Mitchell are best described as an 'interesting' developer. The series they're best known for, Pang!/Buster Bros., seems to be a collaborative effort with Capcom (I'm not sure on the details, my application for the course in License Ownership in Video Game History is on hold after I flunked the Wonderboy class, but the two companies are very closely tied) and outside of puzzle games like Polarium and Puzzloop, the rest of their output is pretty obscure. You've got the amazing Osman/Cannon Dancer, developed by some members of the same team that worked on Strider (and it shows), the currently unemulated Double Wings (which seems to be the first game with their little mascot, who we'll get to later), various electro-grot games like Mirage Youjuu Mahjongden and Sankokushi, and then you have Charlie Ninja.
For some reason, this little gem isn't listed on Mitchell's official website, even though Funky Jet is there, which is strange because Funky Jet is terrible. They even list all their porno games (including the legitimately amazing Party Time) and that's quite sad, as they missed off one of their best games. Released in 1994, Charlie Ninja is almost like the good twin of Hard Head 2- they're both platformers that have a focus on weaponry, but whereas playing Hard Head 2 is akin to putting your hand in a vice while searing hot needles are shoved into your feet and a firing squad takes potshots at you with napalm rounds, Charlie Ninja is a short but ever-so-sweet platforming romp with a parade of cartoonish enemies to wail on.
As (I can only assume) the eponymous Charlie, you have to clean up your town. Well, that's pretty obvious, but whatever town Charlie resides in, it's pretty messed up, as it's divided into 5 areas- the Cowboy section (huh?), the military forest (what?), the junkyard (OK, that makes sense), the football field (what?!?) and, of course, the Mad Scientist's Lab (no good city should be without one). Each stage has an outlaw that has to be captured, shown before each stage on one of those old-timey Wanted posters, including the score bonus you'll get for catching them (a nice touch). Each stage, fitting with the theme, has unique enemies, like cowboys and indians in the Cowboy bit, Rambo-types and soldiers in the Military part, etc., with only one generic set of enemies (weird Ninja Baseball Batman-esque ninjas) appearing in Stages 3 and 5.
Charlie himself is a pretty versatile chap. The only real weakness he's got is the fact that he's pretty fragile, and he can only take 3 hits before kicking the bucket. Otherwise, though, he's got a lot of tools at his disposal. Not only can he walk, crawl and double-jump, but he carries a weapon with him at all times (he starts each life with the Shuriken, but there's 4 others you can pick up), he can use a close-range knife slash that does a lot of damage, and he can use four special moves, with Street Fighter-esque inputs!
(Quarter Circle Forward + Jump)
This is probably the most useful of these four moves. Charlie twirls all the way to the top of the screen, taking out any enemies that get in the way, before hitting the top and falling back down. It's a pretty effective way of getting up to a higher platform while being protected from being knocked back by the enemy, although when you fall from the top, you're vulnerable to attack.
(Forward, Down, Forward-Down + Attack)
For all intents and purposes, this is a Dragon Punch/Shoryuken, even with the same button command, but instead of just breaking into it immediately, Charlie slides across the ground with his sword out in front- the longer you hold the Attack button, the further he goes, until you let go or Charlie stops by himself, where he'll do the Dragon Punch thing. This is another sorta useful attack, although the delay after the Dragon Punch can leave you a little open.
(360 Motion from Up to Down + Attack)
To be honest, I'm not entirely certain what Charlie is saying when he uses this move. It almost sounds like "Dackhoom Spin!" but that would just be plain nutty, so I've gone with Dragoon Spin. It's actually the worst of his special moves, as when you hit an enemy with it, Charlie will bounce back off them, leaving him open to other enemies. It's also a bit unwieldy to actually control.
(Attack and Jump together)
Not really done in a Street Fighter manner, but close enough. You won't really be using this that much, but the Ninja Cloaking is at least a novel idea- press both buttons at the same time and Charlie brings out a cloak that lets him blend in with the background, with a nifty graphical effect to go with it, that renders him immune to damage. Sort-of like the Tanuki Suit's Statue ability in Super Mario Bros. 3, but similarly you can't move when you're using it. Considering the busy nature of Charlie Ninja, it's a lot less effective here.
So OK, they're not all useful, as they tend to leave you open to enemy fire- in case you can't tell from the screenshots, the screen is often quite busy, with a lot of enemies, so being open isn't very good. Unlike Hard Head 2, you've got a reliable projectile weapon, so it's a hell of a lot easier to take them out, so these extra moves feel more like window dressing than really adding meat to the game... They're still nice to have though- you can certainly live without them, but they have their uses here and there.
In addition to all that stuff, there's five different weapons Charlie can pick up, usually from the drum cans or crates dotted about each stage- smash them open for fun, profit and extra weapons! Furthermore, just like Hard Head 2 (holy crap, these two games are more alike than I thought, help) you can pick up a shiny blue P orb to power up your weapon, until you die- then you have to start with the Shuriken again. The weapons are...
The Shuriken is Charlie's standard issue weapon, and it does exactly what it says on the tin. You throw it at the enemy and sincerely hope that they die. It's not terribly powerful, and you can only have two on screen at any one time, but at least it does the job. The powered-up version launches out a shuriken covered in a blue flame, which does more damage.
The Kunai is like a ghetto version of the Spread Shot seen in every run-and-gun platformer ever made. Rather than launch in three directions at once, Charlie fires them one at a time- one in front of him, one angled up, one angled down, and then the pattern repeats itself. To get any use out of it, you really have to mash the Attack button, which makes it unreliable. Powering it up launches three kunai at a time, still in the same direction. A bit of a lame weapon, really. Charlie's supposed to be a ninja, dammit, I expect better from him.
What the hell is this weapon supposed to even be?! It's just a spike on the end of a blue ball! Er, anyway, for lack of a better name, the Orb is a slower, stronger version of the standard Shuriken, and that's all there is to it. The upgraded version has a spike on both ends, moves a lot faster, and is a little bit more powerful, but either version is equally useful. Seriously though, all the other weapons seem to have ninja-based origins, but what on earth are these things?!
Only slightly above the Kunai, the Sai are piddly little things that home in on the nearest enemy. They do about the same damage as your shuriken, but the fact that you can only have a few on screen at a time makes you very open to damage at times. Sure, this applies to the other weapons, but the Sai can take a couple of seconds to home in on a target, making you defenceless. The powered-up version has a blue after-image effect going on, and they do a little more damage. Still pretty worthless though.
Now this is the business! Charlie throws three shuriken-esque blades of death in front of him, then they arc upwards and go back to Charlie. These puppies are powerful enough to kill pretty much anything, and since they're so large compared to your other weapons, taking out the enemy is far easier. The powered-up version is even more obscene in its sheer prowess, with the projectile being nearly as big as Charlie himself. If you grab this, try to hang on to it for as long as possible, because it's the best weapon available to you.
That's not all, though! There are other things you can use to assault the enemy- you can grab the many pink drum cans that litter each stage to throw them at enemies (and break them open for special items) and curious boxes with a flashing lightbulb on them, which contain a spiked trap that will stun the enemy if they walk on it (and it'll stun you too if you walk on it, rather obviously). Both of these don't seem that useful, but the drums will do pretty heavy damage, and the spike traps can be used to stall enemies that try to rush you.
It's pretty clear that, even though the game is criminally short (as we're going to find out) it's pretty well packed with variety in terms of how to clear out the enemies in each level. Although each level is akin to a Rolling Thunder-esque straight line with usually two tiers of platforms, each level is still a blast to play through- as well as the great variety of your own moves, each stage is teeming with baddies, which gives the game a very chaotic feel to it. Admittedly, it can get a little out of hand, and you will die quite a lot- three hits isn't an awful lot- but it's still a lot of fun.
Can you tell I like to gush about the intricacies of a game before going in-depth on the levels? I guess it gives the impression that I've played the game for more than five minutes (which is an improvement, I once gave an all-praising review of Eliminate Down after playing it for no more than three minutes on my older, lamer website).
OK, let's go hunt some wanted men, let's play Charlie Ninja!
Time for us to make trails to the next page.