GameSpite Journal 10 | Joe & Mac

Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninjas | Dev.: Data East | Pub: Data East | Genre: Platformer | Release: Jan. 1992

Arcade ports have long been a tricky business. Sometimes the graphics are simply too good to be replicated on a contemporary home console, though the gameplay can be carried over intact. At other times, the gameplay is so tailor-made to an arcade experience (say, through a brutal difficulty level meant to consume as many quarters as possible) that the home port has to change things in order to better fit the market. Then there’s a third possibility, where the developers simply try to change just enough to create a new experience while putting in as little effort as possible. Joe & Mac is a game that smacks of having a fresh coat of paint slapped over it to make it seem like it was always a console game, though it wears its arcade roots on its sleeve.

A platforming brawler starring the eponymous caveman heroes on a quest to rescue innumerable cave-babes from the captivity of prehistoric beasts, it’s easy to finish Joe & Mac in a single sitting. 1UPs are plentiful, and the loss of all of your lives only sets you back to the beginning of the current stage. Death in the middle of a stage is only a temporary setback, and can be occasionally advantageous as the caveman gains a halo and wings, allowing him to fly around the screen until he returns to the land of the living. And even should the tiny landing points in the game’s platforming moments prove to be more of a hazard than they ought to, each stage only lasts between 30 seconds to three or four minutes before you arrive at the boss.

The bosses take up the bulk of Joe & Mac’s play time and embody the game’s biggest strength: Its personality. The neanderthals that litter the stages slouch purposefully toward the player to give them a sound beating, only to flee in absolute terror of repercussion if they actually strike a successful hit. Dinosaurs cry with exaggerated tears of pain when they are struck. A mammoth is struck so hard that his trunk falls off. While not particularly well-animated in many cases, teach enemy was given something to set it apart from the rest, and even when the bosses prove to be quartervores and break their patterns to deliver cheap shots, they’re the centerpieces of the game’s visual design.

In the transition to the SNES, Joe & Mac added a rather pointless world map, one that offers no branching paths and no secrets aside from a few unlockable mini-games obtainable through keys found in the main quest. In fact, the branching paths that the arcade original offered were excised entirely, forcing you to instead play through every stage in one go in order to pad out the game’s length. As a port, Joe & Mac proves to be rather unsuccessful at adding the depth of a console game to the simplicity of a quarter munching brawler, but it gets many other things right. By retaining the personality and aesthetics of the arcade original, as well as the simultaneous two-player (available cooperatively or in “super” mode with friendly-fire enabled), Joe & Mac became one of those often unsung heroes of the 16-bit era: A fantastic weekend rental.

By Marc Host? | Nov. 18, 2011 | Previous: Super Castlevania IV | Next: Ys III