Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco Bandai
Release Date: June 13, 2006
Prior to last year's release of Guitar Hero for the PlayStation 2, playing a light gun shooter was the most realistic physical gaming experience one could have in the home. Forget about Dance Dance Revolution – real dancing does not look like that. Shooting a gun-shaped controller at a target, human or otherwise, is usually a very satisfying experience. Point Blank began life as an arcade shooter some 12 years ago, though it may be best known for the three versions released for the PlayStation between 1998 and 2001.
Of course, you can take "best known" with a grain of salt, as the games were never big hits outside of Japan, due in part to the extra cost associated with the purchase of the gun(s). Light gun games have always been made for arcades or home consoles, but never a handheld. It just never seemed possible. Certainly those of us who tried to play Time Crisis with a standard controller know better than to play such games with anything other than a light gun. Yet, despite five years without a peep about the series from Namco, I now have Point Blank DS inside my DS Lite system.
Wait, Point Blank DS? Come again? The very prospect of a new Point Blank game is shocking enough, but for the Nintendo DS? How is that even possible? Not only is it possible, but it works pretty well. In place of a light gun is your plain old stylus, eliminating the need for an additional investment. The style of the Point Blank series is tailor-made for a handheld: it is essentially a series of mini-games that typically last for about 20 seconds each. It may not be the rapid-fire zaniness of WarioWare, but it is a lot of fun. While everything here is totally competent, however, you still may leave feeling a bit shortchanged.
As I noted earlier, your weapon is your stylus. Instead of aiming a plastic gun at your television, you tap a plastic stylus on the touch-screen. It sounds silly, and I was certainly skeptical at first, but it does a serviceable job of replicating the feeling. It is, unfortunately, rather difficult to tilt your stylus sideways and "pop caps," but you should be able get over that. When your target appears on the screen, merely tap your stylus on it and the action will qualify as a shot. You will even see a little pop on the screen and hear the sound of a bullet firing. Certainly one might think that this method would cause the game to be much easier, but the touch-screen is very sensitive, and the game will not give you a hit unless you are dead-on.
Point Blank DS is comprised of 40 stages, most compiled from the three previous home releases. Consider it more of a "best of" for a new generation than a brand new game. The key here is variety: With some 200 stages from the original titles to choose from, Namco Bandai made wise decisions to keep the game fresh, with no stage closely resembling another one. Sure, many of them include targets to shoot, and many others have some type of animal to shoot, but they are not merely copycats with different-looking enemies. Here, I'll switch the game on for a couple of minutes and describe some of the stages.
In the first stage I encounter, Dr. Don and Dr. Dan are performing music onstage while audience members heave trash at them. My objective is to shoot the trash before it hits them. In the next stage, segmented snakes slither across the screen, and my task is to shoot each segment off of the body. In the third stage, I must take down gunmen who pop up in a subway station, while deftly avoiding the innocent bystanders. The final stage resembles a carnival game in which I am instructed to shoot only the red ducks. Blue ducks and bombs also fly across the screen, but I must be precise to succeed.
That is only one-tenth of the total stages. Another bizarre one has you shearing a sheep with bullets (Point Blank does not strive for realism), while a favorite of mine displays five playing cards, challenging you to shoot the one with the highest value as quickly as possible. I played this game for several hours and never felt sick of the stages, though I imagine it is something that will become tiresome after a couple weeks of regular play. Also, consider this: There were over 200 stages to choose from, yet only 40 made the final cut. Why not 50 or 60? If a game like Super Mario 64 can fit on a DS card, I am sure that 20 more stages could have fit on this one.
The game is also slim on varied game types, as all the ones included are based around the 40 stages. Arcade mode is the standard way of playing the game; choose your difficulty, then play through four or eight randomly chosen stages in your preferred order. The Freeplay mode lets you control which stage you want to play, in case you need to practice. The Classic Coin-Op mode is shockingly pointless, as it merely houses four of the stages that resemble old Namco arcade units. These stages are available in all of the other modes, so I fail to see the point. It just seems like they were trying to fill up the menu screen.
The mode that I played the most was Brain Massage. It may be seen as a copy of Brain Age, but I highly doubt that the goal here is to expand your mind. Rather, it breaks down the stages into self-explanatory sets of four, featuring titles like "Feel the Rhythm," "Marksmanship," and "Mental Focus." After completing the stages, you are judged and awarded a silly title, complete with an unimportant percentage. For example, I was labeled the "Speedwalking Champion," with a subtitle of "Fanny Pack: 83%." It may not be startlingly different from the Arcade mode, but it tosses a bit of bizarre humor your way to liven up the experience. After all, who doesn't want to be the "Sock Washing Authority" or a "Professional Bean Counter?"
The final game type offered by Point Blank DS is the Wireless Versus mode, which only requires one game card. I had a chance to play a bit of this and found it to be better than expected. Once downloaded and connected, a player chooses the course (made up of four stages), and then you play against each other for the high score. The only downside here is that loading times are fairly excessive, and no multi-card option is available. It wouldn't do much good, though; this game is apparently very difficult to find in stores, and the series is unlikely to become hugely popular based upon this iteration.
Point Blank DS really exceeded my expectations. I feared that the sensation of firing a weapon would be completely lost on the handheld, but Point Blank DS does as good of a job as possible with only a stylus in hand. There is a decent variety of stages, but the total amount of content is a bit slim, slightly limiting the appeal of this title. Still, I had a pretty good time with it, and it certainly made me long for the days when the PlayStation was king and the Guncon was grey and red, not orange. Fans of the series should be delighted with this competent portable collection.