RELEASE DATE: 04/21/86 – (JP)
I think Comical Machine Gun Joe is supposed to be a lighthearted take on the static shooter genre. For starters, there’s the title, a mishmash of words that’s supposed to recall old gangster names from the Prohibition era, particularly Machine Gun Kelly. Then you have the main character, a purple trench coat-wearing, gritted-teeth type of bloke who shoots anything that comes across his path, including pigs and giant spiders. The stages range from typical mid-80s action movie locales like Harbor and Downtown to strange vistas such as the Graveyard and my favorite, Fairyland. It’s clear that Comical Machine Gun Joe doesn’t seem to take its hard-edged premise seriously, but the overwhelming difficulty will shut down the smiles real fast. Unless you’re a stone-faced ne’er-do-well with masochistic tendencies to spare, don’t plan on moving past the first couple levels.
Machine Gun Joe starts with Joe at a Harbor. Joe is smoking a cigarette, waiting for life to get on with it. Boats float gently by the dock. Wind blows the smoke back into his face. It’s quiet – presumably too quiet. One by one, thugs appear. He doesn’t recognize any of ’em. It doesn’t matter. Joe pulls his machine gun and unloads at what he sees, cigarette firmly in mouth. Joe is locked into a horizontal stride across the bottom of the screen. He can venture to the left, to the right, and he can jump surprisingly well for a white guy, but he can’t move forward. Luckily, his trusty machine gun bullets move forward for him.
Thugs appear from all sides: in front of Joe, to the side of Joe, and on the top of buildings in front of Joe. Joe shoots in any direction, including diagonally. Once the Thugs start venturing out three at a time, in numerous directions, hold your finger on the trigger and never let go. The Thugs die easily, but once dead, they throw a miniature doll-like version of themselves that can attach itself to Joe if he’s in the doll’s path. The doll slows Joe down once attached to him and can only be gotten rid of by jumping three times.
The dolls are annoying, sure, but they can be avoided easily. More importantly are bullets: stay out of their way. One stray bullet kills Joe – or rather, makes him slither off the screen, like some sort of hip, Mafia-affiliated snake. Unfortunately, the Thugs’ bullets come strong, fast, and seem to psychically know where Joe is going to stand rather than where he’s standing at the moment. If you manage to overcome a certain number of thugs, the boss, “El Doba” will appear and unload round after round towards Joe. A couple bullets in El Doba’s wherever will disintegrate him into a skeleton, then it’s onward to the next bullet-ridden showpiece.
Then there are the pigs and spiders, bit players in this bang-bang-shoot-em-up, but still worth talkin’ about. Pigs stroll casually across the screen during firefights in any given level. Once shot, they squeal off the screen (unharmed, mind you) and release a bomb that latches onto Joe. The bomb will detonate and kill Joe unless he flings it forward onto the screen by jumping. The bomb will explode whatever it touches, thus making it an effective way to clear out a screen full of enemies at once. Giant spiders will emerge once the bomb has detonated and will ricochet any bullets that hit its person, including those of the enemies. I view the spider as a giant middle finger atop a game that’s already unloading scores of F-bombs.
Comical Machine Gun Joe would probably achieve the lighthearted effect it’s striving for if the game wasn’t so inordinately difficult. El Doba’s stream of bullets are almost impossible to move around. Later stages compile so many enemies on screen that the game becomes more of a fight to avoid bullets rather than unleashing hell yourself. I understand that the game only has six stages (granted, six stages that repeat), and Sega wanted to make sure that the player got their monies worth by not beating the game in ten minutes (totally doable to beat the game in ten minutes, by the way, if you throw on the Invulnerability code), but I still feel some perspective should have been applied. Joe is just one man in one trench coat with one machine gun. You know how hard it is to stay positive – comical, even – when faced with legions of gun-toting maniacs, bomb-throwing pigs and invulnerable spiders?