles that break apart for a lingering area damage effect upon contact with an enemy. Merging with the missile turns you into a fairly standard shooter space ship with a ranged three way attack and merging with a dog fires out the word Bow which ricochets off whatever it hits. Trying out all of these characters adds a fun bit of replayability to the game. Optimally you will probably want to match the companion character to the stage you will be playing, or you can challenge yourself with auto or alone.

Air Zonk does not leave you with just these weapons however. One of the most unique weapons in this game is the foot attack. When your feet get close to an enemy, a blast is fired out from them. It has a small range and it's not always easy to position yourself in such a way as to use it offensively, but it is quite high-powered and has a quick rate of fire. This weapon, if wielded effectively, can make short work even of some bosses. It also works as a defensive tool, since it fires automatically it can kill enemies that you missed coming in on your rear.

You can also charge up your main attack to make it more powerful, and if you charge long enough you will drop a bomb. In most shooters the bomb is an incredible defensive weapon, wiping out all enemy missile attacks while damaging if not destroying whatever is on the screen. Not so much in Air Zonk. The fact that you have to stop firing to charge your weapon means you are quite vulnerable during this period, and the bomb blast does not eliminate enemy missile attacks.

There are a few downsides to the game. While I appreciate the parallax scrolling levels, sometimes the screen gets so busy it is hard to see enemy shots. This is particularly the case against bosses. Another problem is flicker. Again this usually happens when there is a lot on the screen and often against bosses. The flower boss in particular is made much harder in my opinion due to the flicker because it makes it so much more difficult to see its attacks. Another thing I didn't care for is there are a few enemies with magnets that draw your ship in towards them. This is not a feature I care for, I like to control my character in video games.

Overall Air Zonk is an enjoyable shooter. It can be played on three levels of difficulty from Sweet to Spicy to Bitter. I find Sweet difficult enough that I haven't beaten it with a large number of plays under my belt and Bitter is extremely hard. While there are only five stages each is long and has several sections. Air Zonk will appeal to hardcore shooter fans with it's difficulty and more casual fans with it's light hearted and humorous approach.

Originally released for the TurboGrafx-16 in 1992 on HuCard.
Re-released on the Wii Virtual Console.
Single Player
Not Rated
Developed by Red.
Published by Hudson Soft.
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