It is time for another trip to the past. Today we are going back to 1991 , to one of the first co-op games I ever played with my sister. Aside from the Turtles games. In this game we go back to early age of man as we take control of two cavemen..who also happen to be Ninja..apparently.. as well as the earliest womanisers. Joe and Mac.. in their first outing on the SNES , Joe and Mac Caveman Ninja
Caveman Ninja is a bit of a hybrid between a beat them up and a platformer. In which you take control of Joe who journeys throughout several stages collecting power ups to attack with but also making jumps up tree’s mountains and across lakes. You fight big dinosaurs to claim back one of the many cave-women, and you progress to a new stage that while in a linear order are connected to a world map. Stages hold some secret totems that can unlock more stages or bonus stages so if you want there is lots to explore. If you do not feel like exploring that is fine as well because you can still get a satisfying ending by just doing what is absolutely necessary. I followed the latter route..because I discovered something. Without my little sister to play this with this game feels a bit… empty.
This SNES game is made to be played by two and it shows throughout the game. While what it offers is fine and functional this arcadelike co-op game really only shines when played as such. All by your lonesome you can enjoy the solid controls the okay soundtrack and the quite likeable graphics..but there is this sense of tedium. I like to compare this to the battle of helm’s deep where Legolas and Gimli played .. who can kill the most Uruk-hai with each other. It lifted that action scene to something more unique..for both them as well as the audience. Playing Joe and Mac alone.. felt like Legolas standing there alone. Easily picking off some foes he clearly is going to conquer. While it hits the same action beats.. the magic is a bit gone.. this would even go for Legolas, who not remember losing that game now and probably just mention it as “ a battle”.. and that was the experience I have gotten with this classic tittle.. it’s just another game.
Reinventing the wheel.
The biggest issue I had with this game is weirdly that I did not feel like a Caveman… or a Ninja. I think if I ask you guys .. what weapons does a caveman use.. I dare say that at least 90% of you would say club! You do use that weapon in Joe and Mac.. for about five seconds. After which you pick up your first power-up. After which this game becomes a sort of projectile based, platformer, beat them up. Somehow when you want to play a caveman you want to bonk stuff on the head till it dies.. not throw bones at them. Yes tossing bones is your main attack in this game. In a way this game becomes a sort of 2d horizontal space shooter.. with platforming and beat them up elements.. which sounds nice and it doesn’t really play bad.. but something just doesn’t connect for me. There are a few powerups that you can collect but they don’t feel that different. I could not really tell what they did differently aside from maybe angle and a slight difference in damage. Never had I an idea like “oh this works well” or “this totally doesn’t work” it’s all on that level of.. sure whatever. I want more Oogah Boogah Club club! Points for being original.. but sometimes a girl just wants to whack dinosaur skulss with a large piece of wood.
Bones, wheels, boomerangs fire are the upgrades you use to hurl at dinosaurs, bones of dinosaurs and crazed caveman. Each dies fairly easily and if you remember a bit how enemies move you will be able to dispatch them quickly. Each stage has a boss , making it feel closer to those old beat them ups again and once this boss has been dispatched you get kissed by a girl and move on to rescue the next. My favorite weapon was the wheel. It was a bit slower.. I think.. But did more damage, I am not sure if i used it correctly but at least I had some semblance of fun when using it. The boomerangs I felt were like obnoxious bones so I never used those. I did use bones though to hit some of the faster moving enemies..but rarely. Still .. where is the Ninja weaponry. Where is the ninja jumping, where is the ninja element of this game? Well .. this game is even less Ninja.. than Ninja Baseball Batman (which is one of my favorite beat them ups ever) and even in that one the ninja part was kind of iffy. In a game called Caveman Ninjassomehow the chosen gameplay makes me feel neither like a caveman or a ninja.. that has to be a flaw right?
Does that mean this game is terrible? No , in fact this is quite a lovely game. The controls are smooth, the gameplay has a nice flow to it and it looks pretty as a peach. There is plenty variety in the stages and Joe (and Mac if he is there) are well animated. There is a lot of humor in the game. When you hit an enemy it does feel satisfying because of the adorable hit animations on most dinosaurs. It just doesn’t really feel like you caused that impact. During the first 60% of the game.. the first hour and a half or so, I was entertained throughout. Happily sending some awesome screencaps to my friend.. but he lost them. Into the second half of the game we begin to see the classic tropes of repeating enemies, reskinned boss fights and all of that jazz, but in doing so it can bring back a font memory of the flaws of the past. This game really uses those flawed tropes and manages to build a still entertaining game with it. It’s just never amazing.It’s like cooking on a fire, you’ll get your nutrients of the egg you are baking on an open fire all the same.. but your omelette would have been nicer in a more controlled environment.
Due to it’s weird gameplay .. which still is oddly satisfying yet can’t sate any appetite, it is not a game I can easily compare with anything. Each genre it uses has better games. Like Pocky and Rocky for co-op 2d shooting with cute characters for example. Or Donkey Kong for the platforming stuff. Turtles in time is a better arcade beat them up yet oddly there is no game like Joe and Mac that is better than it. Maybe Mystical Ninja.. but that is once again a very different feeling game. In a way it kind of feels a bit like a “my first retro” game suggestion. It has a bit of all the forgotten genres. The beloved classics. So if you want to pick up retro gaming.. to take your first steps Joe and Mac is kind of a really solid choice.
It’s forgiving it teaches you the fundamentals of platform timing, it is action packed and colourful and with a friend I am sure it can be a hoot and a half. Losing your last life will boot you out of a stage and makes you re-do it and by the time I finished the entire game I never experienced a penalty more severe than that…which is good because of the level of tedium would have shot way up and the last few stages already felt to repetitive. It knows what it is and caters to that so the game can be played by basically everyone who has a free night on their hands. It’s filled with plenty of flaws.. but some of those flaws we can still be nostalgic about.
Going for the Bronze
At least Joe and Mac teaches us a bit of things about history. Before I played this game I always thought that Humans and Dinosaurs lived in separate ages unless in cartoons.. but hey these guys are ninja’s and those are always serious. Nor was there ever a Joe and Mac cartoon! So that must mean these events are the actual history. Humans and Dinosaurs did live together. Also the wheel was not invented for transportation but for combat reasons. It is very good against T-Rexes and for removing Mastodont trunks, from the elephant creature while they still are live! Dinosaurs also loved to captured young ladies.. or people did to feed them to the dinosaur.. history is kind of vague about that one. Still it is all rather fascinating to see how even vegetarian dinosaurs used to capture girls and be all evil! In fact even dead dinosaurs did! That is right .. in one stage you fight the skeleton of a brontosaur which has captured a dame. Who knew that dinosaurs like human females as much. I guess it explains why King Kong does what he does. I mean I bet he evolved from dinosaurs too! So it makes sense.
Also it shows that christianity existed before the birth of jesus, because the final boss is the devil. If your character dies they become an angel, which clearly shows that caveman clearly had some christian values! Which was really surprising! I really figured JC started the thing. Apparently that was all a lie! Maybe the story of this game made Joe lust for many women so he actually steals them from the dinosaurs.. but he finds out it is actual Satan manipulating his lusts so Satan can claim the souls of the first ninja’s ever in existance. Again History can be quite unclear about it’s motivations. Especially in the age before cutscenes were invented. It wasn’t even that hard to defeat satan, we did not need hours of introspection or prayer .. we just needed 300 stone wheels and 500 bones. Now there is a lesson that is practical. Satan’s weakness is wheels! So toss a tire at him next time you see him.
Joe and Mac by no means is a must play, but it is not something you will regret playing either. It can be a delightful low brow evening with a friend that you can play on your old consoles with a brewski or two. Most of these Beat them ups or 2d shoots are insanely difficult… like Pocky and Rocky for example.. and therefore can be a bit unrewarding to play, yet with Joe and Mac you are sure to have a good time. Yet at the same time I can’t help but feel this game is “that safe choice”. No matter what type of player you have this game is fine for basically every retro enthusiast but if you put it on no one will have an AMAZING time either. It’s like that student that always goes for “the passing grade”. It doesn’t go for the win as long as it can finish on the podium or in the ranking. That is something I take greater issue with somehow as someone trying to be great but failing but that is strictly a personal thing of mine. In the two hours and a bit I had played I mostly had fun and I honestly think anyone will. However I am fed up with caveman for now and it is time to leap a few years ahead. To the age wear people began to wear sheets instead of skins. Where philosophers and titans ruled supreme! We travel to the age of the third place.. . I wonder.. did people forge stuff with gold and zilver first and did bronze actually came in third or is that something different. We will find out next time!
Thank you again for reading my post and supporting the blog ! If you like my content back sure to follow the blog or check me on twitter so you do not miss any of my brainfarts! Tell me about some historic retro games I should play in the future! Now I shall board the TALDIG again and we shall meet again in the future and 1988 and 1200 BC! Remember I love you all, keep smiling and stay positive!
Previously on A BIT of HISTORY
Part 0: What is Pinkie Doing now
Part 1: E.V.O. The Search for Eden
Part 2: Flintstones Treasure of Sierra Madrock
And Next Time!