Jerry Bonner

jerry bonner

By day, Jerry Bonner works as the Senior Writer for Headlines and Global News (HNGN.com). By night, he writes for, and about, the interactive entertainment and technology industries. He is also the father of four gaming children ranging in ages from 22 to 9.

extreme excorism

Extreme Exorcism Review

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Playforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PC
We Used: PC

I have my suspicions that most people would stay six-hundred and sixty-six (666) feet away from a game with such a foreboding title. Fortunately, I don’t scare all that easily. So I had no issues giving indie title Extreme Exorcism a whirl. I came away pleasantly surprised with its frenetic, “kill or be killed” pace and its retro-cool pixel art style that sets the spooky tone rather well. Read More

Dream

Dream Review: Not Worth Remembering

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Platform: PC

Dreaming is a phenomenon that has always fascinated me because I’ve had several dreams that were so vivid and real that they’ve shaken me to my very core. But, unfortunately, most of my nighttime excursions to dreamland are just garbled nonsense that have little staying power once I’ve awoken. Sad to say, my time with the video game Dream had little staying power, either. There is a cool idea buried somewhere within this game, but its execution misses the mark almost entirely. Dream ends up being a little too much like one of my many nonsense dreams. Read More

pac-man 256

Pac-Man 256 Review

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If you didn’t grow up in the early ’80s you really and truly have no idea how popular Pac-Man was. The little yellow dude (along with his lady and kid) were just about everywhere…and rightly so. Their games were a blast to play, and they defined the “easy to learn but difficult to master” axiom. Pac-Man was one of the first games that had a true universal appeal. Moms, dads, kids, grandparents and even pets all seemed to have a blistering case of “Pac-Man Fever.” Read More

tembo the badass elephant

Tembo the Badass Elephant Has Retro Games at Its Heart

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Throughout the ’80s, super-soldier John Rambo was a muscular staple of popular culture. His intense visage was plastered just about everywhere: lunchboxes, action figures, cartoon shows, and (of course) video games. Now there’s a cool, 2D-platform game for the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 that borrows heavily from the Rambo mythos. The game is titled Tembo the Badass Elephant. Yes, you read that right. It’s not quite what you would expect from Game Freak, the developers behind Pokémon, but after spending some extensive time with the game I can certainly say that Tembo’s love of destruction is as pronounced as Rambo’s. Tembo’s mayhem, however, is fun and cheeky, while Rambo’s certainly was not.

Despite having been enlisted to protect the world, Tembo’s main objective is to destroy as much stuff (buildings, tanks, helicopters, etc.) as possible using a variety of slick moves to navigate structures and platforms. You can only progress to the level-ending boss battles once you’ve trampled over a certain number of enemy soldiers.

tembo the badass elephant

Destroying as much as possible is one of your goals in the game.

If you look past the game’s cartoony carnage, however, you’ll find that Tembo resembles characters from the 16-bit, side-scrolling worlds of Sega and Nintendo. With a list of moves that includes a spinning ball attack, a destructive ground pound, a floating jump, and a rumbling stampede, anyone who’s ever played a Sonic the Hedgehog or Donkey Kong Country game will have a palpable sense of déjà vu. Even when Tembo picks up peanuts (the tchotchke of choice here…go figure) the sound he makes is very similar to DKC’s banana pick-up sound. Luckily, Tembo’s charming array of expressions and feisty characteristics make him a far more memorable protagonist than Donkey Kong’s lame relatives or Sonic’s woeful menagerie.

The game isn’t perfect—it has a few hiccups in its overall design. For instance, the aforementioned “enemy tally” needed to progress to the boss can be very frustrating, and there are places where it isn’t clear what to do or where to go next. Younger kids may be handing the controller over to mom or dad to help them along.

But when all’s said and done, Tembo the Badass Elephant is a very well-made plafortmer that adults and kids will get a kick out of, whether they are playing separately or as partners. Kids will dig Tembo because of its breezy pace, cool moves, and cartoony aesthetic. Parents will dig it because it harkens back to several classic games and films. Even Tembo’s theme music apes Jerry Goldsmith’s classic Rambo theme in places. Every time I heard it, it never failed to make me smile.

Atari Header

The Year Without an Atari VCS

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The year was 1981. And, oh man, was it ever a great year to be a 10-year-old kid. Pac-Man had invaded popular culture. Raiders of the Lost Ark had plundered theaters. All of the local, Philadelphia sports teams were doing rather well. And, of course, the Atari Video Computer System (soon to be rebranded as the 2600) was in its heyday. That rectangular, black-and-wood-grain box was the crowning jewel of most living rooms of that era. It was a status symbol of sorts—a status symbol of never ending fun!

Unfortunately, I didn’t own an Atari VCS for the majority of that year. Being 10, I couldn’t do much about that fact except nag my parents incessantly and beg my friends to hang out at their houses to play. And I shamelessly did a good amount of both, truth be told. Hey, I needed my Space Invaders fix. So sue me.

Atari VCS Fervor

Suddenly there seemed to be a way to get my very own Atari VCS. My school was raffling off a system at the beginning of December, right after Thanksgiving break. I had about $10 of allowance money squirrelled away, so I bought 10 tickets at a dollar a pop. Cue the “Big Spender” song from “Sweet Charity,” if you please.

I was a shoo-in, I naively thought. Who the heck would be insane enough to buy more than 10 tickets? The answer was no one. No one in their right mind would buy more than 10 tickets. Except me. It was going to be winner, winner (highly pixelated) chicken dinner time at the Bonner household soon enough.

The day finally came for the announcement of the raffle winner. My heart was racing the moment my eyes opened that morning. I mean, I was going to win. There was just no doubt about it.

The intercom came to life with an electro-static hum at exactly 10 a.m. Every nerve-ending in my body was immediately at attention. Our principal was a foreboding storm trooper of God who was blessed with the unassuming moniker of Sister Rosemary. I can assure you that there was nothing “rosy” about this woman. But that day she was in fine form. Her voice had an almost magical lilt as she announced that it was time to reveal the winner of the Atari VCS.

With much aplomb, she said the name. And it wasn’t mine. I knew person whose name she called. He only lived a few blocks away from me, so I knew that his family already owned an Atari VCS! Mere nanoseconds later (or so it seemed), I saw him bounding through the corridors to claim his prize. It was an odd feeling that struck 10-year-old Jer right then; it was akin to something out of a macabre Poe tale of angst and woe. I sincerely wanted to dash out into the hallway to strangle the life out of this kid, this usurper of the prize that was so clearly mine.  I didn’t do that, of course, because this was a Catholic school, and I would have had to stand against the wall for a million recess periods for such a heinous infraction.

Atari VCS Comic 1

Asking the Parents for Atari VCS

So, I didn’t win the stupid raffle. What recourse did I have now? Well, I guess I would actually have to ask my parents for the Atari for Christmas. Being a big man of 10, I had given up the ghost on Santa a good two or three years prior, and asking my parents was the only viable option I had left.

So I asked. And I waited. When you are a child, that period between Thanksgiving and Christmas seems to last for untold eons, but Christmas morning did finally arrive before my head exploded with giddy anticipation.

My parents liked to unbox the toys, put them together and set them up for us under the tree. Yeah, they went all out. It was a nice touch that made that special day just a bit more special. But it also enabled a greedy young lad such as myself to do a quick scan of the haul to see if that year’s “big ticket item” was tucked under the tree.

Alas, the Atari VCS was not waiting there for me on this crisp December morning. I was dejected, sure, but there was a ton of other cool stuff under that tree for my younger brothers and me, so I merrily took to checking out the all other gifts that “Santa” had brought for us.

After about a half hour of play-testing and gawking, I noticed a rather large, wrapped present leaning against the back wall, almost behind the tree. As I mentioned, my parents didn’t wrap our presents, so this was rather odd.

Hopes Crushed

“What’s that there?” I hopefully queried.

“Open it and find out,” my mother said rather flatly as she shared a furtive, sheepish glance with my father.

My immediate thought upon grabbing the box was that it was my Atari, and my cruel parents were playing a trick on me. My uncle and aunt had done a similar thing to my cousin the last year. He badly wanted Space Invaders for his Atari. The game was all he could talk about. They bought it for him, but they wrapped it in a massive box filled with newspaper and the Space Invaders cart was in another wrapped shoebox at the bottom of that much bigger box. He was very happy he got the game, but was quite vexed throughout that whole unwrapping ordeal.

I ripped off the wrapping paper in a blink. Yes, it was indeed the Atari VCS I wanted so desperately. I started to gleefully scream as only a 10-year-old boy can, but my father held up his hand to put an end to my youthful ebullience.

“It doesn’t work,” were the sad words that came out of this mouth.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Was this all part of the elaborate ruse they had concocted? Did my parents hate me? They had to hate me to continue this nasty, unfunny prank for so long.

My mother continued: “I bought it back in October and it’s been hidden in the garage since then. When dad went to set it up last night, it wouldn’t turn on.”

Atari VCS Comic 2

This wasn’t real. This couldn’t be happening. I felt faint. It wasn’t my parents who hated me; it was Santa and Jesus who hated me. They conspired and collaborated against me to make this happen on their shared holiday because I didn’t believe in either of them any longer. That was certainly it!

“We’ll exchange it at the store tomorrow…after your game.”

The rest of the day was a blur, punctuated by the arrival of my grandparents for Christmas dinner. Two of the presents they bought for me were Atari games (Pele’s Championship Soccer and Adventure) that I couldn’t play. But I sure stared at those boxes real hard.

Hopes Resurrected

The next day was something of a blur as well, but I did have a (real) championship soccer game to play in before we could go to the store to procure my new, functioning Atari. We lost the game 2 to 1 on a bitterly cold morning. I didn’t care—they could have scored 47 goals on me (I was the team’s goalkeeper) while I was naked and it wouldn’t have mattered in the least to me. Atari fever had possessed my brain.

We drove directly to the store after the game. It was a large chain department store that is now out of business. The frazzled dude behind the customer-service counter (who looked a good deal like Mike “Meathead” Stivic from “All in the Family”) began to rattle off return policy and procedure to my father as we approached him, but he stopped suddenly as he saw me standing next to my dad. He must have seen the palpable Atari-mania on my face and decided in that moment that his company’s policies and procedures weren’t all that important.

“You know what, it doesn’t matter,” the Meathead clone said as he scooped up the box containing the broken Atari, then vanished through a large swinging door behind him. He quickly returned with another Atari box that (hopefully) had a functioning VCS in it. My dad filled out a few forms and we were out the door. It worked.

Joy and rapture! A (belated) Christmas miracle! And let me tell you, I played that machine into the ground…until I got a Commodore 64 for Christmas a couple of years later.

A Word of Advice

Parents, if you take anything away from this little story let it be this: If you buy your kids a video game console for a holiday or birthday, test it out as soon as you get home. There’s almost nothing worse than giving a kid a broken, non-functioning present. Ten-year-old Jer would tell you that for sure. Because of what happened to me in 1981, I still check every console as soon as I get it home. I even did it this last Christmas when I bought my 10-year-old daughter a Wii U.

Better safe than sorry.