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// article by Jeff

In this Random.access Retrospective featurette, we're going to be heading back to the early 1990s when cavemen were all the rage. Okay, maybe they weren't, but that doesn't mean we can't have a rockin' good time here. Enter Joe & Mac, a couple of fun-loving sabertooth-gnashing family providers that seem to be highly-lauded members of a rather rich tribe, as they have many wonderful things that seem to get stolen. Actually, it's mostly women and jewelry. Y'know, stuff that thieves seem to like. We're going to take a fond look back at the many calamities they had to deal with in their travels as we examine the tropical world of the Joe & Mac series.

The very first game in the series also set the everlasting standards for what would constitute the "Joe & Mac" gameplay and style. Also often known widely as Caveman Ninja, this game stars Joe (boasting green hair and colour co-ordinated fronds) and his trusty confidante and battle associate Mac (in blue garb and wig). I can't verify whether they are brothers or merely buddies from the same cave circle. Trouble rears its ugly scaly head when a rival gang of cavemen sneak into their camp at night and make off with their women! Grabbing their trusty clubs, they'll have to fend off both cavemen and dinosaurs alike to rescue them. How they managed to get the dinosaurs involved in their exploits is beyond me. Does the rival gang have access to some sort of futuristic technology where they control dinosaurs by tagging them? Or are they just fuming because there are so many cavefolk hanging around their neighbourhood that chomping down on their heads seems like the right thing to do?

Joe & Mac is a platformer where our beloved cave dwellers visit a variety of terrains, such as lush valleys, rocky mountainsides, volcanic regions, and even inside a tyrannosaurus rex's innards. Gross? Perhaps a little, but it's still entertaining. Joe and Mac can use their native club (not REAAAAAALLY a pun), or they can snatch up other weapons such as bones or stone wheels to toss. As a bonus, you can even stand on top of enemies! The game looks rather cartoony with an audio soundtrack to match. Gameplay is fairly fluid, although some of the stages seem to have been designed in the programmer's sleep. Who thinks angled platformers and putting health items on top of fire are excellent ideas? Grabbing a second player is wise in order to tame this beast at times.

Joe & Mac originated in the arcades but was soon ported to anything remotely popular at the time. The SNES port is particularly notable, not only for its absolutely dreadful cover art but also for lengthening the overall quest somewhat and remixing the stages. The NES and Game Boy versions also feature altered stages, but they control like a dead duck. The Genesis port is more of a straightforward conversion of the arcade edition. Even the PC, Amiga, and the ever-popular Zeebo felt some Mac love. There was an HD remake in the works through Golgoth Games, announced back in 2009 for PSN, XBLA, and PC, but it seems like that isn't going anywhere.

Congo's Caper is a strange one indeed. Marketed in Japan as basically "Joe & Mac 2" (or "Fighting Cavemen 2", for a slightly better translation of the Japanese name), this one has the "2" in the title but not the faces. Neither Joe nor Mac appear in this game in any shape or form. Instead, you play as the ape-boy Congo, who was magically transformed from a happy little monkey to a blue-haired cave boy after a crimson orb fell from the sky simply by happenstance. He still has a tail, though. His girlfriend (whose name is literally CONGETTE) is also changed by an orb but soon kidnapped. As is the way of the Cro-Magnon hero, he is programmed to want to rescue his girl.

Congo controls similarly to Joe and Mac: he can hit things with his club (no other weapons, sadly) and can somersault really high up in the air when he feels like it. Getting hit too many times causes him to revert back to chimpy form before biting the dust, but gathering red jewels can change him back. He even has a sort of Super Saiyan ability if he collects enough of those wonderful jewels. As an added bonus, the character actually handles better than the larger prequel counterparts, and it seems like more thought and the occasional sprinkling of love went into this game. Can you really deny this when the monkeys dance while brandishing their glistening red behinds?

This is, however, a pretty standard platformer. Unlike Joe & Mac, it's divided up into specific themed worlds that Congo can conquer in any order he desires. But the goal is still the same: get to the end of the world, kill the boss, move on. You'll also be quite familiar with much of the first world: you fight the same giant T-Rex as in Joe & Mac, and you also enter the dino's body to deal with the vampirous vixen inside. The graphics are thankfully more polished and the audio's a bit more competent. It just has a different feel than Joe & Mac — a bit TOO far off to be considered a sequel, to be honest.

Ah, Joe & Mac 2 (or Joe & Mac 3, depending on where you live). Now here's a game I could have been proud of designing, had I been a Data East employee in the mid-1990s. Guess who's back... back again! It's Joe and Mac, our favourite Neanderthal heroes! This time, it's not the women that have disappeared but the chief's crown! Your tribe feels naked without it, so it's up to Joe and Mac to hunt it down (as well as some rainbow stones for good measure).

This one plays very similarly to the original Joe & Mac, complete with the club attack, high-hopping antics, and the ability to use projectile weapons, such as bones or hammers. The world has a map again, so you can travel freely back to your village as need be. But there's a bit more to this game than just slapping around dinosaurs and rival cavemen. You can now collect small stone wheels as currency and spend them on wonderful things back at the village... including upgrades to your own house! Once you get married, they'll be quite pleased as long as you don't have a complete dump. (Yes, that's right... there's courtship, marriage, and even fatherhood in a Joe & Mac game. Who would have guessed?)

Data East threw in some extra mechanics for good measure. You can snack on foods that are lying around for health, plus you can spit out the remains as projectiles. Eating a whole roast can be advantageous to all! There are also dinosaurs to ride, perhaps as a nod to the Adventure Island series. This game is nicely detailed in the visual department with some ear-twiddling tunes to keep your brain interested. It's definitely the most refined of the Joe & Mac games, and it's one I'd gladly revisit if I had to choose a single Joe & Mac title.

Every series has its black sheep, and in this case, it's NOT Congo's Caper, the one game that actually makes no mention of Joe or Mac. It's Joe & Mac Returns, a game that sneaks away from the usual prehistoric platforming that made the characters so briefly beloved. Joe & Mac Returns actually plays much like Capcom/Toaplan's Snow Bros. series or Data East's own Tumblepop from several years earlier.

Your cavewomen have been captured yet again, so Joe and Mac need to return to save them! Each stage is all set on one screen, consisting of variously placed platforms and a bunch of goofy enemies wandering around. Our caveheroes can use their club to stun them, then collect them in their sack to be tossed away as a giant ball, bowling over additional foes in its wake. There's also a girl to be rescued on each stage. Of course, hitting her with your club really annoys her; she'll give a disgusted face and go away, leaving you with feelings of shame, regret, and a light chuckle for having done so wrong. At the end of each world is a boss battle with the same mechanics, followed by a cutscene featuring a cavelady, usually involving you invading their privacy or causing their clothing to fall off. A laugh track ensues.

For some reason, other characters from the Data East universe pop up, including our beloved Karnov. Nothing is as satisfying as clomping that firebreathing puffball over the noggin with your club.

This is where the series sadly ended: on a left-turn-in-the-last-frame note (and also a bit of a sexist note). Will Joe & Mac ever club another pterodactyl, or will they be forced to settle for future obscurity? There was supposedly an HD remake of the first game in progress by Golgoth Studios, but that company's website shows no sign of anything positive any longer... Looks like they'll be cavebodies for quite some time yet.


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