If you've ever played the arcade version of Namco's Point Blank (or Gun Bullet, as it's called in Japan) or the import version for the PlayStation, then you likely know just how many tokens you can go through or how many restarts you initiate in a very short amount of time. This puzzle/shooter title, which sometimes unmercifully lets you have only one bullet and five seconds to complete a task, can be replayed free, endlessly, and to perfection, as it's now available for the Sony PlayStation - in English.
Point Blank portrays the story of two gun-slinging companeros and adventurers, Dr. Don and Dr. Dan, who look amazingly like Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie after a healthy dose of Rogaine and about 20 years hard time. You adopt their collective identity throughout the single-player and two-player head-to-head score-battle mode. Once you select your experience level, beginner, intermediate, or expert, get comfortable with and calibrate your GunCon, as this is the third US title to be compatible with the accurate-within-three-pixels light gun. From this point, a jumble of four distinct challenges from within a larger grouping will be presented to you. Select one of them, and the game starts.
There's no logical progression to the difficulty of these levels, as they each tend to measure a different skill set. Some of them, for example, test your accuracy by giving you a single bullet and ten seconds to shoot an apple off a guy's head or blast a feather floating down from the sky. The expert level may find you trying the same task with less available time or perhaps an object moving more quickly. Other stages may test your speed and judgment - making you shoot scores of "bad guys" or ninjas within a given time limit. You'll have unlimited ammo on these levels, but rapid fire won't help you. You see, there are civilians you must avoid, or you'll lose a life for each one you kill. And generally, unless you change things around in the options menu, you only live thrice. Another grouping of levels encourages rapid fire. In these challenges, you'll have a varying time limit and an unlimited amount of ammunition to either do such things as totally destroy a sports car or shoot a bunch of bottles off the wall. Still another skill test is the target objective. Marks in the pattern of plates or shooting-range forms will be displayed to you, and you'll have a time limit and occasionally an ammo allotment to complete your goal. For example, you must shoot down all plates of a certain color, while avoiding "bomb" decoys, or hit a bull's-eye to secure a high score.
You won't always be reaching for a numerical score rewarding target accuracy or destroying the appropriate number of objects. You'll also have puzzles and missions to conquer - with your gun (who said violence couldn't solve problems?). This might entail shooting the keys of a keyboard to spell out words; figuring out which part of the fast-moving Chinese dragon to hit; determining which bouncing balls to cap to clear the lot of them; shooting out a numerical sequence from a scrambled keypad; annihilating all the vultures, piranhas, tanks, meteorites, and fireballs before they exterminate your buddy; and knocking the hives off a tree before killing all the bees. And if after all this you haven't had enough diversity, various Whack-a-Mole-style levels will prompt you to shoot cuckoo clock birds and fuzzy animals as they emerge and disappear - rather quickly - in and out of their abodes, tag-teaming with bombs that will tempt your anxious reflexes.
The stages are incredibly irresistible and fun, luring you into a seemingly endless stream of continues until you either succeed at a challenge or get a red flag for that level and move on to the next. If you fail, you'll lose one life and continue with the set until you're dead. Whether you win or lose a level, you'll get a certain number of points for how hard you tried (or how long you managed to stay alive). Once you finish four levels, you'll get four more until you either die or the difficulty level is complete - at which point, you fight the final battle and disappear into a flurry of fireworks and adulation when you win.
Single-player and head-to-head score competitions aside, Point Blank for the PlayStation tops the arcade version by offering tournament and team-play modes, in which up to four players compete in turn-based rounds of the previously listed levels until either a team or an individual wins. A special mode offers variations on the already disparate stages, and a quest mode extends RPG-like play - much in the style of Soul Blade, where you (as the team of Dr. Dan and Dr. Don) collect experience points and money for battles you encounter as you wander around a tropical oasis called Point Blank Island. The point of this quest is to beat Quickbuck, the evil head of the Scrimp 'n' Save Corporation, to the Gunball. You do this by succeeding at a series of shooting challenges, basically variations on the stages from other modes, and you encounter them as you explore a 2D environment. Quest mode is definitely a fast-moving RPG, but it pretty much has to be, as who wants to hold his arms poised to shoot for hours on end? The translations in quest mode are a little rough, too, as you're told to "best" certain bosses, not "beat" them, as well as test your "shoothing" skills. But this is not a puzzle game disguised as an RPG, as the RPG standards, such as purchasable rejuvenating potions (in the form of hamburgers, here) and stepped-up weapons and so on, are all components of the Point Blank Quest.
Point Blank's graphics are nothing to chirp about, and the music sounds like it comes from a kid-weary shopping-mall floor-sample synthesizer. But amazingly, Namco's managed to capture and apply the addictive elements of puzzle and shooting games, creating a title that is so enjoyable and difficult to put down you won't be bothered by the audiovisual shortcomings.