What if I told you that there was a game set in space, in which you took control of a team of animals (mainly monkeys) who were hell-bent on colonising planets in a way that feels like a more targeted version of Tetris? Well, I’m sure you would have told me to cut back on the cheese before bed.
But no, this is not a nightmare or fever dream; this is an incredibly charming party game where you and your simian friends are tasked with building a whole host of structures consisting of all sorts of different bits and pieces. And it’s called Bonkies.
You can play solo, or with up to three others locally, however two player co-op forms the bulk of the game. During the co-op campaign, each level will carry a recommendation of how many players should attempt it. Thankfully, those that require more than two players to clear aren’t mandatory, and can be attempted with who you have, or skipped altogether. The solo campaign is shorter, as the focus of Bonkies is to enjoy the experience with friends, work cooperatively to beat each level, and ultimately colonise each planet.
However, given that there’s only local play on offer with the Xbox version of the game, and we are all still confined to our homes, that may be easier said than done. Those who buy the game for PC will be able to play online via Steam’s “remote play”, but sadly there’s no online option for those who own the console version. What a shame.
Anyway, Bonkies starts off relatively straightforward. The puzzles are to be solved by stacking blocks in such a way as to fill the blue silhouette in each level. You need all of your pieces to fill the space, and this is tracked by a % meter. Below this, there is also an indication of how many stages there are for each level. Each stage indicates a further extension to your structure and you won’t clear the level until all are completed, and your structure holds for three seconds at the end. Think of that puzzle from the TV game show The Cube where you have to stack increasingly slim cylinders on top of each other, then step back and hope the tower remains standing. That pretty much sums the premise up.
Your “apestronaut” is kitted out with a banana-fuelled jetpack and powerful robo-arm. You can use the A, B, X and Y buttons to stabilise your robo-arm once you’ve grabbed on to a block with the RT, to help place them more accurately. At the same time, you’ll need to use your jetpack to lift heavier blocks by pressing down on the LT to boost.
The blocks arrive in all different shapes and sizes from conveyor belts at each side of the screen. But before long, things start to get a little more complicated. For example, you’ll be dealing with glass blocks, which will break into smaller blocks if they take enough damage. This is not always a bad thing however, and sometimes it’s necessary to solve a puzzle.
You’ll also come across blocks which can be fixed into place anywhere on the stage, even in mid-air, nuclear fusion blocks which will explode if they take a few knocks, and timed bomb blocks which if held onto for too long will, you guessed it, explode. Just one wrong move could trigger one of these to detonante and force you to start the puzzle again from the very beginning.
Not only this, but you’ll need to use yellow support girders (which don’t count towards filling the blue silhouette area) and jetpack blocks to build all sorts of structures, such as those floating in water, suspended in the air acting as a see-saw, or an actual rocket which then needs to be launched. The ambition and clever puzzle design is really well-realised thanks to the tight gameplay and responsive control setup. What helps is that the physics in Bonkies is finely tuned and pretty much spot on, which can be both good and bad depending on how much you enjoy a challenge.
Two player co-op is great fun and the best way to play, requiring planning, quick decision making and lightning fast reactions to clear the levels within the time limit. Before long you’ll be barking orders at each other (you’ll most likely notice I refer to this in every local co-op game review, as it’s always the first thing to happen), wincing and holding your breath as you attempt to stabilise your creation to clear the level. If you’re feeling brave enough, you can try for all the bonus bananas by completing the levels within the even quicker time limits, which will unlock new characters. Be warned though, this is no easy task.
All in all Bonkies offers lots of level variety, and this isn’t just limited to the gameplay. In a way reminiscent of Super Mario Galaxy, you’ll travel to different planets and, once on them, globetrot from level to level. In the co-op campaign, you’ll start on Earth, and then travel to the Moon and beyond!
It’s worth stressing that Bonkies is absolutely adorable. This is mostly thanks to the cheery cast of monkeys, alongside some other animal companions that can be unlocked as you play. It’s bright and bold, but despite being simple is still an attractive game to the eyes. Not only this, but the music is calm and mellow which makes for a pretty relaxing experience for the most part.
However, despite being aimed at all ages, including kids, Bonkies still offers plenty of challenge. This is mainly because the accurate physics makes the margin of error so small that one mistake can quite literally topple any hopes of completing the level. The difficulty curve definitely steepens as you progress, however it never feels quite as harsh when there are two of you, compared to when you go it alone.
It was at the end of the solo campaign where I became stuck on a level which was both anger-inducing and frustrating in equal measure. After a number of attempts well into double digits, I had to step away for fear of ending the life of my Xbox controller. I can’t see younger gamers sticking with it nearly as long as I did, never mind completing it. Still, this is uncommon in Bonkies, as most of the time it’s a lot of fun to play, especially when two or more players are involved. This is when the game is at its best, and the balance between fun and challenge is most successfully struck.
Bonkies on Xbox is a charming puzzle game at heart, which is best enjoyed with friends. It’s not without its niggles, however there’s a genuinely enjoyable experience on offer here which will appeal to gamers of all ages.