Promo Man: ‘Bonk for President’, the Bonk RPG and more

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A super-deformed, chibi caveman is exactly the kind of thing I’d expect to fall out of Japan in the 90’s. Starring in one of the more vibrant and enjoyable games for the PC-Engine, Bonk was quickly turned into a mascot for NEC and the TurboGrafx-16. But I don’t think the marketing team thought much beyond having a face to go head-to-head (pardon) with Sonic and Mario.

  • A bright, super fast, anthropomorphic hedgehog with attitude
  • A lively plumber with an endless array of clever power-ups and lively worlds
  • A bald, pale, slow moving, caveman with an exceedingly large head

It didn’t take long for the competition to point out the differences but the marketing folks kept at it. Bonk’s bland face, crudely redrawn to “appeal to the West”, appeared in numerous TG-16 ads. I seem to remember them trying to spin his “head banging” prowess and when that didn’t work they took a cue from the political campaign handbook: support the children and no one can touch you. “Nintendo, how can you call Bonk lame and dated when he’s supporting our nation’s kids? You can’t! *please buy a TurboGrafx*”.

They didn’t have to hold out for long though as Hudson was transplanting Bonk into a futuristic, side scrolling shooter that was even weirder and more colorful than his namesake series. NEC/TTI quickly replaced Bonk with Zonk as the mascot face of their marketing efforts in 1992. Along the way Bonk made a surprise appearance on the Game Boy (I was terribly confused by this as a kid) and there were plans to create a top down, Final Fantasy style role-playing game. It’s one of gaming’s numerous could-have-beens and you can see a little of it in this scan from a 1992 issue of EGM.

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