3 Difficulty levels
Ship speed fixed
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Developed by Red
Published by Hudson Soft in 1992
The Master System had Alex Kidd, the NES had Mario, the Mega Drive had Sonic. And the PC Engine had Bonk. All mascots, starring their own series of games and helping carry forward the good name of their console brands. While big-headed caveman Bonk was the star of a platformer series, his image was also present in a couple of shmups starring futuristic sibling Zonk, for all purposes Bonk's more advanced, flying-capable cyborg counterpart. Air Zonk is the name of his first shmup in its western incarnation for the Turbografx-16, while PC Denjin - Punkic Cyborgs is the original PC Engine name. According to wikipedia, the "PC" part of the Japanese title stands for "Pithecanthropus Computerurus", a fictitious species name for Bonk. The main cosmetic differences between both characters are the lightning on Zonk's forehead (my brother asked me if he was supposed to be Harry Potter...) and his stylish dark shades, which seems to be the source of all his magnificient powers.
Close in spirits to the wacky ideas from the Parodius series, PC Denjin is remarkable for its bold sprite work and great graphics full of several layers of parallax. The cartoony style lends itself to a lighthearted adventure where Zonk faces a series of multi-colored, crazily designed enemies and bosses until he can face the evil King Drool, his nemesis, a green mean tyranosaurus rex who also reincarnates as a huge cyborg-creature in the end of the game. The action is fast, dynamic and most of the time relentless. Seeing this game in action is such a delight that you can't help but wonder how fun it must be to actually play it. Sure it looks like kid's material, complete with goofy yet extremely catchy tunes, however the challenge isn't what we could easily call a piece of cake. In my opinion, it's a perfect example of what the PC Engine was able to deliver, a well balanced mixture of ideal fun factor and old school eye candy.
Every game is started by first selecting the difficulty level. Here you have spicy mode (default/normal), sweet mode (easy) and bitter mode (hard). Then there's another selection to the made, the escort/helper cyborg. It's possible to set it to: (1) auto, where the game will randomly assign one of the 10 escorts to you per stage; (2) manual, where you pick one of the 10 escorts every time a stage begins; and (3) alone, where no escort is used at all during the whole game. It's not possible to select the same escort twice, so once it's used it won't appear again for the rest of the game (escorts that were already selected show up with the dark shades during the selection screen). Once the difficulty mode and the escort type are chosen, Zonk starts his journey over the sea.
There are two kinds of power-ups to be collected:
- The first one is the weapon power-up, which appears when a specific carrier is destroyed. Weapons are fired with button II and the upgrades may come as a shrinking power-up, laser, cards (my favorite), deadly gloves, 8-way lightning, chomping teeth, guided missiles and boomerangs (actually shadows of his own shades). With the exception of the shrinking power-up, which reduces your hitbox while adding a weak homing shot, they also provide a 1-hit shield. If you're hit you'll revert to the default pea shot. You can also use a charge shot for each of these weapons by holding button I and releasing it as soon as Zonk starts sparking electricity. If the charge button is held longer he will eventually burp a bomb that falls off the screen and explodes with great destructive power. Again, the shrinking power-up is a bit special because it has no charge blast whatsoever.
- The second power-up comes in the form of small smiley faces, released by killing enemies and worth 1.000 points each. After collecting five or six of them a bigger smiley with dark shades will pop up. As soon as you get it the escort will appear from behind and follow you while shooting a standard missile. Upon collecting a new series of small smileys another big smiley will come, and if the escort is still alive (it can be damaged and killed, mind you), the new big smiley will cause Zonk and the escort to fuse into a new powerful cyborg whose form will depend on the escort's form. If the escort is damaged (smoking) the big smiley will only restore its health instead of creating the new cyborg. After this powerful cyborg is created Zonk is also granted with a short window of invincibility. Once vulnerable, cyborg forms will vanish as soon as you take the first hit. While active they don't have charge shots or bombs and ignore any power-ups you take.
A quick credit of PC Denjin
(courtesy of YouTube user AmazingRetro)
Most of the challenge in PC Denjin comes from large enemies and their attacks, some of which leave little room for evasion or dodging. All stages have at least three sections with a mid-boss in between. The more you get to know the escorts, the more you'll be tempted to have those whose combined cyborg forms are more useful, such as the cow or the cat. Some of the cyborg forms are plain useless, and when these escorts come up I just avoid getting the second big smiley. Extends are awarded with 70.000, 200.000 and then for every 300.000 points afterwards. What I couldn't grasp really well is the scoring system. It's pretty straightforward during most of the game (you earn extra points for getting repeated power-ups, that's it), but the score inflates like crazy as you defeat the final midbosses and the last boss, and I have no idea how it works.
Even though PC Denjin excels in all fronts as a great cute'em up, it didn't strike me as having such a solid lasting appeal. It isn't hard to beat at all, but at the same time it offers plenty of stuff for dedicated players to try out. In any case, I believe it's a mandatory experience for all cute'em up fans out there. My favorite aspect in the game is the music - I love the tune for the 2nd stage! Those who enjoy the game might want to check the sequel CD Denjin - Rockabilly Paradise, released the following year on CD format.
And below is my 1CC high score in spicy mode (NORMAL), with escort mode in AUTO. The ending sequence halts in this last screen once the game is beaten.