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Joe & Mac (NES) artwork

Joe & Mac (NES) review

"Pteranodons... Pteranodons everywhere..."

Joe & Mac (NES) image

Confession: I am in my thirties, and I still get pumped when I see dinosaurs in a video game. The product on display needn't be of particularly high quality, either; you can show me screenshots from an ill-regarded adventure and I'll be sold the instant I notice a T. Rex. As you can imagine, my enthusiasm has over the years led to many wasted hours and much disappointment. To this day, I still have the occasional nightmare about Dino Rex, and I struggle to purge BC Racers from my memory. Recently, I've added the 8-bit, caveman-themed platformer Joe & Mac to the hall of shame.

Joe & Mac doesn't immediately warrant disgust. For an NES game, it showcases acceptable visuals and a wonderful array of environs. Stage one, for example, places you within a valley decked out with gorgeous vegetation, while majestic volcanoes line the distant horizon. Later on, you creep through a mountainous stage with magenta soil that's actually tasteful and pleasant, rather than nauseating like it so easily could have been. Mostly, this is thanks to a similarly colored skyline that sets a foreboding tone...

Joe & Mac (NES) imageJoe & Mac (NES) image

From that point onward, Joe & Mac spins a prehistoric yarn using its graphics. Subsequent stages speak of plague, mass extinction and desolation. Trees whither and crumble next to half-eaten dinosaurs, and panicked reptiles and hominids dart away from impending disaster. Ever the steadfast duo, our heroes intrepidly advance against the tide of horrified life forms as they seek out the source of this madness. I have to admit that the last few stages are awesome in their own right. It's just a shame the rest of the game is such a wreck.

By the time I completed level one, I already had a few qualms. For one thing, stage designs are stodgy and straightforward. The first zone is an uncomplicated jaunt past rudimentary creatures. There are no pits or landmarks, beyond a couple of behemoths lying in your path. At worst, you might have to spring over a petite theropod while avoiding airborne pteranodons. It's an otherwise boring trip that concludes with a decent boss encounter. Subsequent stages try to include contemporary platformer schemes, but end up falling flat. Stage three, for instance, only features a few basic pitfalls that add little to its design. They aren't tricky to surmount, and can be easily avoided by ascending to the tier positioned directly above them.

Joe & Mac (NES) imageJoe & Mac (NES) image

It also doesn't help that Joe & Mac's regions are quite brief. When I reached the initial boss, I thought the game had glitched and I had somehow missed half of the level. In actuality, the introductory area is so tiny that its inclusion in the campaign comes off as an afterthought. You know you're in for a rough quest when you haven't even reached the second gauntlet and stages already feel tacked on.

Unfortunately, the developers at Data East seem to have invested more energy in the game's challenge factor than anything else. For Joe & Mac, an elevated difficulty rating translates to extra pterosaurs, without apparent consideration for their placement within a stage. For that reason, you spend most of the latter half of the campaign dodging flying creatures, instead of engaging in worthwhile brawls or negotiating tricky landscapes. Call me crazy, but isn't that the opposite of what action titles strive to accomplish?

Worse than that, though, is the way the standard jump function proves all but useless because of its low arc. Half the time, you can't even bound over frickin' ordinary boulders or common enemies without a collision resulting. Your only recourse is to execute special high leaps over nearly everything, and I mean nearly everything. Ironically, this increases your likelihood of smacking into a winged monstrosity and suffering damage anyway.

Joe & Mac (NES) imageJoe & Mac (NES) image

Of course, this is all assuming you manage to even pull off a jump in the first place. I've had numerous occasions when my high leap didn't respond and I instead ended up careening into the opposition. In a game where mitigating damage through avoidance is paramount, control response issues are the pits. You can bet that such a product will be tough as nails, but for the wrong reasons.

The stiff challenge also shows in Joe & Mac's boss lineup. Despite its flaws, the adventure sports a few decent boss encounters, such as a scuffle against a vicious brachiosaurus, and a pattern-based war with a massive pteranodon. Sadly, it's easy to overlook these conflicts when elsewhere you have to deal with creatures like the man-eating plant that lurks at the end of level two. This guy spits out two diminutive versions of himself that can withstand several hits. They also re-spawn almost the instant they perish, and did I mention that they spit projectiles, too? On top of that, there's a pesky pterosaur running erratic flight patterns overhead. Sustain a blow from this guy while jumping and you'll likely fall in between the miniature plants, where you'll receive the beating of your life. On top of all of that, the boss can one-shot you if you should happen to come within range. Evading that attack isn't easy when the aforementioned pteranodon constantly pushes you in its direction. Because instant death is precisely what an altercation fraught with unavoidable damage needs...

Joe & Mac (NES) image

Prior to the end of the campaign, Joe & Mac also resorts to rehashing bosses. Data East at least tried to up the challenge factor in each rematch, but did so by throwing additional pteranodons at you. In other words, you now have to handle an overwhelming number of distractions whilst abiding broken mechanics. If you can stomach this dreadful combination, then you possess the utmost patience.

Ultimately, Joe & Mac joins the numerous, disappointing dino-laden fare I've endured over the years. The abundance of overly simplistic levels and a reliance on cramming boatloads creatures onto the screen give the impression that Data East wanted to craft a hard platformer, but only cared enough put forth part of the effort required. The predictable result is a title that's a great deal tougher than it is entertaining...


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (March 05, 2016)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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honestgamer posted March 05, 2016:

I just watched a NintendoComplete video on YouTube, which runs through the whole game in one life, spending under 17 minutes on the effort. I was impressed by how good the game looks, by NES standards. A visual stunner, arguably. It includes a surprising number of key elements from the clearly superior SNES version, but the difficulty--particularly because of the pesky flying enemies--does look like it would kill any possible enjoyment.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 05, 2016:

Yeah, this game is more trouble than it's worth. There are a few good, difficult scenes, though, like the first pteranodon boss. All in all, it's almost as bad as Swamp Thing when it comes to ridiculous difficulty outweighing entertainment factor.
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Masters posted March 07, 2016:

Joe, did you ever play the arcade version? I remember liking it well enough, but then, I didn't know any better at the time. I ask, because I wonder how this holds up as a port.

Also, for dino goodness, just play Bonk's Adventure.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 08, 2016:

Thanks for reading, Marc! I've yet to play either the arcade version of Joe & Mac or any Bonk games (I think I may have tried one out, but it was ages ago and I don't remember anything about it). I have had the Bonk series on my list of games to check out, though.
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Masters posted March 08, 2016:

If you do play Bonk, play the first one, Bonk's Adventure, and for the TG16, not the NES or GB. Bonk's Revenge for the TG16 is also a lot of fun.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted March 08, 2016:

Duly noted. :)
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honestgamer posted March 08, 2016:

The TurboGrafx-16 version of Bonk's Adventure is available as a Virtual Console download on the Wii (but not the Wii U, though you can easily enough use a Wii U to play it in emulated mode) and is the version I play when I feel a hunger for Bonk. Which isn't often, admittedly. I don't like the series as much as most people seem to, for some reason.
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Masters posted March 09, 2016:

I suspect it might have something to do with the game playing pretty slow for a mascot platformer. Beside a Super Mario game, it might seem a slog, and beside Sonic? Bonk may as well be at a standstill.

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