Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja
The year was 1988 and video games were incredibly popular. Rampant ninja-related games were released in these days. Data East is not the exception. While not quite as beloved as Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden, Data East's Bad Dudes is still a very familiar title to anyone who survived the 1980s. But when the decade of decadence finally ended, it seemed as though video game ninjitsu would fade as well. With no demons left to slay and no Reagans left to kidnap, the digital ninja was out of things to do. Or so it seemed. In 1991, Data East issued the final solution to the ninja problem: Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja. With its intense plot and advanced ninjitsu, this arcade game single-handedly revitalized the ninja genre. OK, maybe not.
Despite being a singular noun, Caveman Ninja is the story of TWO caveman, Joe and Mac, who are apparently the biggest pimps of the Prehistoric Era. They live in a primitive hut with a bunch of scantily dressed cave babes, which just happens to be my personal fantasy. One night when Joe and Mac are out hunting or some predictable shit like that, a gang of rival cavemen kidnap their hos. Needless to say, Joe and Mac get pissed and go on a killing rampage to save their hot slutty concubines. It's nice to see Data East is able to provide gamers with a diverse array of storylines in its games and not just rehash kidnapping plots over and over again. Oh, wait. The plot of Caveman Ninja is so similar to Bad Dudes, I'm surprised that they didn't use the same introductory screen. Aside from the fact that they both have lackluster setups, Bad Dudes and Caveman Ninja are two very different games. For instance, Bad Dudes actually has ninjas in it. But what Caveman Ninja lacks in accurate titles, it more than makes up for with its surprisingly good cartoonish graphics and enjoyable gameplay.
Basic Controls and Gameplay
You get two buttons in Caveman Ninja: jump and attack. Well, obviously you get directionals as well; you're not Stephen Hawking after all. You also get two attacks with your weapon. The first attack is your basic attack, just tap the attack button to throw your weapon. Joe's default weapon is a stone axe, but you can find better weapons, such as flints, wheels, boomerangs, fire, and electricity, hidden inside dinosaur eggs. Unfortunately, you might also find a pterodactyl or bomb inside them as well. While these are all great things for a caveman to hurl at his hapless opponents, they could hardly be considered ninja weapons. Actually, electricity is rather dubious choice for a neolithic weapon. Perhaps that would have been best to left to Data East's great unfinished sequel Thomas Edison: Ninja Inventor. Your second attack is a charge move. Hold down the attack button and your neanderthal buddy will wind his arm up in comedic fashion. After a second or two, you can release the button to throw a supersize version of your weapon. Despite being fictional characters, Joe and Mac will get tired if you hold a charge move for too long. This will cut into your character's energy and temporarily stun him, neither of which are good. This brings me to the next subject: the energy bar. Like many video game characters before them, such as The Bad Dudes, Joe and Mac have energy bars. As you easily could have guessed, getting hit decreases your energy. But unless you've played the game, you probably didn't guess that the caveman ninjas suffer from a mild case of MHS. MHS, formally known as Master Higgins Syndrome, is a rather serious form a fatigue. Sufferers of MHS must eat once at least every minute, except during boss battles, or they will die. Unlike the Adventure Island character who MHS is named after, Joe and Mac do not have independent bar that represents their food-related fatigue. If they fail to consume Pac-Man-like levels of food, it is their main life bar that will begin to drain. Although this may seem to be a disadvantage, it is not. Enemies drop food when you kill them, and in many cases it is very easy to pick up food at a faster rate than your energy bar drains. So if you fuck up and get yourself mauled by a pterodactyl, don't worry; you'll probably be able to gain it back. I think that pretty much cover the basics, let's move on to the actual game.
For the rest of the article, let's assume that Mac is dead. He's not, but it makes things a lot easier for me.
The levels in Caveman Ninja are all really short, but that doesn't mean that they're all really easy. However, the first one is. Although the hot chicks were kidnapped in the still of the night, the first level takes place in the daytime. So either Joe is the world's soundest sleeper or he's none too concerned about the possibility that his bitches are being gang raped. Or both. Level 1 takes place on and along the body of a sleeping T-Rex. Before you reach the end, a few pterodactyls and some shifty cavemen will attack you. There's even one little bomb-throwing bastard who comes at you in a foot-powered helicopter. Once Joe makes it past the dreaming dino, something unfortunate happens. Betcha can guess where this is going...
Despite being an obvious caveman and an avowed ninja, Joe is scared to death of giant dinosaurs. Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble are non-ninja cavemen and they wouldn't freak out like that. Fred would be like "Yabba Dabba Doo, motherfucker!" and beat the shit out of that T-Rex while Barney stood there giggling like a friggin' moron. Well, unless Pebbles had somehow ended up dangling precariously from the beast's head as a result of Fred's accidental neglect. Then Fred would scream like a girl and Bamm-Bamm would save the day. It is unclear what the relationship between the caveman and the T-Rex is. It is apparently the dinosaur who is holding your hussy hostage, but it only attacks you because you attack its baby. This doesn't really make any sense. A T-Rex isn't smart enough to mastermind an abduction plot nor is it docile enough for the caveman kidnappers to control. So basically, you only fight a T-Rex because it's a better boss than a prehistoric version of Karnov. Of course, Data East decided that the king of all dinosaurs isn't quite threatening enough in and of itself, so this one spits boulders and cavemen at you. Despite this "enhancement", it still isn't particularly hard to beat the Tyrannosaurus. Simply wind-up, jump, and throw. Repeat until dead. It's so simple that an eight-year-old could do it.
Most arcade games force you to endure life-draining boss battles and then send you off to die within seconds of starting the next level without any guilt or afterthought whatsoever. Caveman Ninja is not one of those games. Once you beat a boss, your Paleozoic poontang unties herself and runs over to kiss you. I'm sure she'd like to do more, but video game programmers didn't know what sex looked like in 1991. How could they? Internet porn didn't exist yet. As we saw earlier when Joe first encountered the big fucking dinosaur, he's an excitable guy. One little kiss is enough to fully revitalize our goofy green-haired hero. Then, in a move that can only be described as totally misguided, Joe throws up the peace sign. What the fuck is that? You can't brutally murder an animal and then turn around and offer some sign of peace. That'll just piss PETA off more. I'm not saying that PETA doesn't deserve it, but still. Let's move on and see what sort of fun stuff Joe will get to kill in Level 2.
Welcome to Level 2, the waterfall. Like the last level, this one is very short. You walk across a couple bridges, solve an elementary jumping puzzle, and then you're at the boss. This level introduces two new enemies. First, there are carnivorous plants. These things are somewhat threatening if you're right next to them, but when one is on the other side of a water hazard, you'd have to be pretty fucking stupid not to dispatch it's within biting range. One final caveat about the plants is that if you stand around like a goddam idiot staring at them, they will eventually shoot an easily dodged seed at you. This level also introduces one of the forgotten marvels of the prehistoric world: the jumping electric trout, which is able to leap out of the water at a perfect 90 degree angle.
The boss of Level 2 is Audrey II, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. This killer plant seems to prefer the taste of cavemen to sadistic dentists and that's very, very bad for you. Well, not really. Despite its vine whips and ability to spit saprolings at you, Audrey II is only marginally more difficult than the T-Rex. When you are all the way on the left side of the screen, Audrey's vines can't touch you so stay there whenever you can. However, it will try and shoot its saproling seeds directly at you, so when it starts to pucker up, run forward, then run back to your defensive position. Audrey doesn't have a lot of hitpoints, so this won't take long.
After defeating the killer plant, Joe departs for Level 3... or not. Even though you've beaten an important enemy and rescued a chick, the programmers at Data East still consider this to be Level 2 until you beat the next boss, because they're fucking idiots. If your energy refills, the goddam level is over. End of story. One of Caveman Ninja's cooler features is the fact that game splits off at a couple different points. You get to choose between an A course and a B course. You really ought to take the B course, but let's take a look at the A course first. The A course takes place in an autoscrolling tree filled with beehives. This level sucks. The beehives spawn bees like a motherfucker and they're damn near impossible to kill unless you run into them while invincible. For the love of God, don't choose this level unless you hate yourself.
Course B is a lot less frustrating than Course A. This level is an autoscrolling mountain where Joe must dodge boulders as he makes his way up the slanting platforms. It's suspiciously like Donkey Kong, except that Joe can break the boulders whenever the hell he feels like. There's also the obligatory cavemen and pterodactyls to look out for, but this level still shouldn't be too much trouble. Even if you die here, it's still better than dealing with fucking bees.
Regardless of which course you take, you'll still fight the same boss: a giant pterodactyl. Whereas the first two bosses are a fucking joke, this asshole is bound to give you some trouble. With her ability to cause wind shears and spawn two baby pterodactyls at a time, Mama Pterodactyl. is a force to be reckoned with. You can actually destroy her eggs before they hatch, and if you do, she's considerably less difficult to beat. When you finally do defeat the giant flying bitch, you'll have rescued a cave chick with what appears to be a mohawk/mullet hybrid. It is widely believed in narrow cliques that this hairstyle is at least partially responsible for killing off the dinosaurs. At the very least, it's responsible for ending Level 2.
Level 3 starts off on floating platforms in a river that vaguely resemble palm tree trunks. Like both versions of Level 3, this level autoscrolls, slowly, to provide the illusion that it's longer than it really is. In this level you will also get your first opportunity to pick up the extremely rare electricity attack. This move is particularly deadly; it can kill a normally resilient baby tyrannosaurus in one hit. Most of the enemies in this level are the same as before: the overly hairy cavemen, the baby T-Rexes, and those goddam pterodactyls There is also a new enemy, in the form of Pleistocene piranhas that jump out of the water and attempt to snack on Joe's harassing hairdo. They're not particularly threatening, but the level boss is.
I hate this boss. Rather than one giant boss with a predictable attack pattern, this Level 3 boss is a bunch of prehistoric fish that randomly jump out of the water from both sides of the screen at random angles. It takes a combination of luck, skill, and a half-decent weapon to beat these assholes. It also generally takes multiple tries. Did I mention I hate these guys? The worst part is, I don't even fucking know if this is an actual prehistoric fish or a contrived one. When I was seven years old, I would have known. (Note to self: Travel back in time to 1988 and ask young Syd what the fuck this damn thing* is called. Also tell him not to ask for the Rodimus Prime toy, because Rodimus sucks.)
After beating those fishy bastards, Joe once again gets to choose his own adventure, like in those trendy books from the 80s. This time, it doesn't matter which course you pick; both are fairly fun. Course A takes place along a waterfall, but unlike Level 2, this is downward scrolling level. In fact, this probably one of a very select number of platformers that contains a level that autoscrolls from top to bottom. In this course, Joe hitches a ride with a friendly pterodactyl. who slowly drags him down the large waterfall until they reach the boss. Along the way, Joe fights plenty of rudimentary helicopters and even more pterodactyls This level also introduces us to the archaeopteryx, the most recognizable one of all the ancient avians. Unlike real archaeopteryxes, this bird can shoot its tail feathers at Joe. While highly inaccurate, it makes for a better game. Contrast this against games built around movie licenses, which are also highly inaccurate, but suck.
In Course B, we find Joe once again hitching a ride with a dinosaur, although this time it's not one I recognize. Not many dinosaurs had that type of segmented neck. Oh yeah, CUZ IT'S FAKE. What's more, I'm pretty sure that all the dinosaurs with long necks were herbivores and they wouldn't have had sharp teeth like that. Actually, the aquatic plesiosaurus was probably carnivorous, but we'd need to see more of the damn thing to confirm that's what it's supposed to be. Maybe I'm just reading too much into this and it's supposed to be a giant prehistoric snake. In any case, Joe and his reptilian buddy square off against all the enemies that are in Course A as well as some piranhas. This level is probably slightly easier than Course A because it's easy to navigate the snake than the pterodactyl. as well as the fact that levels that scroll from left to right are a lot more intuitive. In the beginning of the article, I may have stated or implied that the title Caveman Ninja is a misnomer. It is, but I'd be lying if I said Joe had no ninja abilities whatsoever; he does have one. One of the attacks that Joe can obtain allows him to send clones of himself at his opponents. This is apparently considered to be the quintessential ninja ability in Japan, but I do not share in that opinion. To be a true ninja, one needs throwing stars and a badass ninja costume. If you're able to lurk in shadows and disappear in a cloud of smoke, so much the better. Even if we were to ignore my personal ninja criteria, it is still rather capricious to label Joe a ninja. He has ONE ninja ability, it's not his default attack, and there's no guarantee that he'll find it even once during the entire game. Joe's a ninja? Sorry Data East, but I don't fucking think so.
Just as before, both courses have the same boss. I suppose this guy would be considered the official Level 3 boss and I believe it is a brachiosaurus. An ANGRY brachiosaurus. This boss is actually a lot easier than the last two. He has very easy patterns that involve spitting water, spitting piranhas, and submerging then reappearing on the other side of the screen. You shouldn't get hit much, if at all, during this boss battle. Instead, you should continue onto Level 4. Unfortunately, I didn't. I lost my last life in this level and I gave up, so you'll never know what happens next. Just kidding. The adventures of Joe continue in Part II.
Will Joe develop the ninja skills the game's title promises?
Will the rival cavemen shave their unibrows?
Will you find Aerosmith's car?