Joe & Mac was a fun if flawed action romp released early in the SNES’s life and was a pretty damn good if rushed arcade port. Congo’s Caper, a little known platformer released the following year was actually a sequel developed exclusively for the home market and continued the tradition despite being a strange game. Part 3 (at least in Japan and Europe) attempts to create a sprawling adventure out of the series but ultimately fails in that regard.
Joe & Mac 2: Lost in the Tropics was released in 1994. Gork the caveman has stolen the Khali village chief’s crown, leaving our caveman ninjas to retrieve it for him. While the general action is the same many open world elements have been added, similar to Super Mario World however in the end they don’t matter, leaving the game a short but sweet affair.
As either Joe or Mac in 2-player coop you have access to the entire island and can visit other villages or locations between stages freely. The default club returns as well as some of the power-ups from prior games with many new ones joining the list such as spiked clubs and hammers. By eating different foods you can also spit them out as projectiles, like meat for bones, hot peppers for fire, and water for….water. New to the series are animal companions that can be ridden for extra firepower although if you aren’t careful they’ll turn on you. The stages can be completed in any order you like, adding a bit of non linearity to the proceedings.
Outside of the action levels are a bunch of extracurricular activities to waste time. Dinosaur bones serves as currency and can be spent to regain health, remodel your house, or buy flowers to take a chance at love and potentially get married and have kids. Exactly how you end up with kids when you’re not even home to knock boots is beyond me. You can also teleport between villages but I don’t see why you’d bother, it’s not as if there are random battles. It’s nice for a little added variety.
But that’s the problem: none of it matters. The added fluff has no impact on the rest of the game which in turn leaves no incentive to bother with any of it. It’s a bit disappointing considering they went to the trouble of creating such an elaborate world map but gave you no reason to actually want to explore it. That could have helped the game’s other problem: it’s short. At only 7 levels you can finish it in one afternoon, guaranteed, since it’s also a bit easy. I question why they went to the trouble of creating an overworld if there aren’t enough activities to justify it. Even the first game had far more stages than this.
It would have been nice if the game had given enough gravitas to all of its features because it’s exceptionally pretty and mechanically sound. Despite skipping the arcade Lost in the Tropics wouldn’t look out of place in a big cabinet, boasting an exceptional level of detail and animation. The color palette practically leaps off the screen and gives the game a vibrant look that will make you wish there were a few more levels just to experience more of the game’s strong art direction.
I wouldn’t say that Joe & Mac 2 isn’t worth playing but I wouldn’t pay a large sum of money for it. Their hearts were in the right place but in the end Data East didn’t follow through and create the expansive adventure game they were aiming for. This remains a classic case of good ideas, bad execution.