So, for the first stage, it seems we're up against a cowboy called Blues. I guess the cowboy motif's appropriate, given the whole 'Wanted Dead or Alive' feel the game's got going on, but the first time I played this, I thought this was going to keep up for the entire game, exciting me to no end with the prospect of a final definitive battle between cowboys and ninjas. Alas, not to be, but that's not to say I was disappointed with the final product.

The first stage is your standard Western town, complete with ye olde swinging doors and many fine establishments such as the Green Hotel and Tom's Bar. Not that we've got time to visit such esteemed businesses, but still. There's a serious problem with fire here, to be honest, as a lot of the buildings seem to be ablaze with flames of death and yet no-one seems to mind. Rather obviously, avoiding them is in your best interest. That is, avoiding the fires as well as the countless midget cowboys (seriously, just look at those guys, they're tiny!) and what I can only assume are supposed to be American natives. They don't really fit the part, though... Normally, the first stage is pretty laid back in this sort of game, but not here, as Charlie Ninja gives you all its got a couple of seconds after the game starts, which keeps things delightfully hectic and sets the chaotic atmosphere for the rest of the game.

I am concerned, however, about the sheer abundance of guys hiding in barrels. OK, sure, the two guys in the screenshot on the left, peeking their eyes out of the barrel, fair play. But there are also these crazy ol' bastards who hurl themselves at you while still in their barrels- if you manage to shoot them, they'll pop out and have another shot at you. That's just mad, we all know that, thanks to the example given to us by Taito's Crime City, that it's dogs you keep in moving barrels, not people. Silly Mitchell! Anyway, it's time for the boss. Exciting! Although a lot of the suspense is lost by telling you at the start of the stage. Given the setting, I was really expecting a fight with a giant octopus, but that's life.

OK, Blues, your number's up. Let's get it on.

Blues refuses to go down without a fight, and displays the single greatest act of gun tomfoolery I have ever seen- he jumps and spins around in the air with that expression while firing off shots from his six-shooters. Just look at that face! Is it determination to kill Charlie, or is it simply madness?! Unfortunately, he spins around so fast that you can't really see this utterly amazing facial expression, except for these exclusive screenshots brought to you first by Gaming Hell! Er, anyway, this is surprisingly tough for the first boss, because his shooting pattern is somewhat difficult to dodge. Just wear down Blues' health, and he'll surrender soon enough. One thing to note about the boss battles is that they can be made a hell of a lot shorter if you abuse Charlie's close-range knife attack- it whittles their health down ridiculously fast. Which will come in handy later on, as we'll see...

These show up after every completed level. The score tally screen gives you an opportunity to mock your downed opponent, and the other one not only gives you permission to GO TO NEXT STAGE, but also gives you an amusing piece of art. The Red ninja is the Player 2 version of Charlie, by the way. Even better, there are differences between Player 1 and Player 2!... In so far as they both have different 'Boss Defeated' animations. Exciting!

And our next opponent is... Whoa, back up, Mitchell! That is not the real Colonel Sanders!

(Although in fairness, that military insignia tattooed on his arm looks more like the symbol for a Corporal...)

The second mission sees the intrepid Mr. Ninja infiltrating (and by 'infiltrating' I of course mean 'going in loudly with all shurikens blazing') a serene forest that happens to be absolutely packed with soldiers of all shapes and sizes. As we all know, soldiers only come in two sizes- 'Thin and Stringy' and 'Rambo-esque beefcakes' and there they are, in those first two screenshots alone! The Rambo-looking guys are so blatantly clones of him, not only in the way they look, but they like to hide in trees to stab at you with a knife, and use flaming bows to try and kill you. That happened in the movies, right? Oh, I guess the helicopter and the mines are worth mentioning too- the mines should be obvious in their application (i.e. blowing you up into tiny pieces) and the helicopter appears at certain intervals to drop firebombs on you. Man, they take this battle re-enactment stuff seriously, although is this Vietnam or the Gulf they're doing today?

This stage happens to be even more chaotic than the last, and despite only being Stage 2, is probably the most hectic in the game. The enemy seriously pulls no punches here, and unlike the other levels, they're really packing some heat. The screen is often very busy with gunfire here, making it quite difficult, especially if you're going for a 1CC... But you're not playing to show off, are you, punk? Nah, this one's just for fun... Although that said, Charlie Ninja is a bit strange in that it keeps track of how many times you continue via the first digit in the score display, which is something that's usually reserved for shoot-em-ups and Metal Slug games.

Anyway, soon enough, we're fighting the boss. Show yourself, Colonel Sanders!

Holy shit! A crotch rocket launcher! Damn, we've already lost this battle. Yes, this is actually what Sanders uses against you in this battle- he'll launch cannonballs while he's on the ground (which can be shot) and, when he somehow starts flying around, he'll toss firebombs around, which is incredibly irritating, and will almost certainly hit you a couple of times, veering very slightly on the cheap side... Seriously, though, he swings that thing around his waist like a hula-hoop, and it's a little bit strange for a man that's clearly as serious as Sanders. He does it with such... Gusto. If you keep getting some close-quarters attacks in, though, he'll be dead meat pretty soon. Or, at least, that's what you think.

Wait, what?! Hey, get back here you asshole!

Now here's a curveball for you. From this stage onwards, the bosses will, when their health gets low enough, simply run away with their tails between their legs and send another wave of bad guys to fend you off for a minute or so. The screen starts to slowly scroll automatically, Altered Beast-style, but it's usually over pretty quickly. It does add a certain unique element to the fights, but by the final stage, you'll be pretty bored with it. Still, a nice idea... Until you abuse the close-range attack and decimate the boss the very second they appear on screen again. Hahaha!

Yeah, that's right, Sanders. Wave that white flag, you gutless punk! The creepy smile in the little art piece does scare me a little, though... But now we get to the runner up for the most amazing, but almost certainly the most fabulous stage in the entire game. Are you ready for this?

I can't imagine who this sexy man is based on.

OK, Queen jokes aside, I keep wanting to call this stage the red light district, mostly because of the music which screams 'incredibly sleazy part of town'. I can't, though, because it's clearly just a junkyard. The enemies here are very strange, as they don't really fit the 'junkyard' stereotype. Weird dome-headed ninjas? Guys with glasses and terrible haircuts throwing red balls at you? Tiny, Woodstock-from-Peanuts-esque yellow birds that just sort-of hover around to hit you? Whatever kind of junkyard this place is, it's not what one would call 'conventional'.

At least the moving magnets sometimes throw car engines at you. That fits.

Aside from the hilarious boss, though, this stage is a bit boring. It's lacking the sheer intensity of the last stage, the daftness of the first stage, and really, it just seems lazier somehow. Which, of course doesn't make even a lick of sense, seeing as every stage has been fundamentally different from the word 'go', but the junkyard just seems to be here to bump the numbers up. It's definitely the least exciting stage in the game, but considering how action-packed all the stages have been so far, that's not so bad. But we're not here to discuss that sort of thing. No, we're here for the love of Freddie!

Strike a pose, baby! Marvellous!

Oh, you want me to actually talk about this boss? Well, OK. Actually, striking a pose fits well with Freddie's strategy- he'll start the fight posing, biding his time, waiting... Until he spits out three huge clouds of mysterious purple gas for whatever reason. His other major attack is to hide behind the wall, then jump up off screen, trying to hit you on the way down, then he poses again and the pattern repeats. Finally, when he escapes, he'll try to attack you by blowing kisses at you. Like the other bosses, a couple of slaps with the knife should see him wailin' "I give up!" pretty quickly (and wail it he does, all the bosses do it!)

Sadly, we're over halfway through the game! What a shame.

But don't worry, folks, the best is yet to come, as we now enter the most amazing level in the game!

Hut, hut, HIKE!