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I had never played Joe & Mac before until now. Jeremy asked me if I wanted to save some cave babes and I said “sure, why not?”. Plus, there’s dinosaurs. Babes and dinosaurs. Perfect ingredients for a video game. Developed and published by Data East, Joe & Mac, otherwise known as Caveman Ninja, was released for Arcade and Super Nintendo in 1991. Elite Systems developed the PC version which also released in 1991 and they developed the NES version which released in 1992. Eden Entertainment Software developed the Genesis version which was released in 1994. For this review, we played the Arcade, Super Nintendo, and Genesis versions. We played the Arcade version on the Switch.
There are differences between the versions and the Genesis game is closest to the arcade version. The story goes that a bunch of neanderthal’s kidnap the cave babes. In the Super Nintendo version, they scare the babes according to the text in the intro.
Joe & Mac can be described as a sidescrolling action platformer and each version is very short. There are three difficulty modes in the Super Nintendo and Genesis versions and the Super Nintendo game includes a map screen. This version also includes a two player Super Game mode where both players can jump on each other’s heads and attack each other. In the arcade and Genesis versions, you progress through the levels in a specific order and there are different paths you can take and multiple endings. The map screen in the Super Nintendo game lets you travel to the different levels, you can replay already completed levels, there’s also checkpoints, and bonus levels. To access most of the bonus levels, you need to acquire a key in one of the standard levels. By breaking a specific egg in specific levels, you’ll be taken to a bonus area where you can acquire the key. The actual bonus levels allow you to obtain health, lives, and powerups.
All three versions can be played solo or cooperatively and in all three you can walk, jump, twirl jump, and jump on enemies. In the Super Nintendo version you can run, roll, and ride on top of enemies. In the arcade and Genesis versions, you can’t run, roll, or ride but you can charge up your shots to make them more powerful but if you charge them up for too long, you’ll get tired and lose health. You can also pick up and throw each other. In the arcade version, you will slowly lose health as you play and must eat food to restore your health. In all three versions, fallen enemies will drop food and powerups and in the Super Nintendo version, they can drop lives. Eggs can also house these items so you’ll want to break any you come across. But they may also contain enemies so be careful.
In the arcade and Genesis versions Joe will throw axes and Mac will throw bones. They start out with clubs in the Super Nintendo version and in the arcade game, they will use their clubs when there’s too many projectiles on the screen. The Super Nintendo game allows you to hold onto multiple weapons or powerups and switch between them and all three versions share some of the same ones. These include the boomerangs, fireballs, and stone wheels. Exclusive to the arcade version is electric sparks and doppelgangers. And if you drink hot sauce, you’ll become temporarily invincible and breathe fire. In the arcade and Genesis versions, you can acquire dinosaur teeth. In the Super Nintendo version, you can acquire bones as a weapon pickup. All weapon pickups act as projectiles and are more powerful than the default weapons.
The arcade and Genesis versions are much more difficult than the Super Nintendo version. However, since it was originally an arcade game, you can add coins in the arcade version so making it to the end shouldn’t be very difficult. No matter what version you play, the levels are all short. You can get to the end of each one in under minute. There is some platforming here and there and you’ll have to watch out for hazards like boulders, fire, lightning, and water. The Super Nintendo version is easier for a bunch of reasons which also means it’s more accessible. Being able to replay through levels to stock up on health and powerups is very helpful. Although, the platforming in this version is a bit wonky. It’s not always clear where you can or can’t land. There are some levels that are not shared between the arcade/Genesis and Super Nintendo versions like the one where you can ride on dinosaurs but most are. Most levels have you navigating left to right and others are more vertical.
Despite the game’s short length, there is a decent variety of enemies. You’ll engage neanderthals, some of which carry boulders and eggs, some will hide in bushes, and others fly in planes. Pteranodons will fly around and swoop at the protagonists and some of them carry eggs. You’ll also have to deal with bees, catfish, Gallimimuses, baby t-rexes, and archaeopteryxes. The arcade and Genesis versions will throw enemies at you constantly and in all three versions, the hit detection is sometimes questionable but once you have memorized the levels and enemy attacks, things will feel a bit easier. The Super Nintendo version is much more forgiving thanks to the fact that you can move faster and there’s less enemies to deal with at once. Each level ends with a boss and even with the multiple paths in the arcade and Genesis versions, the bosses will be the same no matter what paths you take which is kind of disappointing considering how short the games are. Some bosses are quite easy, others are quite challenging, and if playing cooperatively, whoever lands the most hits on the boss will receive the kiss from the cave babe after the boss is defeated.
We would say the arcade version is the best looking out of all of them but the Switch port is just blurry. And, no, we did not apply any of the retro filters. All three versions contain plenty of color, the sprite work is well done, and the facial animations for the protagonists and enemies is sometimes humorous. The backgrounds are nice and there’s some excellent parallax scrolling going on in the Super Nintendo version. The music sounds good in the arcade version, great in the Super Nintendo version, and poor in the Genesis version. All the tunes are upbeat, catchy, and whimsical and many of the tunes can easily get stuck in your head. The sound effects are average. There’s a nice “whack” sound when you hit an enemies which is somewhat satisfying and the enemies will make all kinds of noises. We didn’t experience any technical issues in the arcade and Genesis versions but we did experience frequent frame rate dips in the Super Nintendo version.
We had a great time with Joe & Mac and out of all three versions, we feel the Super Nintendo version is the best. Mainly because it’s much more accessible and it doesn’t feel as cheap. Even with the few flaws the game has, Joe & Mac is a charming experience no matter which version you decide to play. We played through the Super Nintendo version first and after realizing how short it is, that’s when we decided to play through the others so I guess our biggest complaint is the length. It’s fun to play and we just wish there was more to it.
Ultimately, we would recommend Joe & Mac to anyone who enjoys action platformers. If you don’t cheat, the Genesis version may take you a while to beat due to the difficulty and you can plow through the Super Nintendo and arcade versions quite easily. Unfortunately, the Switch port of the arcade version could be a lot better. It was released by Johnny Turbo’s Arcade. You can’t remap the buttons and the presentation is just blurry without any filters applied. Regardless, the game is still fun and you can play the it on the go so there’s that. Definitely check out Joe & Mac.