Amidst all of the games Data East developed and published such as Bad Dudes, Heavy Barrel, and all those other supposed "Arcade Hits", one of Data East's more beloved series dealt with two tough cavemen known as Joe and Mac. They saved cave babes, fought terrifying T-Rexes, and ultimately became known as Cavemen Ninjas. While the games weren't perfect, they were one of the more colorful and enjoyable games I've played under DE's lineup and I treasure all the goofy antics and overall pointless adventures that they had. Joe and Mac games were released in the Arcades as well as on the NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, and Game Boy, but the series didn't progress much further despite its popularity. To the lesser-informed gamers in the United States, it would only receive two more games under its belt, the great SNES exclusive Joe & Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics and the Arcade game, Joe & Mac Return. The series sadly never went beyond those two games and time moved on...but how would you feel if I told you that "Joe & Mac 2" WASN'T the second Joe and Mac game?
Known in Japan as Tatakae Genshijin, Joe and Mac would come to have a red-headed step child in the franchise, or in this case, a blue-haired kid. Tatakae Genshijin 2 was made towards the end of 1992, but much to many people's surprise, did not star either Joe or Mac, but a kid named Rookie. Unsurprisingly, the game was called Tatakae Genshijin 2: Rookie no Bouken, and shipped to the states under the name of Congo's Caper. For people in the states who liked the first Joe & Mac, this game could be seen as the missing link, but the name change was appropriate. After all, if Joe and Mac are nowhere to be found, why call the game Joe and Mac? Some would even debate the correlation between the two games. I don't know why Data East wanted a new hero for the series, but he's here and gamers have to deal with it.
First, you have to know what this game is about: monkeys, prehistoric creeps, and more! Rookie was once just a simple monkey, until him and his soul mate accidentally get hold of mysterious orbs that turn the simians into humans (of sorts), scaring away your other monkey friends. Before the two can figure out what is happening, a wicked fiend comes and snatches your girlfriend, Ai Ai, and robs you of your power... and now you're all alone as a monkey again. As quickly as you lose your powers, you get another orb which changes you back into a humanoid, and you decide to go on a grand adventure to get your girlfriend back and defeat the evil beasties. This game obviously isn't winning any awards for its plot, but neither will the vast majority of Data East's games.
Graphically speaking, the game isn't much better looking than the first SNES game in the franchise. In fact, there are probably less details overall and the game certainly doesn't look as nice as the Arcade OR Sega Genesis version of the first Joe & Mac (though to be fair, the Genesis game was made after the second Tatakae Genshijin/ Congo's Caper). The game has a very modest, simple presentation with a higher frame rate than the SNES J&M game. There are a few neat effects such as when Rookie splashes the water he swims around in and the lightning that flashes in the sky, but the game doesn't have a whole lot of detail. The audio is also pretty unremarkable, not to mention there isn't a whole lot of it. It's even funnier when you consider that there's a section dedicated to Rookie and Ai Ai's voice... it's a good thing that it's singular, because I don't even remember if either of them make more than one kind of special sound. The audio and visuals are tolerable, but saying anything more might be pushing it. They're definitely nothing special.
When it comes to the gameplay, don't expect much. This game was definitely marketed as a beginners platformer, if the title of the Japanese game didn't give it away. This game is so rudimentary and so easy that it should be illegal. Rookie has a mostly standard set of skills in his arsenal. He can whack people with his club, push dazed cavemen around, do various jumping maneuvers, roll down hills if they're steep enough, dash, and repel select projectiles by hitting them. Along the way, you'll gather yellow gemstones (get a hundred for an extra life) and two items that sweeten this game's honey pot, blue gemstones and red orbs. The blue gemstones activate a slot reel on the fly that can give a number of prizes ranging from a 1UP, 2UP, 3UP, 5UP, or...an extra special bonus round! Why is it so special? You can find a statue of Joe!! Smack his smiley mug and you can get yellow gemstones...infinitely. I played around for fun and got four thousand before exiting the bonus round. While there are other bonus levels with Joe, the screen doesn't force you to leave him behind on the roulette bonus level, which would explain why it's an extremely rare prize. By the way, you access normal bonus rounds by hitching a ride on a friendly pterodactyl.
The red orbs awaken Rookie's inner Super Saiyan. If you gather three, you can watch Rookie surge with power and don flashy golden hair. Besides looking cooler, he jumps very high, doesn't change into a monkey after one blow, and can even float by tapping the jump button repeatedly after executing high jumps. You can float through the majority of the levels if you want. If you grab red orbs while at full life, you'll gain even more extra lives. Some levels have multiple exits for speed-run nuts and others have minor elements like things to outrun or switches to hit. There are a couple of boss fights as well, but you could have probably guessed that. Should you somehow lose in this game, it even has a password feature, but as easy as this game is, I hope you wouldn't need them. The only interesting thing about this game besides the Joe statue is that the U.S. game added a pretty unnecessary two-player mode that isn't available in the Japanese game. Of course, since you have to take turns, you could just as well pass around the controller as my old folks did back in the early days of video games... back when they actually played a little.
To say this game isn't the greatest SNES game is an understatement, but I still have memories of when I enjoyed this game during the days when you could actually rent SNES games (emulation isn't the same thing). My bro bought this game a while ago for old times sake, but after giving it one last hurrah, I can say that once is definitely enough. With twenty-five short and easy-as-pie levels to conquer and little reason to conquer them, this game is a decent game to plow through once for a little fun and to add to that whole "Game Completion" list. If you're not very good at platformers, you may also want to give this game a go. As for me, I'd have to say this is one Tatakae game I won't be going back to anytime soon. It's definitely disappointing if you're a fan of the first Joe & Mac. Where's all the cave babes? Where's all the slapstick humor? Where's all the ninja caveman action? Who knows, but I can tell you that Rookie doesn't deliver the goods. It's such a relief to know that Joe and Mac finished off the series so that the Tatakae Genshijin series doesn't end on a bad note. Well... like the signs posted throughout Congo's Caper say, NEXT!
- Written by Bel Cain The Eternal -