Platform: Arcade (Simple 156 Data East hardware) Developer: Mitchell Publisher: Mitchell Released: 1994 Genre: Platform - Run & Gun Players: 1-2 (Co-Op)
Charlie Ninja is one of the few non-puzzle games developed by Capcom's special buddy Mitchell, and along with Osman/Cannon Dancer, it makes you wonder why these guys never made more platformers, as both their attempts meld wonderful visuals and very refined game mechanics. Unfortunately, Charlie Ninja is the ever-so-slightly weaker of the two, but that's only because Osman/Cannon Dancer actually has enough time to grab your attention and maintain it for a long-ass time, whereas Charlie Ninja ends much too soon.
Taking the role of a bounty-hunting ninja, you have to make your way to the end of five themed levels (including wild west, urban and American football themes) to beat the big boss at the end, with your primary weapons being a long-range shuriken and a close-up knife attack. Naturally, there's also other weapons available including the heat-seeking sais and multi-direction kunai. Your ninja is a little more agile than most run & gun heroes- you can double-jump, crawl, take three hits before dying, and you also have special moves activated via Street Fighter-esque button commands, the most useful being the Hurricane Slam (quarter-circle forward and Jump) which offers you a quick, safe way of getting to the top of the screen. The other techniques aren't quite as useful- at least one of them leaves you more open to attack- but at least Mitchell injected some variety into how you can lay the beatdown on your enemies.
All these abilities wouldn't be worth anything without some decent levels to use them in, and here's where Charlie Ninja drops the ball a little. Not the levels themselves, mind you- oh no, they're pretty solid. Each level is totally different from the last, with some inventive themes you don't see very often in games like this- the football stadium in particular- and the visuals are spot-on, with a very cartoonish vibe to them that works well. As well as being littered with imaginative and interesting enemies (the way-too-pale American Indians, the cross-dressing cheerleaders and the Woodstock-esque birds among others) they're full of traps like fires, spiked balls and my favourite, the spike boxes- break them open to reveal a set of spikes, and anyone who steps on them (including yourself) is temporarily stunned. From the second stage onwards, the game doesn't skimp on enemies, and so there's plenty of challenge- at times, the screen is covered with threats, making it tough to get out unscathed. Not quite in Metal Slug territory, but just tough enough.
No, the problem is that there isn't enough of it. I know, complaining about the length of an arcade game is silly, but this is short even by arcade game standards. There's only five stages, and they're bloody short and all, so you'll get 20, 25 minutes tops, out of this game. It's enough for you to get into it, barely enough for the game to flesh out its ideas, but then it's over and you're left wanting more. I'm not asking for much more- just two extra stages would've sealed the deal rather nicely, as everything else is greatly executed. I suppose, because the game is so short, clearing it in one credit is slightly easier than in other games, but the sting of its shortness hurts what is otherwise a wonderful example of a run & gun game that's a little off the beaten path.
For proving the old axiom 'less is more' quite wrong, Charlie Ninja is awarded...
In a sentence, Charlie Ninja is... An excellent game, but there's not enough of it here!