top of page

Pixel Pastime - Joe & Mac Returns Arcade

When it comes to 80s/ 90s arcade games, countless titles had their moment, but many of us never got to experience them in their glory. With a growing retro game fan base and the widespread distribution of game emulators, discovering games that you never knew existed is such an enjoyable feeling. As many already know, I have created my piece of arcade history in my garage. Building a multi-game arcade cabinet has given me a second chance to visit the vast library of mostly forgotten games. Today, however, let's look at a game that I have been hooked on for the last week. Perhaps this recap will inspire you to dig up this classic for some rainy day retro gaming. The game in question is Joe and Mac Returns. This is the spiritual sequel to Caveman Ninja, another excellent arcade game that was also ported to 16-bit home consoles in the 90's. Joe & Mac Returns drop its traditional side-scrolling platformer, to a single screen strategy similar to Bubble Bobble. Let's take a look at the game mechanics and what makes this game so appealing.


This two-player action strategy game has a relatively simple process. Play as either Joe or Mac and bag up enemies by hitting them with your club. The more enemies you bag, the larger your bag gets which will be more destructive as you throw it at the remaining enemies. Clear the board and repeat. Unique items can be revealed by saving the cavegirl or killing enemies. There are five stages each with approximately three sub-stages. Once those sub stages are complete, on to the Boss. I gotta say that the Bosses are the best part of the game. They offer the most challenge while visually looking fantastic.


First off, who can argue that the art on this game is not on point? Whimsical animation, large sprites make this title stand out from the crowd and playing it is just as rewarding. Backgrounds are colorful and offer distinct settings. Nothing too groundbreaking for the time, however, the ocean level does have a neat warped underwater effect that's pretty cool. Also after each stage passed, you are entertained by a rather "interesting" cutscene that I'm sure would fail on feminists acceptance list, lol. Otherwise, the graphics are just right for the 90's, and I feel still stand up fabulous today!


Great sound here and nice use of digitized speech. Although at times it can get slightly annoying when one of the cavemen yells, "I gotta Powa!" when getting a special item. The music makes exceptional use of digitized drum beats and tribal singing that tie together that caveman feel. Some game levels sound better than others, but overall the music keeps the action going.


I felt the original Caveman Ninja game was somewhat difficult, but here you have the opposite. Once you understand the flow of where enemies spawn, the game difficulty progresses very slowly. That's not a bad thing. There are random obstacles that each stage progressively reveals, like a fire trap that will kill you if you get too close and tents that keep spawning enemy cavemen. Unlike Caveman Ninja, this is a one hit and your dead game, so no life meter. Timing and execution are key.

I scored this game a quality 8.0. I'm glad I found this gem and love its high replay value, so far it just doesn't get old. I would have fancied playing this back in the day, as I know my quarter would have gone considerably far. Yes, a great game that deserves an encore!

bottom of page