Data East’s Caveman Ninja was one of those arcade games that easily attracted my attention back in the early 90s. It had bright, colorful graphics, a comical presentation, lots of personality, fun gameplay, and it was called “Caveman Ninja.” But for some reason, I didn’t spend a lot of time with it like I did other button-mashing beat-em-ups of the day. Unlike Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Simpsons, I never took 5-10 dollars to the arcade with the intent of finishing Caveman Ninja, but rather it was a game I would pop a few quarters into before moving on to other games.
Which is a shame, because from a gameplay standpoint, it’s actually a lot less mindless and button-mashy than those other games.
The game is a fairly standard side-scroller in which you play as one of the cavemen ninjas, Joe or Mac, and you have to fight other cavemen, dinosaurs, and strange creatures in order to rescue all of the beautiful cave-women who have been kidnapped. The gameplay does seem kind of button-mashy at first, but the more finesse you use, the more successful you tend to be. In other words, it’s skill-based, which is always the mark of a great arcade game.
The bosses, in particular, are well designed. They’re often big and detailed, and there’s usually some kind of pattern you have to learn in order to defeat them without getting killed every five seconds. Of course, the later bosses have more difficult patterns to figure out, but I never got the feeling that the game was being overtly unfair.
The game actually went on to spawn several sequels on home consoles where it was renamed the “Joe and Mac” series. I guess that’s because calling them “ninjas” never really made sense in the first place, but then again, adding the word “ninja” to anything makes it sound cooler.
So, at the end of the day, Caveman Ninja is an excellent game that’s well-worth playing if you happen to come across the arcade cabinet somewhere, and it’s also available on the Data East Arcade Classics collection for the Wii.