Let’s… Sorta… Talk About Bonanza Bros


bonanza start

Now let’s try and destroy a myth about this game once and for all purely because I only JUST realised that this wasn’t the STEAL ‘EM UP I thought it was. In fact, it was sorta the opposite of that. For years, I genuinely, GENUINELY, thought that you played as the BAD GUYS in this game and I actually thought that there was some level of moral conscience to this game that went RIGHT off the chart. I mean that in the “OOOOOH, YOU SHOULDN’T BE STEALING STUFF YOU NAUGHTY BOY” sense which would make this something akin to Grand Theft Auto is probably the smallest way imaginable (i,e. not really at all…)

In fact, you’re the good guys which means that after all this time of feeling as though Sega was trying to turn people into thieves BECAUSE VIDEO GAMES MAKE PEOPLE DO THAT SORT OF THING HAVEN’T YOU READ THE NEWSPAPERS OR LISTENED TO OLD PEOPLE RANT ON AND ON ABOUT IT, what they were subtly trying to do was tell people to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

Which isn’t as bad.

bonanza 1

Bonanza Bros began life as an arcade game featuring two faceless pill-shaped characters called Mike and Spike (supposedly modelled after the Blues Brothers…? Really? One’s tall and thin and the other’s slightly squat? Is that the resemblance? Or the sunglasses? What even? Are we talking about the same Blues Brothers here? OK. Fine have it your way. I believe you. Thousands wouldn’t).

So Mike and Spike are NOT the main characters in a STEAL ‘EM UP, they are in fact characters in a RETRIEVE ‘EM UP. You’re not STEALING anything… you’re getting that shit back from the people who stole it from you. Yeah. Totally different. Morally.

Anyway, essentially, you have some items to collect, guards to dodge and a blimp to catch at the end of the level. Colelct all the targets and bugger off to the roof.

And then repeat for nine more levels.

And if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you’re right. It is incredibly one-dimensional. There’s very little in the way of exciting gameplay mechanics and it’s kind of like a slower version of Flicky.


And yet I don’t hate it anywhere near as much as I hated THAT game and still cannot stand it. Or how much I like that game… Bonanza Bros is weirdly nostalgic in a way that Flicky isn’t. Flicky’s just fucking awful. This isn’t. Why?

I haven’t got the faintest idea. It’s… not actually THAT different to it.

bonanza 2

Mike and Spike (and it’s going to be Mike for the most part seeing as he’s the one player dude)are armed with one weapon and it’s an unusual type of gun that is basically like a stun gun. You shoot people all over the stage and they shoot you but no one ever dies. At worst, they lie on the floor and twitch rather disturbingly after being shot. They soon get up again though and you can shoot them as they’re trying to get back up again… they’ll just keep getting up again. If anything, they’re probably all shooting rubber bullets or something. Whatever it is they’re shooting, it can hurt YOU enough times to send you into some sort of state of unconsciousness cos you’ll be sent to jail for… WAIT.



OK, I’m getting confused now but basically, no one dies, the whole game is full of hilarious slapstick violence, if you can call it that, and WE’RE ALL BEING LIED TO. You can shoot people with rubber bullets, you can crush people under large crushing panels or behind doors and an enormous ball of a guy throws bombs at you. It’s all fine. You can’t die. But you will go to jail if you fail too many times.

Occasionally you come across a bounce pad (in two levels methinks?). Occasionally you get a wire slide (in two levels methinks?). Occasionally you get some trapdoors (actually only once). And then by the time you get to level 5, you get a MINE CART!

bonanza 7



bonanza 8

And then it stops.

And you’re back into another level of collecting things, avoiding guards and trying not to get shot too many times.

If ever they wanted to dangle the carrot…

And yet why do people remember this game so fondly when it is quite honestly as awful sounding as it is? The evidence against it is quite large:

1) Graphically shoddy. It sorta lacks a real sense of anything other than simplistic charm. It hasn’t got quite the charm of the arcade version so it’s very flat. It tries to look mildly 3D in a 2D-sprite-trying-to-look-all-curved-and-shit kind of way but on the Mega Drive, it looks blocky and uninspired. Plus…

bonanza 3

2) Half the screen is always taken up. If you’re playing two player, this is acceptable because of course that would make sense. Having half the screen devoted to each character makes complete sense. But even when it’s NOT two-player… half the screen is still unavailable to you… wait, what? Why they hell would they do that? I suppose what they’re trying to do is make the game accessible for two players whenever a second player feels like joining in rather than having to start a new game again entirely. I get that. In reality, it makes the game slightly more difficult to play at times because everything is even teeny-tinier than it probably could have been.

bonanza 4

3) Repetition. See, repetition is good for poetry and all that but the same levels over and over? That’s what made Flicky so fucking awful. OK, that was 50 levels of awful bouncing about like pinballs and this is only 10, two shorter than the arcade version, but is that REALLY an excuse? It’ll last about the same amount of time. This IS just a slowed down version of that game. Repetition… for this game is merely a slowed down Flicky in all but name… all but name…

All… but name.

Sooooo… what makes it only a ‘sorta’ game instead of a ‘not’ game? Well… because it’s not as irritating as Flicky… and it somehow just HAS that nostalgic feeling behind it that’s very difficult to pinpoint.

Perhaps it’s one of the first stealthy games that people played and the satisfaction you got from shooting an enemy in the back as he walked away from you was… actually better than it should have been. I mean shooting people in the back is cowardly at best but it’s necessary here with some of the guards so after having hidden behind a wall for long enough to watch him walk away and then shoot a SLOW MOVING BULLET at him before he turns to see what’s behind him like an idiot, it felt REALLY satisfying. If anything, the fact that the bullets moved SO slowly would have actually been seen as a bit unfair to some people but this was a game mechanic you had to live with to be able to get further. The bullets are slow. Get over it. Press the button earlier. Hide a bit better… it sorta made you improve in the way that only games from the 80s/90s could… there weren’t any tutorials in these games. You were dumped straight into the deep end to just get on and do it. Lose a life? Never mind. Just don’t do THAT again. You’ve got more lives. Get on with it.

And simply put, THAT is the difference between this game and Flicky: the feeling of SATISFACTION. Flicky didn’t have any. It still feels false and floaty and irritating. This still feels much more complete. Yeah, there’s some real repetition underlying everything and yeah it can be exceptionally easy but it’s just… more fun than collecting little birds could ever be.

bonanza 9

It’s not amazing in the slightest. It’s not AWFUL either. It’s just that horrifying middle ground that really makes it hard to classify. If you’ve never played it before, it’s not worth the effort to be honest. You won’t be enamoured by it in the way that retro gamers and older gamers who grew up with it will. We enjoyed it because of its simplicity and its charm.

AND the satisfying “WEH HEH HEH” noise the characters made when they retrieved the treasure. Oh yes.

Oh yes. That noise.

THAT NOISE. Something about that noise just makes you tingle. It’s like the sonic equivalent of “FUCK YEAH” only not. Because this a kid’s game. And you don’t swear in kids’ games.

But I swear in reviews of them.

Ya bastards.


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