Retro Respawn – Bonanza Bros.

Bonanza Bros. was originally released in the arcades on the Sega System 24, but it would eventually see ports to a selection of home consoles, with the version on the Mega Drive being the one I am personally most familiar with, being that I played it with my buddy Adam quite a bit back in the day. The fourth gen was long done and dusted by the time I experienced Bonanza Bros. for the first time, but Adam dug out his Mega Drive whilst I was over at his gaff one day and brought the game into my life, and I’ll always be grateful to him for doing so as I have a lot of affection for Bonanza Bros.

Bonanza Bros. operates as a shooter-platformer with elements of stealth, which makes it a rather unique game for the time period as stealthy play wasn’t really that popularised outside of the Metal Gear games on the MSX. Playing as sunglass-sporting brothers Mobo and Robo, your goal is to sneak and shoot your way through each level in order to steal some swag before escaping to your blimp on the roof. The enemies range from standard guards who will blow a whistle to attract their buddies if they see you, to bulkier guards with riot shields who will block your attacks before clobbering you, to beefy Giant Haystacks types who will chuck literal bombs at you, all the way to annoying dogs that will wake snoozing guards up with their incessant barking.

Mobo and Robo are armed with guns, but these weapons will only momentarily stun enemies, meaning that they are good for getting you out of a quick jam or sneakily picking guards off at the right moments, but you can’t rely on them solely if you wish to pick up all the loot and make it to the end of the level. You will need to be nimble on your feet to dodge enemy projectiles and to flee when you’re spotted, especially as guards won’t just forget about you right away if you enter another room. Getting to a different screen will normally stop a guard from following you, but if you’re still on the same screen with them, then simply walking up a flight of stairs and pretending they aren’t there isn’t going to especially do you any good.

There are neat little tricks you can use in order to outwit the guards even if they see you though, such as luring them into a machine that will squish them, knocking them out by swinging an opening door in their face, or waiting till they are just about to clobber you before scooting out of the way at the last minute and making a break for it. Bonanza Bros. is hardly a revolutionary gameplay experience, but it does mix different game styles well, and it’s good, hearty fun, especially if you have a mate who is willing to play the co-op two-player mode with you. When Adam first introduced me to the game, we had oodles of fun playing the two-player mode as it brings a different tactical element to things, and it’s great to have a buddy who can bail you out when your back is against the wall and bombs are getting chucked at you.

The stealth gameplay in Bonanza Bros. is hardly as sophisticated as you’d find in a Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell game, but it’s still a nice little addition, and it works well for a game that first came out way back in 1990. The Mega Drive port isn’t as graphically detailed as its arcade counterpart, but it’s not as if it looks bad either, and it does an admirable job of transferring over the musical score. In all honesty, it might be the nostalgia talking, but I think I might actually enjoy the Mega Drive musical arrangement more than I do the arcade mix, which doesn’t normally happen with Sega’s fourth gen machine. However, after playing them back-to-back as something to have on in the background whilst writing this (I do like doing that sometimes), I found the music in the Mega Drive version of Bonanza Bros. caused me to mentally swing my hips a bit more (I think you will concede that it is kind of hard to physically swing your hips whilst in a sedentary sitting position and clacking away at a keyboard).

I have to say as well that the port to the Sega Master System isn’t that bad either. It’s definitely weaker than its Mega Drive cousin due to inferior graphics and sound, but it does a decent job of transferring over the gameplay for the most part, which wasn’t always the case with Master System versions of games. I’d certainly play the Mega Drive version if I had a choice of the two, but if you were a Master System owner who wasn’t quite ready to spend your hard-earned Bison Dollars on some fourth gen kit yet, then the third gen version of Bonanza Bros. would still be an enjoyable enough port to get your teeth into for a bit.

Sadly, I don’t have any experience with playing the other ports of Bonanza Bros., but it made its way to the PC Engine in Japan and even got ported to the ZX Spectrum, of all things, over here in Europe. I’ve looked up video of the Speccy version on YouTube, and so help me, it actually looks like a reasonably faithful adaptation, which considering the limitations of the hardware and the fact it had to be crammed onto an audio cassette, is actually rather darn impressive. If I had to recommend a version of the game though, I would suggest just going for the Mega Drive port as it’s not only a very good version of the game to play, but it’s also usually included in most Mega Drive collections, so getting hold of a copy is very easy and well worth your time!

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