STAFF REVIEW of Bonkies (Xbox One)

Sunday, February 7, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Bonkies Box art I’m always on the lookout for a game I can enjoy side by side with my daughter, as there’s not many that we can both get into easily. The latest co-op party game is now here, Bonkies, challenging you to build side by side. Sounds boring? What if I told you Bonkies is set in space, you utilize a banana-fuelled jetpack and have a robotic arm to lift all of the heavy pieces? Oh, and you’re a monkey too. Yup, I couldn’t make this up. So get up to 3 of your closest housemates and slap on those jetpacks, but get ready to swear and cuss at one another once they screw up and knock over all the hard work!

So what is the narrative behind a team of monkeys that cooperate to construct objects out of smaller pieces and parts? I assume something about colonizing the planets as you go from one to the next, but the story and narrative isn’t why you generally play games like these. You play these to have a few drinks with some buddies, or some quality family gaming time with the kids and hopefully have some fun doing so.

While you can play solo, only do so if you must, as it’s nowhere near as exciting or entertaining to do so, but alongside a friend or three you’ll have a blast. You’re tasked with creating objects within a set outline but only given a set amount of pieces and blocks, so it’s up to you to figure out how you’re going to stack and place each piece. These trials will begin out simple enough, but the difficulty ramps up quite quickly, even more so if you’re playing solo, as there’s always a looming time limit you have to contend with as well.

Your best chance at success is to have a local co-op friend or three help you. It seems as though the puzzles for each stage scale based on how many players are currently alongside you, but I know I certainly struggled when I tried to progress on my own. Clearing these stages though will require not only a steady hand and concentration, but lots of communication, which will ultimately be the reason you succeed or fail. Each planet has a set amount of stages, that once complete will move you onto the next planet for even a bigger challenge.

Bonkies’ premise is quite simple: simply stack blocks and pieces so that they remain within the outlined area, filling a silhouette. Once all of the area is full, you’ll have to make sure it stays there for a full three seconds before getting the completion and moving onto the next stage. Most levels are broken into two or three stages, with each becoming more challenging by tasking you to stack even higher or more awkwardly.

For such a simple premise, the controls on the other hand are going to take some getting used to. You can fly around seamlessly with the ‘Left Stick’, boosting with the ‘Left Trigger’ and your robo arm is controlled with the face buttons ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’. How you want to move your arm is based on the orientation of the buttons. For example, if you want to move your arm upwards, then hold the ‘Y’ button since that’s the top button. Want your arm to maneuver left? Hold ‘X’. Given that Bonkies utilizes physics based gameplay (yet somehow in space), you’re going to have to be quick when reacting to falling pieces or trying to rotate a block a certain way.

Because of the physics, it’s not terribly difficult to get the hang of this, but it will take practice as you need to hold ‘Right Trigger’ to grab onto an object, then use the different face buttons based on how you want to move it with your robotic arm while also flying around with the Left Stick. Much of the time you’ll also need to hold the arm direction you want, to stabilize your arm as you fit a piece into a specific spot nicely without causing your stack to fall. My main complaint with this is that I don’t see an option where you can actually choose left or right for your robotic arm, so I assume it’s randomized. Not that puzzles can’t be completed regardless of which robo arm you’re given, but I found it quite easier to grab and hold things on the corresponding side of my robo arm as opposed to the opposite.

Monkeys in space building objects would be too simple, so of course Bonkies also utilizes a handful of different blocks to make things much more challenging. Blocks will come in different sizes, shapes and properties, forcing you to think quick and how best to utilize each one. You’re never given extra pieces, so you always have to figure out the perfect way to solve each puzzle.

My favorite are the glass bricks. These will break if they take enough falling damage, forming into smaller pieces. This is sometimes a benefit, but will take more time to place more blocks. For example, I once had a large round glass circle. I dropped it and it split into two semi circles. I broke it again and it turned into quarters, which are the pieces I needed at that given moment. You’ll have scaffolding pieces that are used for placing blocks at certain heights or using for counterweights (but don’t count towards filling the objective outline) or gravity cubes that can float in one spot but only hold a certain amount of weight before giving out and having everything come crashing down.

Rocket blocks act as a normal block until you grab it, which then turns on the booster and will start to fly upwards (or whatever direction it’s facing). This is usually used for lifting a base higher, as some objective outlines won’t always be on the ground, so you’re going to have to get creative through trial and error. The explosion blocks though are the bane of my existence, as if they get bumped too much too quickly, they’ll explode, sending any blocks nearly outwards, basically wrecking your stack and forcing you to start over. There’s just enough variety to keep things constantly challenging, almost too much at times, and will require a lot of communication and thought to be successful.

Levels all have a set time limit that need to be completed in, but have target times that if beaten, will earn you a banana. These are then used to unlock new characters, all of which are simply visual changes, but you can eventually unlock other animal species like dogs, cats, koalas and more. Good luck making these times though, as I usually struggled just to complete levels in the time limit, not even factoring the banana time. Again, for that you’re going to need some good co-op friends or family alongside you.

Certain blocks are much heavier than others, which is where the co-op and communication comes into play. If I’m unable to lift a block on my own, either from its weight or awkwardness of placement, I’m going to have to explain to you what I need you to do, and quickly. While I was only able to test multiplayer with two players, Bonkies supports up to four.

Now, the main problem with the console version for Xbox is that the multiplayer is only local with no online option at all. Normally I wouldn’t hold this against it for being a smaller studio, but in the world we live in currently where we can’t have friends come over, the lack of online co-op is quite a detriment, as you’re only able then to play with those in your household. Don’t have anyone in the home that wants to play? You’re not going to have as great a time playing the single player compared to co-op. Those that purchase Bonkies on Steam can play online via “Remote Play”, so there’s a workaround there at least, but console players are left without the option sadly.

I gave my eight your old daughter a controller and invited her to play alongside me, unsure how it would work out. As expected, the controls at first were difficult for her to grasp, with the arm controls being mapped to the face buttons, but she eventually got the hang of it. Before too long we were passing levels, albeit after a handful of tries. Not that it’s any fault of hers, but it was apparently your Bonkies co-op success is going to come down to the weakest player. Everyone has to pull their weight, not just with communication but execution, and if you have someone that keeps knocking over your stacks or place something wrong, good luck beating the clock. With some friends and a few drinks, I could absolutely see quite a bit of swearing thrown at one another when you have to start all over again because they screwed up, again.

Bonkies is very challenging, not just in its gameplay, but design. You’re given a bunch of oddly shaped blocks or special ones and have to simply figure out how they all connect, placing them perfectly within the time limit that’s not always very forgiving. My daughter was good at placing blocks, but we sometimes struggled simply figuring out how they all connected and how they should be placed to progress. The hardest part of Bonkies was figuring out where and how to place the blocks, not actually physically doing so. For a game that I expected to be a breeze, Bonkies was much more challenging than I anticipated. The difficulty ramps up quite steeply early on, making it a frustrating affair if playing alone.

Co-op is needed to get the most enjoyment from these space monkeys’ construction workers, but the lack of online co-op for console was a major drawback and disappointment. If you have some local friends or family to play alongside with, Bonkies can be quite an entertaining night of gaming, but if you’re planning on playing alone, you may want to wait for a deep sale before blasting off.

** Bonkies was reviewed on an Xbox Series X **

Overall: 7.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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