Cute. Thats is the first word that occurred to me as I sat down to have a stab at Charlie II. Everything about this little platformer oozes innocent forest charm, harking back to the child-like glory years of the original Sonic the Hedgehog or Mr Nutz (if anyone remembers that one!) – all primary colours, grass, cloudless skylines and log bridges.

Charlie II is Dutch developer Wiering Softwares sequel to popular platforming title Charlie the Duck. The titular hero is an off-yellow, happy looking little bird (complete with occasional heart melting -quack- as he stands at rest), who must navigate each of a series of levels in order to collect coins, diamonds and a group of letters to spell out his own name. Charlie must investigate thoroughly each environment in order to pick up a certain percentage of collectables in order to move onto the next area. Thats the gist of the gameplay – simple in theory, and not a lot more complicated in practice either.

Make no mistake though – beyond the cutesy appearance and simplistic gameplay lies a fiendishly difficult game. Even by the second level, I was having quite an amount of trouble not accidentally impaling the plucky young mallard on wooden stakes time after time, or simply being dive-bombed by the cunningly programmed crow things that will indirectly home in on Charlie as they fly by. Injury seems extremely difficult to avoid, but this free and easy loss of health and, ultimately, lives is offset by the inclusion of Zelda-esque “extra hearts” littered around that will extend Charlies health bar beyond its original three hits to any amount of extra protection. According to the manual, an extra heart is included in nearly every level of the game – further enforcing the need for heavy exploration in the adventure, with extra hearts almost a requirement in order to realistically progress.

So apart from a tough challenge, what else sets Charlie II apart from any number of platform clones? For a start, rather than the common tactic of picking a random cute creature that bears no relation to the gaming world, Wiering have taken the duck motif and used Charlies unique skills (as a duck!) within the gameplay somewhat. Yes, Charlie can swim! This removes the familiar platform game frustration of “death by water” and also adds to Charlie IIs exploratory focus by actually allowing him to dive below the surface – effectively a shortcut to another part of the level, and a tidy reworking of Super Marios famous green “warp pipes”.

The games presentation and general atmosphere also set it well apart from more amateur offerings. A defined, sumptuous art style exists throughout each backdrop, enemy sprite and collectable. Charlie himself is an endearing character to play as he waddles along with this little quacking, and special mention should go to the music which never fails to perfectly emulate the happy synthesised backing tunes of a more simple age (except here done with more instruments!).

Simply put: Charlie II is a perfectly pitched slice of retro gaming for a new generation. The game-making philosophy of old is followed to a tee, and the result is an authentic, enjoyable and (due to being very, very hard!) ultimately lastable title that is well worth its $15 registration price to any true platform game fan.

Score: 8/10

Game details at http://www.retro247.co.uk/charlieii.htm