Version tested: DS
There will be a minority of people reading who adore Point Blank religiously, their palms still bearing the imprint marks of a long-gripped light gun. And really, no matter what I say, nostalgia is going to win out.
Get yourself Point Blank DS - it will remind you of very good times, and bring a warm smile to your face as you recognise the many levels from the previous releases collected lovingly together. Your decision is already made. This review is for everyone else.
It's been said before, but it can't be said often enough: the reason the DS is great is because you can't just port your game over to it. The PSP is a remarkable machine, replicating near-PS2 capabilities in a handheld device, but still, only replicating near-PS2 capabilities. The lazy developer wishing to port his tinpot cash-in across all systems gets to the DS and goes, "Oh crap." Two screens, one of them a touch-screen, half as many buttons as the average joypad, and no analogue sticks whatsoever - it all means that anyone wishing to develop for it has to use their imagination.
The DS offers the arcade light gun series, Point Blank, something else: an easy home on a handheld. It proves to be a natural place to re-release such a game. You can aim and stab with the stylus, and get something that while not the same, is at least reminiscent of the original design. It's not aiming a gun at a screen - it's tapping on the image in front of you, and that division will not be overcome. However, it is at least appropriate. That's right - the joyful madness of the DS' design has finally been appropriate to an old design idea! Pick yourself back up and read on.
Collecting together 40 of the challenges from the three previous Point Blank games, the DS release feels part tribute to a series that always deserved more attention than it received, and part embracing of the current culture for quickfire mini-games with a dose of daft. While Point Blank was doing the WarioWare shtick long before Wario had even had the idea (it is Wario who has the idea - the opening cut-scene said so), it's clear from this version that the influence has bounced back the other way. And then a bit of brain training has been thrown in for good measure.
Dr. Dan and Dr. Don are back, along with a fantastic spread of levels. You'll be aiming at targets at a shooting gallery, then firing at skeletons from a catacomb, before blasting at owls falling down a waterfall, and then trying to tap on the highest value playing card from a row of five as quickly as possible. You might have to sheer as many sheep as you can, or protect the good doctors from objects thrown at them by an unappreciative audience. While clearly not as gratifying as successfully aiming a gun, it's so fast, so varied and so gleefully silly that at first Point Blank DS feels like yet another classic must-have for your baby Nintendo.
Sniff. Smell that? It's a "but".
But it's short lived. There's no question that this is immediately engrossing and entertaining. Blamming away with the stylus feels as natural as any other gaming control method you've experienced, and the rapid nature of the game, in whichever mode, makes it feel endlessly original. But it isn't. Forty levels is loads, but there's a reason WarioWare had two hundred. Once you've played each twice, and that's really only a couple of hours in, there's very little new for you to discover. Beating high scores is certainly an incentive, but the nature of the challenge design is such that there's not much room for improvement. Play it on Advanced difficulty and it might want you to hit 30 crocodiles before the time is up, and it might well only have 32 available to be hit in that time. Hit all 32 first time, which in many levels isn't too much of a challenge, and where have you left to go? Well, Insane mode, but it's called that for a reason.
Promisingly there's a Games Museum section, which sadly only has four games. They're recreations of 80's arcade shooting gallery games, and each is smile-bringing the first time. But really there's not much more to them than that, and they appear throughout the other modes anyway, making their segregated appearance feel somewhat superfluous. There's a very welcome Freeplay mode, where you can access any of the levels, practise, and attempt to improve on a high score, and there's the main Arcade mode that has you play through eight challenges, with a couple of in-between mini-games - one for recovering a life halfway, and one for setting off a final point-scoring fireworks display at the end. Once again, this is well put together, loyally recreating the hugely varied Point Blank levels. It does sputter out rather too quickly, with some levels, especially the corridor-based terrorist/ninja shooting galleries, feeling like they could benefit from being fleshed out into longer, more involved mini-challenges. No matter the difficulty level, Arcade mode makes much better use of the Insane difficulty. Two of the eight challenges will be set to this uber-difficulty, and mixing it up a bit this way makes things more tough in just the right way.
Finally, and most bizarrely, there's the Brain Massage mode. It's the same levels again, but this time purporting to report back information about you based on how you play. Divided into thematic categories such as Feel The Rhythm, Eagle-Eye, Are You Stressed, etc, further sections can be unlocked by performing well, and it's here that there's at least some longevity.
However, the so-called brain massaging aspect is absolutely potty, and while entertaining, disappointing in its failure to even try and provide any insight. After doing rather badly at Marksmanship I was told I was a "Pizza Taster", with a "Buonissimo!" rating of 33%. Doing well at An Analog Brain I was informed that I was a "Canine Condo Architect", and as you'd expect, 88% "Flea Motel". I'm also 52% "Extra Butter" when it comes to being a "Famous Popcornist", and a "Speedwalking Champion" of 71% "Fanny Pack". ("Fanny Pack" - snigger). Yes indeed, madder than a bag of hatstands. Funny, but rather pointless.
Oh, listen to me sounding so negative - it's still a lot of fun to take a stab at. It's just not enough fun to be marked a classic. And there's one other significant issue to mention. The screen registers your touching it with a little blast effect, which on occasion will appear immediately over a target, but without the target's being hit. It's maybe only once every 20 hits, but it's frequently enough to be unfair and slightly frustrating. Especially if you fail the level for being one hit short.
As mentioned at the start, the Point Blank fanbase is narrow and dedicated, and this incarnation will be accepted in without question (or indeed, critical reasoning). For the rest of the world, it's a sweet little arcade game that finds a logical home on the DS, but only to rent. Short-lived, it seems a very wasted opportunity to not take advantage of the full capabilities of the DS and cram in far more levels, and have them as teasing unlockables to reward successful play. But then I forgive it quite a lot because it told me I was a "Stylish Comic Artist" with a "Creativity" of 84%.
7 / 10