Bonanza Bros. is an underappreciated diamond in the rough that's been given a second chance to shine now that its Sega Genesis version has been made available on the Wii's Virtual Console. It was one of many arcade games--along with Altered Beast, Space Harrier II, and Golden Axe--that Sega published for the company's 16-bit home console. But, unlike those other games, Bonanza Bros. went mostly unnoticed when it was released for the Genesis in May of 1991. The main reason Bonanza Bros. didn't receive much positive word of mouth is because it's not a game that makes a good first impression if your initial experiences with it are playing solo. When it's just you playing, the act of avoiding the cops and swiping loot feels mundane and tedious. However, when you play in tandem with another person and uncover some teamwork strategies, the game becomes a laugh-a-minute romp packed with "cops and robbers"-style chicanery.
There's a loose story involving two former thieves known as the Bonanza brothers who have been enlisted to gather evidence from various mob-owned locations around the city, which mainly serves to explain why it's OK to steal the items and shoot the guards populating each of the game's 10 stages. Gameplay is rather straightforward in that your job is to move through the building, travel up and down flights of stairs, and play cat and mouse with guards. You can pass through guards safely, but you'll lose a life and be temporarily stunned if they smack you with a baton or tag you with a rubber bullet. Your only defense is an endless supply of rubber bullets in your own gun and the ability to slam guards into nearby walls by opening doors when they pass in front of them. The action is side-scrolling, but the game has a 3D feel to it because you can move between two background planes, hunch up against walls, and jump on top of furniture.
For some silly reason, the developer decided that the screen should always be split in half horizontally to accommodate the second player--even when you're playing by yourself. The cramped view makes solo play annoying, especially since the action in solo play is pretty mundane. However, the game comes alive when you play along with someone else. Your friend can distract guards while you grab loot; guards are easy to handle when you double-team them; and you can split up to cut the workload in half. All in all, the game is more fun and the challenge is more manageable when two people play.
Since Bonanza Bros. was one of the earlier Sega Genesis games, it doesn't do much to show off the system's audiovisual capabilities. The fact that the characters and environments resemble Playskool toy sets also doesn't help matters, even if the look contributes to the game's overall style and charm. Nevertheless, the backdrops are colorful, the characters are large, and there are loads of funny miscellaneous animations to see. You'll certainly experience an "oh, snap!" moment the first time your foot boots a seemingly innocuous soda can and the noise causes sleeping guards to awaken with surprised looks on their faces. Meanwhile, the audio is nothing special. Sound effects are mostly cartoon-style popping sounds, while the music is a collection of brief circus ditties that loop constantly. As has been the case with the majority of Sega Genesis games available on the Virtual Console, the Wii has no trouble emulating the game. It basically looks, sounds, and plays just like it did on an actual Sega Genesis more than 15 years ago.
You probably shouldn't bother with Bonanza Bros. if mainly you'll only be able to play it alone. If, however, you have a readily available play partner, you may want to take the chance and spend 800 Wii points ($8) to bring this goofy rendition of cops and robbers home.