You can burn me at the stake for saying this, but as far as I'm concerned, the Amiga is not wel endowed with decent platformers. Only Ocean's Rainbow Islands and more recently their Sonic ‘tribute' Kid Chaos are likely to distract me from playing the Mega Drive's latest Sonic installment, or the beautiful Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo. (What about Bubble And Squeak? - Ed).
I was hoping the latest from Clockwiser and Jet Strike creators Rasputin would be different, considering the pedigree of their previous games. Sadly it proved otherwise.
Things don't get off to a good start for Charlie J Cool, as the game features one of the most cheese-heavy storylines (and desperately unfunny manuals) I've had the misfortune to read in a long while. It goes something like this...
After being hit and supposedly ‘killed' by a falling grand piano, Charlie floats up into the air and eventually lands in The Netherworld, seated in a comfy black leather chair. At the end of this room are three doors marked Utopia, Midway and Pandemonium, which translate to good, neutral and evil.
The Netherworld is a place where dead people wait while higher being examine their lives before deciding whether to send them to Heaven or Hell.
It turns out that Charlie has died about 50 years too soon, and in order to decide whether he should be sent to Utopia or Pandemonium he must journey through the seven worlds of Midway. His goodness rating will alter depending on how many good or bad creatures are killed. Wipe out more good ones and pandemonium beckons, while squishing more bad guys will result in a speedy trip to Utopia.
If at the end of the seven worlds he still has a neutral rating then his life will be restored, his memory of the messy grand piano incident zapped, and he can carry on in the real world as if nothing had happened.
These seven worlds are platform-based and each is dived up into four zones. The levels themselves are set around all the regular platform worlds which include ice, forest and industrial. Scoreboosting gold coins can be collected as well as numerous pick-ups, which include a heart for an extra life and a pair of shoes for turbo speed. Secret rooms abound too, complete with their own surprises.
The aim of each level is simply to find the key (which is randomly placed each time you play) on each zone and then get to the exit.
It's uninspired stuff, but then most genres have been done to death these days. The thing is these other games tend to offer new features and ideas in order to get around this, but Charlie J Cool offers none.
For a start the graphics are the usual cute platform nonsense, although Charlie himself is remarkably unappealing. And he seems to have been blessed with helium boots, as a single upward tap on the joystick results in spectacular leaps skyward. This can even result in Charlie disappearing off the screen for a short time, and while the game designers might argue that it's an element of skill to judge where he will reappear, I just found it irritating to have to make sure he didn't end up in yet another life eroding chasm.
Sound consists of twee ditties and weak FX. However, the biggest flaws lie in the gameplay. This may look like Super Mario World but it sure doesn't play like it. There are numerous points in levels where it's possible to get killed through no fault of your own. For instance, it's easy to get hit by a baddie and then thrown down a chasm from the resulting recoil.
The levels themselves are all very similar, from the layouts to the baddies contained within them. To be fair though, they're often non-linear, with an option to bounce around high up platforms or play it safe along the ground.
My main problem with the game though, is the lack of tension it creates. All that has to be found to complete a level is a key and door, both of which are always blidingly obvious to discover. Having to collect a certain number of gold coins before the exit door sprung open would make all the difference, as would more challenging baddies. Those present are not only pedestrian but follow very predictable patterns.
With the likes of Donkey Kong Country around, plaform games have to be something remarkable these days to stand out, and even though the best platformers are appearing on the consoles, Charlie J Cool is still a poor effort, whatever the system.
An A1200 version is also available, and this redeems itself somewhat with more colourful graphics, but the gameplay is not improved.