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by Kurt Kalata - March 2nd, 2010

The late '80s/early '90s video game scene featured an inordinate amount of titles with ninjas. (This is not a complaint.) Less popular, although still prolific, were games set in the prehistoric era, including Camerica's Big Nose the Caveman, Electronic Arts' Caveman Ugh-Lympics, Titus' Prehistorik Man, and, of course, Hudson's Bonk's Adventure. Data East had the brilliant idea to combine both elements into a single game - a bright and goofy two player arcade title called Caveman Ninja.

In truth, there's very little of anything to do with ninjas. The Japanese subtitle, Tatakae Genshijin, is more closely translated as "Fighting Cavemen", and many of the console ports simply go by the name Joe & Mac, the name of the wild haired duo who go out fighting dinosaurs and looking for babes. Some of the ports combine the two into Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja. The arcade game was ported to several systems at the time, and grew out into three sequels - one for the arcade, and two for the SNES.

Caveman Ninja (Arcade)


Joe & Mac / Caveman Ninja / Joe & Mac Tatakae Genshijin (ジョー&マック 戦え原始人) - Arcade, SNES, Genesis, NES, Game Boy, IBM PC, Amiga, Wii, Zeebo (1991)

Japanese Arcade Flyer

American NES Cover

European PC Cover

American SNES Cover

The story of Joe & Mac is typical - rival caveman have invaded and captured all of the village women and it's up to the two heroes to venture forth and save them. Due its cartoonish nature, it's probably closest to the Bonk games in tone, although Joe & Mac was released over a year later. They're both cartoonish takes on the prehistoric era that have the heroes fight against dinosaurs through jungles, waterfalls, volcanos and the like. There are even very similar segments where you jump into the mouth of a dinosaur and fight through its expansive innards. Despite these similarities, they primarily differentiate themselves due to their respective histories - Bonk was developed for home consoles, so it focuses more on expansive levels and platforming, whereas Joe & Mac were born in the arcades, with a focus on straightforward, two player simultaneous action.

By default, the heroes toss axes, either vertically or horizontally. They travel on a short arc, which does't get much distance. Whenever you get close to an enemy, you'll also use your club to whack them. Additionally, you can charge up your attacks by holding down the attack button, which will toss larger, more powerful versions of the current main weapon. There are several different types of weapons, including stone wheels, fireballs, and shadowy doppelgangers that charge forward and attack, probably the only real "ninja"-like element of the whole game. Other power-ups include hot sauce, which will temporarily cause you to become invincible and breathe fire. Getting smashed by an enemy will also flatten you into a pancake for a few seconds, although you can still move and attack while squished. Finally, you can do a super-somersault leap by holding Up and Jump.

Joe & Mac's life meters are long, but they count down slowly over time, similar to Adventure Island. Getting hit will drop it by several bars, but the copious amounts of food - including meat and, strangely enough, sushi - will replenish it bit by bit. Getting killed also sends you back to a checkpoint, unless you're playing in two player mode, although the levels are quite short anyway. It's really only annoying during boss fights, particularly because their vulnerable spots can occasionally be tough to hit, making the battles drag somewhat. Many levels end up with a split path, allowing you to choose the next stage. Some stages also have you riding through the rivers on an aquatic dinosaur. The end of the game takes you inside the belly of a giant prehistoric monster, and there are three different endings, depending on the path you choose after the final boss. All of them involve Joe & Mac being comically chased, either by a horde of women, a single fat woman, or an effiminately dressed caveman. God bless 90s-era politically incorrect Japan. It's not a remarkable game overall, but it's reasonably fun, especially in two player mode.

On the surface, the SNES version looks just like the arcade version with nearly identical graphics, but it's actually quite different. All of the stages have been reworked and expanded in length, and there's a map screen which connects all of the levels. You'll occasionally find hidden keys, which will unlock gates on the map and yield bonus goodies. Don't confuse this for Super Mario World, though - despite the longer levels, the game is still quite short and linear.

The changes definitely make for a fuller game, but some very important fundamentals have been changed too, and not always for the better. You no longer lose health as time goes by, and instead of a long life bar, you get five hearts, which deplete by halves. When you're killed, you're resurrected on the same spot, as opposed to being tossed back to a checkpoint. Your default weapon is just the plain club with no projectiles, making you significantly weaker without power-ups. Furthermore, many of the enemies take multiple hits, whereas they would only take a single hit in the other versions. Some power-ups, like the tabasco sauce and body double attack, are missing, as is the ability to charge up weapons, and you can no longer get flattened into a pancake. You can, however, roll by double tapping in either direction. Other differences include the lack of the dinosaur riding areas, a different final boss, and only a single ending. In addition to the standard two player mode, there's a "Super Game," which lets the players stand on each others heads, allowing both to reach items that would otherwise be out of reach. This is how it worked in the arcade game, but the standard two player mode lets both characters run through each other. All in all, while the expanded content is great, the controls and framerate also seem a bit sluggish, at least compared to the arcade and Genesis versions.

Compared to the SNES port, the Genesis version is more of a straight rendition of the arcade game. It controls better than the SNES game but obviously lacks the expanded levels. The graphics suffer a bit due to the 64-color palette, but it still looks pretty good. You no longer lose health over time, either. It was published by Takara and ported by Eden Entertainment Software.

The NES port is drastically scaled back, with tiny sprites and completely redesigned levels. There are five stages total, who are divided into two sub-areas, each punctuated by a boss battle. Some of these are new to this version, although they aren't anything special - the first mini-boss is a small dinosaur, while the main boss is a giant T-Rex like the rest of the versions. Although the level designs are based off the arcade version, they're also longer and quite a bit different. The first stage is nothing but a long, straight plain. The graphics overall are pretty bad, despite some very impressive parallax scrolling in certain areas. The controls are pretty crappy, most of the power-ups are missing, and it doesn't even have a two player mode, rendering this version mostly garbage.

The Game Boy port is based off the arcade version, again, although the levels are slightly reworked and expanded. Like the NES version, its controls are pretty bad and it's missing power-ups, so it's of little worth.

The computer versions are surprisingly decent. The Amiga version is limited to 32 colors, while the IBM PC version uses full 256-color graphics that are very accurate to the arcade. Both play very well, too, and are quite accurate, despite the downgraded sound in both cases. The IBM PC port is probably the best home version overall, at least outside of the console ports. Arcade perfect versions appear on the Data East Classics compilation, released for the Wii in 2010, as well as on the Brazilian low-budget console Zeebo.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Data East

Publisher:

Data East

Designer:

Makoto Kikuchi

Genre:

Action: Side-Scrolling
Platforming

Themes:

Ninjas!
Prehistoric
Sex Sells


Caveman Ninja (Arcade)

Caveman Ninja (Arcade)

Caveman Ninja (Arcade)

Caveman Ninja (Arcade)

Caveman Ninja (Arcade)

Caveman Ninja (Arcade)

Caveman Ninja (Arcade)


Comparison Screenshots


Arcade Endings


Congo's Caper / Tatakae Genshijin 2: Rookie no Bouken (戦え原始人2 ルーキーの冒険) - SNES (1992)

American Cover

Japanese Cover

Wait, this doesn't look much like a Joe & Mac game! It technically isn't, but the Japanese title is Tatakae Genshijin 2, officially making it a sequel. Outside of its similar premise and an occasional shared asset or two, it really is almost a completely different game. It forsakes the standard linear levels of the arcade game with larger, multi-directional scrolling stages that feel more like a console game. The nature of the level designs is totally different, concentrating more on platforming. Even the graphical style is worlds apart, as it seems like this one is aimed more at younger kids, with a more cutesy art style and complete lack of cave babes. The only holdovers include some similar themes, like exploring the innards of dinosaurs, and the ability to super jump.

Instead of Joe & Mac, here you play as a caveman named Congo, apparently the duo's ancestor. He's kind of an evolutionary missing link, as he still has a tail. Whenever you get hit, you devolve into a monkey, and the next hit will kill you. Scattered around the stage are red gems - if you're a monkey, it'll upgrade back to a human, but if you're already human and collect three of them, you'll activate a more powerful form. There aren't any projectile weapons, forcing you to rely on your dumpy little club. Each world is filled with yellow gems, which, naturally, will give you an extra life when you collect a hundred of them. The two player simultaneous mode is missing, forcing you to trade controllers if you want to play with another person. The game is divided into six worlds, each with four levels. Once you complete the first world, you can tackle the next four worlds in any order before moving to the final stage. While Congo's Caper isn't a bad game by any stretch, it ends up feeling like a competent but remarkably average SNES platformer, which are a dime a dozen on the system.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Data East

Publisher:

Data East

Designer:

Shingo Kuwana

Genre:

Action: Side-Scrolling
Platforming

Themes:

Prehistoric


Congo's Caper (SNES)



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