When Gunman Clive arrived as a budget, bite-sized slice of action platforming on the 3DS in late 2012 it unsurprisingly earned a lot of praise. Its intentionally grubby paper aesthetic and simple, highly polished gameplay seemed like a loving - and skilful - homage to franchises such as Mega Man; that didn't go unnoticed by fans, either. Its success on the portable was notable, too, in that it captured the system's audience; one-man developer Bertil Hörberg (with assistance only in music) highlighted that the title sold better on 3DS than it did on smartphone stores, with Nintendo keen to champion it as a victory for the eShop.

It's a well-known title for multiple reasons, then, but there's no sign of nerves or over-reaching in the much-anticipated Gunman Clive 2. It continues the confident and skilful references to classics gone by, but also continues to forge its own identity and improve upon its predecessor - make no mistake, this is a franchise that has lost none of its appeal in this follow-up.

Once again players can set off on the adventure as Gunman Clive or Ms. Johnson, both using the same guns that - with pick-ups - can evolve into spread shots or powerful missiles. Each are useful characters for the challenge, with Ms. Johnson also boasting a Princess Peach-style float to slow her descent from jumps; it's optional, but can be hugely useful in trickier platforming sections. An addition this time is Chieftain Bob, who trades in guns for a melee-spear; one for the most skilful gamers, this shakes up the challenge a great deal, as you need to judge enemy patterns with more precision before leaping in for a close-range attack. There's an unlockable fourth character that we won't spoil, but those with the first game will know what it is and appreciate how much it can change subsequent playthroughs.

It's in level design that this follow-up shows the greatest evolution, while once again containing enough nods and winks to classic ideas to raise a smile. Across the 25 stages we see imaginative bosses (the T-Rex seen in the official trailers is memorable) that also bring scrolling levels and greater environmental challenges to the fore; even in the standard left-to-right run-and-gun levels there are fresh approaches or refinements of previous ideas, with standout examples being found in some gravity-defying sections. Some of those boss encounters (beyond the T-Rex) are also a noticeable step up in scale and imagination, too, and are well worth the price of admission.

This sequel introduces more new ideas, too. There are flying stages from a behind-the-player perspective, rather like a slow, more manageable After Burner; these add to the overall formula and provide welcome variety - though generally well designed, our only niggle is that it can be a little tricky to pick out incoming projectiles from enemies in these cases, but it's a minor problem. A horse riding stage is an enjoyable diversion - adopting the same camera perspective - and there's also a 2D platforming stage in which you you ride a panda, bringing to mind companion levels in Donkey Kong Country platformers; that's as much fun as it sounds.

It terms of presentation, Hörberg Productions has done an excellent job in maintaining its standards while making noticeable changes. The grainy paper effect returns, yet this time we have a diverse colour palette. It's implemented cleverly, as colour is themed depending on the environment and world, yet it's still a muted palette with limited range to deliver that retro vibe. It's a really smart inclusion, and when you add in the terrific soundtrack you have a game that's best enjoyed in a comfortable seat while wearing headphones.

Whether traversing across enormous dinosaurs, hopping between floating debris at sea or one of the other varied challenges, Gunman Clive 2 delivers entertaining and tight gameplay. Blasting through the adventure takes about 90 minutes when accounting for some deaths and tricky moments, yet the different approaches required for four playable characters - along with three difficulty levels that adjust your life bar - add a lot of replayability. Longer and more varied than its predecessor, it's a delightful steal.

Conclusion

Gunman Clive 2 successfully avoids the pitfalls that can befall sequels; it offers fresh ideas along with familiar excellence, and provides a notable improvement over its predecessor. Its stylish action platforming - along with dabbles in other approaches - combines with distinguished audio-visual presentation to deliver another gem for the 3DS eShop. We recommend it as a must buy for fans of action platformers, especially those that enjoy retro nods and winks with their modern day experiences - this one's a straight shooter.