Updates Tuesday and Thursday this week. Or should it be Wednesday and Friday? I don’t know. Let me know.
Congo’s Caper is the spiritual successor to Joe & Mac (and the literal sequel in Japan, where it is known as Caveman Ninja 2). Appropriately, the plot of this caper is pretty much the same as what we saw in SNES Joe & Mac. Previously, The Devil kidnapped a collection of cave babes, and Joe & Mac had to rescue their harem. Now, a slightly smaller The Devil decides to kidnap Congo’s girlfriend, and it’s up to Congo to venture forth and save his damsel. And he does! Then she gets kidnapped again, and apparently The Devil brought sidekicks for round 2. And then it turns out it was all the work of Tyrano Satan, whom Congo eventually banishes, and Congo’s girlfriend is rescued again. Hooray! All is well, and one would assume there is a lot of hot, 16-bit sex happening opposite the credits sequence.
Oh, but why did The Devil kidnap Girl? Repeatedly? Well, the answer to that is pretty obvious: because girls are made for kidnapping. Duh.
And that’s bad for everybody.
So everyone is familiar with the “damsel in distress” trope, right? Smarter people than I have elucidated why this particular story telling crutch is terrible, and how it is a good thing that we have gotten away from the tired old “knight saves princess” narrative that dominated our fiction landscape for so many years. We’ve moved well past Mario must rescue Princess Peach from Bowser, and now we have more complicated stories like… Mario must rescue Princess Peach from Bowser, but with a new hat. Huh. Seems like the kiddy stuff is still mired in medieval morality. But let’s look to adult entertainment! Something mature! That maybe made more money than there will ever be! Yes, let’s look to Avengers: Infinity War, a movie featuring a complicated villain with intense plans and a clear goal that goes far beyond… Oh, wait, he just kidnapped the charismatic guy’s girlfriend for some reason. And now the charming hero is all sad and angry, and is going to flip out at just the right time because his girl is missing. Sigh. So, yes, Congo’s Caper is employing an ancient, tired trope, but it’s also exactly what we’re seeing 25 years later. New coat of (purple) paint, same old “our Princess is in another castle”.
And this is a “tired” trope because it’s immediately obvious how the concept is harmful to women. The very notion treats women like objects, like a prize to be won, and, come on, it couldn’t be more obvious how that is a bad thing. Women are people! Women have opinions and rights and the ability to wriggle out of ropes to vaunt over lava pits and rescue their own damn selves. And that’s just considering the kidnapped women in question, never mind the women in the audience that only get to see representation as useless damsels. To pick on Avengers: Infinity War again, if you’re a boy, you can choose your hero, and be confident that, even if they don’t survive to see the final credits, they’re going to kick ass from start to finish. The women of the movie are a lot more… passive (hey, remember Pepper Potts was at the start of the film entirely to make Iron Man feel bad), and a woman who had previously been a complete bad ass in her other movies now spends most of the film as a captive (or worse). What does that tell all the little girls in the audience that previously just wanted to emulate a radical, dual-wielding heroine? Damsels are bad for a solid 50% of the population, no questions asked.
But what about the real minority in our world? What about the poor men?
Okay, I felt dirty typing that. Yes, we absolutely live in a mancentric manocracy here on Man World, and there is never any question that men are in charge in every situation. If you’re convinced men are some put upon people because sometimes a judge will side with a woman in a divorce case because she just happens to not be addicted to heroin, that’s great and all, but I don’t want to hear about it. Men are in charge, period, and if you’re confused on that point, take a look at voting statistics to see why we’re currently in a political quagmire (which quagmire am I talking about? Does it matter?). Dudes rule the world, and women aren’t even allowed to wear pants that include viable pockets.
But there’s something important about the men that are ruling world. Christ, I thought we were going to get through one week without staring straight at the guy, but let’s look at our old pal Donald Trump. Here is a man who treats women like objects as a matter of course. He is the perfect embodiment of a person that believes women have no agency at all, and even on the rare occasions that it may be supposed that woman are actually humans, it’s clear that a man’s needs come first. They want it. They’ll give it up because you’re rich. In fact, women are to be collected and hunted like they are money. One more thing to be acquired. One more item to horde. Women are, like cash, real estate, and political power, just one more status symbol that says you’re a real man.
And maybe that is fine for Donald Trump. We’re talking about a wiener that has been married three times, and has cheated on every single one of those women (oftentimes with the next wife on the list). We’re talking about a man who, by all accounts, ran for president for no other reason than to assuage his already bloated (and malignant) ego. Maybe he should be treating women like objects, because feeling love for objects is the only way he’s going to feel those emotions at all. Maybe that’s just him. But it’s hard to ignore that this is the man who is currently the President of the United States, and thus, for good or ill, an indelible role model for an entire generation of men. Want to be president one day, Little Timmy? Look to your great hero, President Trump.
Which brings us back to the original point of this little tirade: if enough men see women as objects, it doesn’t matter that there are “enlightened” or “woke” men, the societal norms of “women as property” is still going to bite everyone in the ass (and not in the fun way). How are men adversely impacted by this toxic masculinity? Well, how many men stay in terrible relationships because they’re afraid of “losing” the woman in their life? Want to see a guy never break up with a woman? I don’t care if she’s the worst, most toxic person in the world, if a girlfriend/fiancé/wife is desired by another, rival male, that man is going to stay in that relationship forever. She might be terrible (or at least terrible for him), but if there’s the threat that she will be lost to another man? Forget about it, he’ll ceaselessly fight tooth and nail for her.
Heck, he might even fight a devil, four caveman masters, and an angry tyrannosaurus.
So here’s the Goggle Bob Challenge ™ for the week: You might not be writing the latest videogame about a damsel in distress, but try to think about how decades of rescuing princesses has impacted your life. Women, you are not objects, you never were, and don’t drive yourselves insane trying to be the “perfect princess” for the Mario in your life. Men, do not treat women like objects, whether that means literally objectifying them, or incidentally thinking of them as possessions in your own decision making. If The Devil kidnaps “your” woman, maybe let it slide this time. She might be happier living in that posh T-Rex stomach.
After all, if you treat women like objects, you’re no better than a caveman.
FGC #415 Congo’s Caper
- System: Super Nintendo, and that’s all, folks. No Genesis version. No Gameboy port. No modern console rerelease. How often does that happen?
- Number of players: Congo must caper alone.
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Congo’s Caper is the straight platformer to Joe & Mac’s platformer/beat ‘em up mashup. Unfortunately, it’s a fairly generic platformer, and, coming on the same system as Super Mario World or Mega Man X, it doesn’t really have much to put it ahead of the pack. That said, it’s a very pretty and cartoony game, and, give or take a few stages that are absolutely boring (a bunch of slowly moving platforms over spikes? Really?) it’s a fun little adventure. Congo’s Caper is basically the old standard for a “rental” game, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
- That’s not how that works: Magical red gems will evolve Congo the Monkey into Congo the Human (but with a tail). Another three gems will cause Congo to go Super Saiyan, which pretty much just makes Congo’s jumps more sparkly. Take a few hits, and you’ll go back to monkey form, though. Evolution is a harsh mistress.
- Tips from the Pros: The L & R buttons activate Congo’s run. You don’t ever need to do this before a level that features an Indiana Jones-esque giant rolling ball of death. If you forget the L & R buttons exist, you will die approximately 10,000 times.
- Favorite Boss: The Devil’s minions are four Neanderthals that could double as robot masters. We’ve got Ninja Man, Pirate Man, Techno Man, and Dracula Man. Of the four, Techno Man is clearly the winner, as he produces a robot dinosaur, and then attacks from Dr. Wily’s saucer. Dude knows how to live.
- Did you know? The “roll” ability in this game is fairly insane. It allows Congo to roll along in a ball, and he’s completely invincible the entire time. This roll can only be activated on an incline, but there are a few levels and one entire boss that will fall instantly before Congo’s mighty roll. Eat your heart out, hedgehog.
- Would I play again: Probably not. It’s a fun game, but generally kind of mediocre. I’ve rescued you enough, Congo’s unnamed girlfriend.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bioshock Infinite! I’ve been waiting for that one forever. Oh, and bad news, I’m probably going to indulge in a pretty similar amount of ranting, too. So, uh, please look forward to that!
Let us discuss the curious case of the Super Nintendo port of Joe & Man: Caveman Ninja.
Like with many videogames of the early 90’s (1991! Did such a far off year ever really exist?), this story starts in the arcades. Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja (alternately known as simply Caveman Ninja or Joe and Mac: Caveman Combat) was one of those vaguely beat ‘em up-esque 2-D action titles that you usually only saw out of Capcom (I still remember you, Magic Sword). Joe and Mac are caveman bros that must hold back an entire Neanderthal army and rescue a few “cave babes” from the likes of dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and at least one giant skeleton monster. The title is comical and cartoony, and seems to lean heavily into being a sort of “parody” title. Tyrannosauruses barf out cavemen, Little Shop of Horrors lends a certain giant plant to the proceedings, and we even get to “laugh” at the tired “overweight woman is boy crazy, boy is repulsed” trope. Real knee-slappers all around! Humor aside, though, Joe & Mac is an enjoyable arcade experience, and exactly the kind of game you’d expect to play in a pre-Street Fighter 2 arcade.
What set Joe & Mac apart from its arcade brethren? Well, once you cut out the comedy and expressive sprite-work, there’s pretty much nothing. But why would you ignore that!? Joe and Mac isn’t trying to be the Citizen Souls (Dark Kane?) of gaming, it’s a just a fun way to blow some quarters for the afternoon. There are improvements to be made across the board, but most of those advances would ignore the requirements of an arcade game. It’s a little too easy to lose health quickly and painfully… but considering loss of life necessitates another quarter, I don’t hear any change machines complaining. And the stage selections mean you will miss levels when choosing between Path A and Path B, but, that’s just an excuse to play the game all over again to see all the content.
Hm. If Joe and Mac wasn’t tethered to the arcade, it could be a better game, so the console ports must show stark improvement.
Let’s review a few of the console ports. The MS-DOS port (what passed for “PC” back in the day) was basically the arcade version, so one would suppose that doesn’t count. Similarly, the Sega Genesis version tried to be the arcade version, and is pretty much the same thing, give or take a few graphical tweaks. As one might expect, the NES version is severely compromised, as the big, bad bosses of Joe & Mac don’t really translate to 8-bits very well. They had to make the generic baby dinosaur mook a mini-boss! And no one bothered to animate the cave babes actually kissing our heroes! Regardless, it’s compromised, but it’s clearly an attempt at directly porting Joe & Mac Arcade. And the Gameboy version might actually be better than the NES port… which isn’t terribly surprising, given it was released a year later. It’s still not great, but it’s passable for an early 90’s Gameboy title. Oh, and like its NES buddy, it follows the basic rules and flow of the arcade release. So that only leaves the Super Nintendo port, and… it’s a little different.
If you were to play Arcade Joe & Mac, play some other games at the arcade, and then scoot home to play SNES Joe & Mac, you might not notice much of a difference. These are both games that feature the titular Joe & Mac rescuing cave babes from the forces of evil. In both adventures, Joe & Mac fight (almost) the same bosses, which employ (mostly) the same patterns. There is jumping and weapon hurling and meat grabbing. And, while the SNES version has an overworld map, the basic flow of the game is almost exactly the same, give or take the ability to try those “forking” stages in one continuous playthrough.
But, if you play the two games in rapid succession (perhaps because you live in a glorious future where entire arcade cabinets may be digitized into tiny MAME roms), you will note that the arcade and SNES versions of Joe & Mac are as different as a caveman ninja and a Neanderthal.
First, and most noticeably, the SNES version completely drops the Master Higgins-esque health system of the arcade. There is a constant “health timer” in the arcade version, and, should Joe or Mac stop eating everything in sight for longer than six seconds, they will certainly expire from insatiable hunger. This eating disorder is absent from the SNES port, so Joe and Mac can explore their environment at a much more leisurely pace. And that’s great, because there are bonus rooms around, and they can only be accessed through vigilant determination. Oh, and you’re allowed to toggle obtained weapons with L&R, so you’re no longer stuck with whatever weapon you happened to bump into (anyone that played the earlier Konami titles is well aware of the “joys” of accidentally ditching your holy water for a stupid dagger). And these are all improvements! Joe and Mac for the Super Nintendo is the superior Joe and Mac version! Everything is good forever!
Except… SNES Joe and Mac left a surprising amount of content on the cutting room floor. For one thing, the weapons selection has been severely limited, which eliminates some of the most interesting attacks. Joe can no longer launch gigantic sparks at opponents, and Mac has completely lost the ability to summon a spiritual “other self” to menace an ankylosaurus. And speaking of offensive options, Joe & Mac can “charge” attacks for bigger bangs in other versions, while that option is sorely missing on the Super Nintendo. And, believe me, stronger attacks are dearly missed when bosses are massive HP sponges. Oh, and the stages that randomly transform the title into a dedicated shooting game are missing entirely, which is a major loss for anyone that ever wanted a caveman based shoot ‘em up (guess we have to go back to Bonk for that). Frankly, the Super Nintendo version is missing a number of features that made Arcade Joe & Mac great.
And then there are the weird changes. The final boss of nearly every version is some unholy amalgamation of a dinosaur and a Neanderthal. It is never explained where this creature originated, but it makes a kind of sense at the end of a game where you fight dinosaurs and Neanderthals (separately) every five seconds. The SNES version introduces… Satan. Or… some kind of devil, at least. And he’s living inside a T-Rex’s belly, and is kidnapping cave babes because… uh… He was bored? And the multiple endings of the arcade game were dropped… sorta. The “funny” ending where Joe & Mac are chased by a bevy of heavy ladies is gone. That is, unless you know a key sequence that reinstates this alternate/tired ending. Why bother with such a thing? I don’t think “slightly different ending with a secret code” was exactly a selling point back in 1991.
But this all brings us back to the original question: why?
Joe & Mac was published in the arcade and at home by Data East. The most accurate ports all originated with Data East. This was not a situation where Capcom made the arcade cabinet, and then LJN was somehow responsible for the port. This was all in-house, and any changes made to the formula must have been overseen by at least the same producer. And, by all accounts, none of these changes were the result of “memory issues” or similar excuses from the 8-bit days. If the Sega Genesis could handle that deleted tusk weapon, it certainly could have appeared on the Super Nintendo. By all accounts, there’s no real reason for the changes made to the SNES port, and we’re unlikely to ever have a clue why these changes were made. Was this an attempt to segue into a more adventure-y sequel? Establish the Joe & Mac extended universe? Play around with the L&R buttons? The world may never know the answer.
Joe & Mac for the Super Nintendo is just different enough from its version brethren to raise a few eyebrows, but not different enough to feel like its own game. And the reasons for that are lost to prehistory…
FGC #414 Joe & Mac
- System: Joe & Mac get around. Let’s say the arcade version is the start, and then we’ve got Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Gameboy, Nintendo Entertainment System, DOS, and the Amiga for some reason. All that, and I don’t think it has returned in modern times for any sort of Virtual Console.
- Number of players: Joe and Mac. And, depending on the version and mode, you can clobber your buddy into submission while fighting your opponents.
- Favorite Weapon: The wheel revolutionized human transportation, and it was a fine way to whack a pterodactyl.
- Favorite Boss: There’s this gray, water based dinosaur that rules over the waterfall/river stage. It’s not that remarkable, but it’s doing that 16-bit thing where its neck is a series of disconnected circles. For some reason, I always find that endearing.
- Did you know? During two player games, a gauge will appear to track which character has clubbed the boss the most. The winner earns a kiss from a cave babe, and the loser has to sit back and watch his pal get the girl. This is sexist and stupid and the cause of way too many fights when I was playing this game with friends when I was ten.
- Would I play again: Like any beat ‘em up-alike, Joe & Mac is pretty fun when you have a playmate in the area. And I inexplicably have fond memories of this title, so it’s probably going to get played again. Now, which version to play…
What’s next? We’re closing out 16-Bit Cavemen Week with the sequel to Joe & Mac! No, not Joe & Mac 2. That would be silly. I’m thinking something a little more… caper-y. Please look forward to it!
I don’t understand Bonk.
Like many issues in our modern world, this appears to be a problem of education. I was a Nintendo kid that eventually picked up a few Sega games (who could say no to that hedgehog?). I consumed Nintendo Power like it was (the secret of) manna from Heaven, and knew nearly everything about every release for a Nintendo console straight through to the 21st Century. Sega was not going to take that kind of thing lying down, though, so the minute there was a hot new Sega Genesis title on the horizon, the advertising machines clicked into high gear, and everyone was inflicted with a deluge of information on blast processing or lock-on technology. And nobody cared! Sure, it was practically mind control aimed squarely at children who could scream at their parents until “Santa” decided to deliver a bevy of plastic cartridges, but it wasn’t all bad. After all, even if you couldn’t afford an $80 copy of the latest Street Fighter, at least you could read all those character profiles, and imagine the nefarious origins of that dude in the purple robes.
And then there was the TurboGrafx-16. I’ve got one of those puppies sitting right here in my gaming room, and I’m still not completely sure it was a real thing.
Let’s see here… Wikipedia claims that the TurboGrafx-16 was first unleashed upon the West in August of 1989, and was a living, breathing videogame console through 1994. I played videogames during that time! I played some of my most favorite videogames during that epoch! Yet, I can barely recall the TG16 being even the remotest of factors in the “console wars” of the early 90’s. Did the TG16… uh… do anything? Oh, it was the first console to have a CD-reading add-on? Well that seems pretty important. It was produced by Hudson, which is certainly a videogame company I’m familiar with. And its games look… uh… kind of pretty. Like, maybe early Sega Genesis, and a lot better than what was available on the NES. Yes, it appears that the TurboGrafx-16 should have been an integral part of early 90’s gaming, but… seems like a certain system managed to miss the boat.
Which means I missed the Bonk Boat.
Bonk was, for a time, the mascot for the TurboGrafx-16. There was Mario on the Nintendo, Sonic on the Sega, and that doofy caveman with the giant head over in TG16 land. So I was at least aware of Bonk. And, given the caveman aesthetic, I was pretty sure I knew everything I ever needed to know about the lil’ dude. He’s got a big head. He fights dinosaurs. He “bonks” dinosaurs with his big head. Occasionally he eats meat, and he goes from happy to angry to atomic. Sometimes he turns into a crab.
… Wait. What was that last part?
To briefly revisit something that has been established on this very site many times before, videogames are weird, y’all. Sonic is a blue hedgehog, and it’s completely normal that he collects rings for power while fighting an egg-shaped mad scientist. Elsewhere, the real hero’s little brother uses a vacuum to exterminate the undead from his recently inherited mansion. A vampire with a gun employs a magical rock to summon a dragon to shoot lasers at angry, sentient houses. Even our modern, “mature” videogames are full of ridiculous, reality-defying nonsense, like a man who can soak extra bullets because he’s more muscular than the other dudes, or dining room chairs that inexplicably provide more potent cover than lead shields. One way or another, we just accept videogame weirdness for what it is, and move on. The Prince of Persia can run up and down vertical walls with ease, and an armor clad space bounty hunter can scale walls through dutiful triangle jumping. Makes perfect sense!
But Bonk is different. Or… it could be? This game is Bonk’s Revenge, which, according to upwards of 28 seconds of research (I’ve been busy lately, okay!?) is one of (in not the) best Bonk titles. It’s also a sequel, which means we are continuing the canon that was dutifully laid forth in the original Bonk’s Adventure. So there’s probably a basis for all of this. I came in late, no need to complain about not knowing who this Captain America guy is; this was probably all explained sometime in the past. There is doubtless a logical explanation for… I’m sorry, this whole crab thing is still getting to me.
According to only what happens in this game (and not any auxiliary materials, like an instruction manual or the inevitable Bonk Wiki), the story of Bonk’s Revenge features an evil T-Rex king splitting the moon (or just “a moon”?) in half, and apparently using that half of the moon to build some manner of dinosaur Death Star (in typing that, I just realized how badly I want Star Wars to be remade with dinosaur space wizards). Bonk ventures forth to reclaim that chunk of the moon, and, should he succeed, he is kissed by a grateful, apparently benevolent dinosaur that lives on the moon (?). As previously noted, Bonk can obtain meat to powerup to more deadly forms, and he can collect happy faces that will unlock train rides at the end of stages that can provide further bonuses. And, when he finally enters the Dino Star at the end of his adventure, unmarked underwater blocks may squish Bonk into a crab form. He becomes Crab Bonk, which is advantageous for… some reason?
And… I just can’t deal with Crab Bonk.
Bonk would eventually show up on the Super Nintendo, presumably because Johnny Turbo stole his gig advertising the TG16. In that title, Super Bonk, Bonk would be able to eat meat to transform into a giant chicken or Godzilla. Strangely enough, science eventually taught us that this is exactly how evolution works, so that powerup transition makes perfect sense. But Crab Bonk? I have no idea what is happening with Crab Bonk, and it bothers me to no end. Is this a frog suit-like water-based powerup? A Wario Land-esque punishment? Some kind of Japanese running gag about dinosaurs turning cavemen into crustaceans? What is even happening in this game!? I could understand the brontosaurus ballerina that finished out the third stage, but Crab Bonk is blowing my mind! Please, TurboGrafx-16 Power, tell me what the hell is happening here!
But I missed the TG16, so I will never understand poor, forgotten Bonk.
Trying to understand Bonk after the fact is like banging your head against a wall.
FGC #413 Bonk’s Revenge
- System: This is one of my few TurboGrafx-16 games, so it certainly gets a check in that column. It was also released on the Wii Virtual Console, and the Sony and Microsoft download services in Japan. There was also a Gameboy version, but that was a severely compromised port.
- Number of players: The TG16 only had one controller port. That seems really shortsighted!
- The Benefits of Bonk: If Bonk has one defining characteristic, it’s that, in a time well before “visual storytelling” was a thing in videogames, Bonk admirably tells his story with a sort of Looney Tunes-esque flare. Dude is a cartoon character in every conceivable way, and, right about the time he chomps onto a fishing line held by an enemy, you know something special is happening.
- That Looks Like it Hurts: Bonk’s other big ability is climbing walls… through biting his way up vertical shafts. Gogglebob.com would like to note that this is a terrible idea, and, if you are worried about tooth decay, please do not try that at home.
- Favorite Boss: There’s a dinosaur pirate riding a flying ship that launches torpedoes through the sky. That’s pretty hard to beat. I mean… he is the coolest boss, but, yes, he is also literally kind of hard to beat.
- Did you know? Bonk’s Revenge for the Gameboy was a Super Gameboy title, and its unique Super Gameboy frame featured the generic mooks of the title sitting and watching the game as if watching a play. I’m going to go ahead and claim that Paper Mario totally stole this gimmick.
- Would I play again: This is definitely the game I’m playing if I fire up the TurboGrafx-16 again. Then again, I only own four TG16 games, so that’s not saying much…
What’s next? Oh yeah, I promised a theme week, didn’t I? Well, how about we call this… um… Inexplicable 16-Bit Cavemen Week! Yes! That’s right! No Caveman Games! No Far Cry Primal! Just cavemen, and just cavemen from the 16-bit era! That makes perfect sense! So next we’ll be hitting Joe & Mac! They’re cavemen ninja! Please look forward to it!