The Joe and Mac series is one of those small blips that litter video game history. They were moderately popular for a few years before disappearing without a trace and without much thought to where they went. They are not unlike Gex or Onimusha. Not bad games necessarily (I have a lot of good things to say about Onimusha someday), but not the most memorable one either. I only know Data East’s Joe and Mac because I had a friend in grade school that swore by and I heard about it on Retronauts. Having never played it, I added it to my list for this SNES explorative endeavor. I almost wish I hadn’t.
Joe and Mac shows its arcade roots. I was expecting something more like Mario, but the game shares more with Contra. There is some light platforming, but most of the game is a prehistoric run and gun. Only a run and gun without good shooting ahem, throwing options. There is a bone, a boomerang and a fireball. All of take more than one hit to kill an enemy. In the time I spent with the game, no more than the hour or so it took to finish it, I was not able to tell if there was a power difference between them. It seemed like it only changed the speed and trajectory of the player’s shots. While the overall it was much like Contra, it lacked that series’ tight levels. Joe and Mac feel sloppy and half formed. More accurately, it feels like an arcade game designed to eat quarters hastily remixed to play decently on a home console. There are a lot of cheap hits and deaths, but the game gives players a life bar and plenty of health pick-ups. That just serves to make a lot of it feel inconsequential. There is little penalty for getting hit.
What I missed, and what I am sure was the true draw of this game back in the day was the coop. I didn’t have someone to play with and this feels like a game that gets a lot more fun with a little cooperation and/or competition. It isn’t bad single player, but there are so many better games to play on just the SNES that I can’t recommend it. But coop can change things. If there is some fighting you to get to the health refills or to rack up the most points, a lot of the inconsequential stuff can feel more important. But even then, it is not like the SNES is lacking other coop games. I know the system was flooded with beat-em-ups.
Joe and Mac is a relic of a bygone time. Being forgotten to history is probably a kindness to it. It was never good enough to be called great and time hasn’t done it any favors, but it certainly isn’t bad enough to be worthy of any great scorn. It is just a mediocre arcade port from 1991 and it plays like it.