Joe and Mac Returns
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Arcade
  • Developer:
    • Data East
  • Publisher:
    • Data East
  • Released:
    • 1994
Score: 70%

This review was published on 08/04/2017.

Joe and Mac Returns is a coin operated arcade game originally developed and published by Data East in 1994. As its poorly grammaticized title suggests, this game is part of the Joe and Mac series. It's the fourth and final game in the series, following Joe and Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics, which is known in Europe as Joe and Mac 3. The history behind the Joe and Mac series is a little complicated, you see. The original Joe and Mac initially released as a coin operated arcade game in 1991 before being ported to various home platforms. On the other hand, the second and third games in the series were both exclusive to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Famicom. As a result of that, Joe and Mac Returns is the first game in the series to return to its arcade gaming roots, hence the title. Despite that, it doesn't play remotely like any other game in the series. In fact, this game bears a striking resemblance to another arcade title by Data East called Tumble Pop. At any rate, Joe and Mac Returns is nothing special.

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This game plays similarly to the popular arcade classic from the late 1980s, Bubble Bobble. Basically, it's a platform game viewed from a side perspective, but the screen never scrolls. In other words, every stage is comprised of only a single screen. Like Bubble Bobble, your main objective is simple: kill all the enemies in order to move on to the next stage, where you'll repeat the process until the game has been conquered. Another similarity this game shares with Bubble Bobble is how felled foes generally transform into various foods that you can then collect for mad points. The sorts of foods are different, sure, but it's functionally the same thing. Where this game diverges from Bubble Bobble is in the way that you defeat enemies, as you won't be encasing them in bubbles. You will be putting them inside something else, though.

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Unsurprisingly, this game stars the two titular cavemen, Joe and Mac. The first player controls Joe, and a second player can jump in as Mac at virtually any time. Joe and Mac's basic capabilities include walking, ducking, jumping, and attacking. By default, Joe and Mac attack by using a club to create a shockwave on the ground that travels for a short distance. This shockwave only stuns enemies, though. To actually defeat enemies, you must touch them while they're stunned to place them inside a bag, and then press the attack button again to toss the bag. At that point, the bag will roll along the ground, injuring or outright killing whatever it collides with. You can bag multiple enemies to make a bigger bag, and the larger it is, the more enemies it'll plow through before breaking apart. Caution must be exercised when doing this, however, as enemies will break out of your bag if you hold onto it for too long. If this occurs, you'll die instantly, because everything kills you in one hit in this game. While awkward, bagging works well enough as a core mechanic.

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Another way in which this game differs from Bubble Bobble is that there are distressed damsels to save in most stages. All you have to do to rescue a damsel is touch her, but if you accidentally attack her, she'll push you into the nearest wall, temporarily knocking you unconscious. Thankfully, damsels can't be harmed by enemies or the bags you toss around. While saving these cave damsels is optional, they'll toss more food for you to collect if you do. They'll also frequently give out a power-up or two. You can occasionally find power-ups in other ways, but saving damsels is the most reliable method. Possible power-ups include stone clubs that create longer shockwaves, boots that increase speed, hot peppers that grant brief invincibility, hammers that stun all enemies on the screen, and stone wheels that kill enemies without having to bag them first. Most power-ups are only temporary, but they're still handy to have around.

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As soon as you get past the title screen, you're presented with a world select screen. Progress within worlds is totally linear, but you do have the freedom to pick a world at the start. Unfortunately, you can't pick worlds after you begin the game proper, as things will progress in a set order from that point onwards. Interestingly, the amount of stages a world has is dependent on when a world is tackled. For example, the first world you do will always be only four stages long, regardless of which one it is. Then the second world will have more stages, and the third will have more than that, and so on. This makes it so that the game will always get progressively harder the longer you play, regardless of where you start. Also, upon completing each world, you'll be treated to a comical scene in which Joe and Mac get into salacious situations with cute cave babes. They don't add much to the game, but these short scenes do embody some of the original charm of the first Joe and Mac.

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Each world is themed after familiar prehistoric locations from Joe and Mac, such as a jungle, a volcano, some icy caverns, an eerie dinosaur graveyard, and the sea. Outside of the graphics and music, both of which are pretty decent, the only things that differ from one stage to the next are the arrangement of platforms and the kinds of enemies that appear. Some stages have enemy generators in the form of huts, which won't stop generating foes until demolished. Similar to Bubble Bobble, a creepy ghost will show up and chase you around if you take too long to complete a specific stage. There are also bosses waiting for a tussle at the end of every world. All bosses are completely impervious to your standard club attack, so you'll have to use the infinitely spawning enemies to beat them. Things do get dull after a while, but the game is short enough that it'll be over before it gets too boring.

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If you like arcade classic such as Bubble Bobble, then you may enjoy Joe and Mac Returns. Otherwise, there's not much here for ardent Joe and Mac fans. This game is more or less a reskin of Tumble Pop, which was more or less a reskin of Bubble Bobble. It does look and sound pretty good, though. Besides the decent graphics and sound, there are also a couple of voice samples. Whenever Joe or Mac start a stage, they'll shout "let's go" in a manner that's eerily similar to Charles Martinet's performance as Mario in Super Mario 64. Anyway, the series ends on a little bit of a sour note with Joe and Mac Returns, but the game's not bad. It's just not extraordinary.

Word Count: 1,160

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