Joe & Mac (SNES) review
"Besides the fact that Joe and Mac toss weapons as if their arms are made of string cheese, thereís the matter of narrow platforms. Most of these are saved for the end of the game, in the last level or two. Itís easy to spend a few lives just trying to make it across a chasm, thanks to the tendency your chosen caveman has to pass through ledges because of faulty hit detection. Even when you donít have to worry about instant death from such matters, you have to remember that you move slowly and compensate for it."
Back in the days of old, women didnít fight with men for the best jobs and their own staplers. They didnít go out shopping a whole lot, either. Instead, they sat around the grass huts and waited to be kidnapped by marauding bands of cavemen. Itís during this era that Joe & Mac takes place. True to form, the bodacious babes that surround the eponymous heroes get themselves snatched away by bearded Neanderthals, and so it is that you must run and jump through a series of grueling stages in order to rescue them.
Itís not exactly the most original of plots, Iíll agree. But then, itís not exactly the most original of games. And in the end, when all is said and done, you just wonít care. Youíll play Joe & Mac and youíll have fun doing so. Youíll think to yourself ďWow, who needs originality?Ē Then youíll play it again and ask yourself a new question: ďWhat the heck was I thinking?Ē
You see, Joe & Mac is the kind of game thatís a lot of fun until you hold it up to a microscope. Then you start seeing the flaws. Said blemishes arenít immediately apparent for one very good reason: the game looks pretty sweet.
Just imagine running through a prehistoric stage. Grassy ledges abound. Pterodactyls swoop down from the sky and you clobber them, then leap over a running caveman complete with leopard-skin duds that would make even Fred Flintstone jealous. Advancing to the right, you find that in order to proceed you must climb atop a slumbering Tyrannosaurus Rex, who then awakens long enough to try and tear you away from a ledge at the stageís conclusion.
All of this looks very nice. There are steaming volcano peaks in the distance, pale blue skies and even puffy clouds. The artists rendered everything vibrantly, and thereís a good amount of detail. Later stages play host to icy columns, baby blue water that looks so inviting youíll be tempted to take a swim, and even blistering pools of magma. Youíll fight prehistoric foliage, mammoths, spiky armadillos and more. The whole time, everything looks fantastic. The thing is, the gameplay doesnít match.
Letís go back to that very first stage I mentioned, the one where you climb over the sleeping dinosaur. As it opens, youíll get to crack open an egg and find a special weapon. This is cool at first, and it almost feels Contra-like (particularly if youíre playing through with a friend, who gets to dance about on the screen at the same time you do). Then you find that each of the weapons tends to suck. It doesnít matter if youíre throwing a bunch of bony clubs or even boomerangs or stone wheels; you just canít have many in motion at one time. Because of this, you have to carefully time your shots and you also have to watch that you donít accidentally grab a weapon thatís even worse than the one you already possess. Until youíve memorized which eggs hold which power-ups, itís all too easy to crack open a shell in the heat of the moment and find yourself with the lousy stone clubs instead of the boomerangs or fire. The resulting need to move with caution means that the Ďmindless funí factor is removed.
So is the Ďgee, this game controls greatí factor. Besides the fact that Joe and Mac toss weapons as if their arms are made of string cheese, thereís the matter of narrow platforms. Most of these are saved for the end of the game, in the last level or two. Itís easy to spend a few lives just trying to make it across a chasm, thanks to the tendency your chosen caveman has to pass through ledges because of faulty hit detection. Even when you donít have to worry about instant death from such matters, you have to remember that you move slowly and compensate for it. Is a dinosaur rushing you? Better hope you planned ahead and jumped in time! While this isnít a game-crippling flaw until right at the very end--giving you lots of early stages to play through again and again--it is frustrating.
And while weíre on the subject of those early stages, I should mention that they all start to feel just the slightest bit redundant. The general flow of the game works like so: run through a short stage throwing wheels or fire or whatever like itís going out of style, die a life or two, then make it to the boss and exploit simplistic attack patterns so that you can repeat it all again in the next level. The only true deviation here comes in the form of special eggs that are hard to reach and crack open. If you manage to, youíll be taken to a bonus stage, where you can grab extra weapons, lives or keys to unlock special bonus areas on the world map. Of course, this doesnít really matter in the grand scheme of things. Itís just an attempt on the part of the developers to add depth.
And here we are, to the heart of the matter already. Joe & Mac really was a good game. It had nice visuals and it was great fun to play if you managed to scrounge up a friend. The problems only arose when you almost reached the end, then gave it another shot. A good game should hold up to repeated plays. And frankly, the only way youíll want to play Joe & Mac over other games you may have in your collection now is if youíve simply forgotten how little you liked it. Then you play, and all your memories of sluggish controls and redundant levels come to rain on your parade. Donít forget again. Always remember the rain.
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 18, 2005)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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