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Joe & Mac (SNES) artwork

Joe & Mac (SNES) review

"You know, when you think about it, a platforming game set in prehistoric times is a great idea. Let’s face it — coming up with impressive bosses will be easy, as all one has to do is go to the library and take out a picture book of dinosaurs to come up with all the monster designs they need. "

You know, when you think about it, a platforming game set in prehistoric times is a great idea. Let’s face it -- coming up with impressive bosses will be easy, as all one has to do is go to the library and take out a picture book of dinosaurs to come up with all the monster designs they need.

And Joe & Mac does a great job of proving that to be true. Loading with many gigantic bosses that look very impressive for early SNES foes, your caveman protagonists will have no shortage of epic end-of-level encounters in their quest to save a bevy of babes from their cold-blooded captors.

The first level’s main encounter sets the stage wonderfully for Joe & Mac’s quest. While traveling across some non-imposing terrain, bonking cavemen and miniature pterodactyls with every step, your hero will come across a gigantic sleeping dinosaur. Scaling its body while laying waste to a few more insignificant foes has no effect on its slumber, leading you to believe that it’s only decoration and that you’re in the clear.

You are wrong.

After leaving it behind, you’ll reach the end of the level. A loud sound comes from off the screen and you hear heavy stomping sounds. Guess whose nap was interrupted after all? Fortunately, for all his size and ability to make a dramatic entrance, Mr. Dinosaur isn’t able to put up much more of a fight than the average dino skeleton model seen in many fine museums.

But things only get better as you go along. Later levels feature gigantic versions of the pterodactyl, a prototype of the venus fly-trap, a massive mammoth and a couple more of those big dinosaurs. Of course, when you meet the meaner brothers of the first level’s adversary, it’s a pretty good idea to forget all about that initial encounter, as the game’s final bosses are as difficult as the early ones are easy.

In the first couple of boss battles, it’ll take a slip-up or two for you to take any damage, but as the game reaches its climax, it takes a monumental effort just to squeeze out a hard-fought victory. Gone is the slow-moving, inoffensive dinosaur of the first level, as he has been replaced by a behemoth who spits rocks and cavemen at you and then quickly lunges its head toward you with deceptive speed while you’re distracted by those other attacks. Oh, and you have to dodge the attacks of this new breed of dinosaur for some time, as it has a life meter long enough to ensure that you’ll have to EARN your ticket to the final region of the game.

Fighting all of these bosses really made me think about how some games I’ve played have had “boss” modes, where you can simply fight a bunch of bosses without going through stages or powering up your hero. You know, I really wish Joe & Mac had that option. As attractive and exciting as many of these bosses are, they cannot truly compensate for the fact they are in a pretty mediocre game. Sure, Data East was able to make a game that was quite attractive for its time, but they weren’t so successful in creating a game with great gameplay.

I realize that cavemen never have historically been compared to the average world-class gymnast, but this game really has clunky play control. Hit detection is a big culprit here, as you’ll take your fair share of controversial damage and watch your hero fail in his attempts to jump to many small ledges regardless of how successful the actual leap looked.

The mammoth’s icy stage is a nightmare to navigate, with plenty of perilous jumps on the slippery stuff where one miscalculation will send you into spikes. Sadly, the word “miscalculation” is a pretty subjective one in this game, as the spikes tend to win out far more than you might want. One particular instance where you jump down a shaft with spikes embedded on both walls particularly stands out, as you have NO room for error due to the narrowness of the shaft and the game’s insistence that close calls always go in the computer’s favor.

In a later stage, you’ll be jumping from ledge to ledge over a lake. Once again, this is easier said than done. Many of these stepping stones are no wider than your caveman AND you can’t simply “kinda” jump on the ledge. Nope, you have to be completely on the ledge or you’ll soon watch your caveman plummet into the lethal waters -- even though it’s blatantly obvious that at least his front foot partially landed on the ledge.

So, pin-point control is a necessity in many of these stages. Sadly, you won’t be getting that. Joe and Mac both are fairly clunky and slow in reacting. One reason that final dinosaur’s attacks are so deadly is because it simply is near-impossible to dodge a rock that is directly spit at you. You can run, but the odds are high it’ll still hit you. And that extends to many of the regular levels, as many foes will come at you the instant you scroll them onto the screen (or even beforehand), meaning your reflexes will have to be beyond excellent to avoid damage in this game.

Many of these levels are short and dull, too. You only fight a handful of enemies, with cavemen being the foe of choice for most of the game. The two vertical levels are so tiny that it seemingly only takes a hop, skip and jump to reach the boss -- although the number of enemies attacking from bad angles means you’ll still get a full dose of frustration.

Data East did do a couple of things right in designing their levels, although it in no way makes up for the gameplay flaws. First, you have a multitude of weapons, ranging from bone clubs to fire to stone wheels. As you find each new weapon, you can switch between all your options at will. And, in a nice touch, you have to use strategy, as there is NO perfect weapon that excels in all situations. As the game progressed, I used the boomerang and stone wheel. The boomerang was fast and I could have three on the screen at once.....but it was pathetically weak, taking many hits to wipe out even one caveman. The wheel was super-strong, but you only could have two on the screen at once....and if you missed, you would have to watch your projectile slowly roll off the screen before you could start firing off more attacks. Go up against a quick foe and the boomerang would have a bit of an advantage -- but take on a strong, slow monster and the stone wheel is far more handy.

Also, Joe & Mac includes a few bonus levels for players skilled enough to grab the key. Getting to the secret “key levels” isn’t necessarily an easy task, as you not only must find a red egg in the actual stage, but also must figure out exactly how to properly destroy it. One is guarded by four small dinosaurs. Smash the egg before killing the dinosaurs and the egg only gives a weapon. But if you can kill all four dinosaurs first, the smashed egg will reveal a pterodactyl that flys you to the “key level”. These bonus levels are great places to get weapons you may have missed or to regenerate your life meter without too much opposition.

But all the little extras in the world can’t compensate for the fact that this is one flawed game. Memorable boss battles and the need for intelligently selecting the right weapon for the job are nice, but I’d rather have characters with mobility who won’t be victimized by shaky hit detection. Joe & Mac has a few shining moments, but it’s just not a game I can endorse as a fun diversion.


overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (October 07, 2004)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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