Charlie the Duck for DOS

Having spent lots of time with the kids lately I thought I’d look at a MS-DOS game suitable for them to play when I have them in my computer room. After some looking around on the Classic DOS Games site I found two games by Wiering Software that looked like good options, these were Charlie the Duck and its sequel.

This weekend I started by just playing the first one which was made in 1996 originally, but has been updated as recently as 2004. This is a little unusual as DOS games were not really being developed much after Windows 95 came out. It’s a relatively simple platform game with design elements very similar to the Mario games.

charlie_001The graphics are VGA as was normal for DOS games. The artwork for the backgrounds and sprites is quite good, it has a colourful cartoon-like style whilst making good use of the available colour depth. The graphic engine is supposed to run on old machines, an 80286 as a minimum, but it seems that it wouldn’t run smoothly on such hardware. Luckily the game has the option to turn off parallax scrolling or the background entirely.

The sound support is fairly basic, supporting anything with the yamaha chip that was also on the Ad Lib card. It does support PC speaker, but either I couldn’t get the game to use it over OPL sound, or it sounds exactly the same in dosbox. There is no music, just some simple sound effects which are fine for what they are.

Game-play wise it shares much in common with early Mario games on the NES, many enemies are analogous. There are some subtle differences, with some unique enemies such as bees and frogs. The level design in particular is quite different, water which is often used as a hazzard is not harmful (as charlie can swim) and sometimes is used as a secret path/door.

I found Charlie to be a bit easier than Mario, probably partly because I didn’t play any Mario as a kid. Also I suspect Charlie the Duck is aimed at smaller children. With this in mind I gave my son and daughter a go at playing the game to see how they would go. They had trouble with the controls, not because they are bad, but because they are used to playing games with touch screens on mobile devices. They’ll need to learn how to use buttons to control a character before they can play.

I played all of the shareware world and found that for the most part it shouldn’t be too difficult for kids to enjoy. Perhaps with the exception of the boss fight, which is a large fish jumping in the air. In order to beat the boss you have to jump very precisely on top of its eyes, but not too close to the spines on its back.

I think Charlie the Duck is suitable for most young gamers in much the same way console games like the Mario series are. It’s not as difficult, but retains enough challenge to keep someone interested.  If you have kids who are interested in playing games on a computer (as opposed to other devices) this is one you might want to try out with them. I’ve read that the sequel is probably also worth a go, but I’ll save that for another day. Wiering software still sells the registered version for $7.50 (USD?) from their website.

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