A light-gun shooting game in this day and age is a lot harder to pull off successfully than it was in the 1980s or even the 1990s. The novelty of video simulation has long since worn off. For a game that is basically a one-trick pony, gamers expect a wide variety of modes, a plot (even if it’s thinly-veiled) and replayability. A game —a port of a nearly-decade old mostly-forgettable arcade title—with Hogan’s Alley’s level of depth surely wouldn’t be released as a full-priced title, right?
Point Blank DS tries to bring the classic light-gun shooter game not only into the 21st century, but also make it travel-sized. Comprised of a set of game modes, the game does one thing: sets up targets to be knocked down by “shooting” (tapping) them. The real issue with Point Blank DS isn’t so much what is there, but what is lacking. To put it bluntly, there’s nothing there.
The game has a decent number of modes, but all of them are the same. Identical minigames are encountered in all but the obnoxious “Classic Coin-Op” mode, where Namco felt it necessary to port four of its (poor) coin-op games from the early 80s to add value— and even then, they appear during the regular rotation for padding purposes.
There are two possible goals in almost every game: shoot everything, or shoot x not y. While these basic goals are prevalent in all shooting games — even contemporary titles such as House of the Dead 4—there’s no dynamism. From the Hogan’s Alley rip-off of “shoot the baddies not the women in pink” to literally “shoot the red targets, not the blue!”, Point Blank DS lacks excitement or interest. I did enjoy one minigame — the goal of which is to point out the differences between two scrolling landscapes —but one interesting diversion out of two dozen isn’t enough. In a humorous twist, Point Blank DS actually tries to rip off Nintendo’s Brain Training series in one mode. Calling a mode “Brain Massage” and grading performance in a short series of (same as the other modes) minigames isn’t the same thing as stimulating the cerebral cortex, guys.
To its credit, the game has loads of personality. All the weird quirkiness of the original arcade/PlayStation title remained intact. Point Blank’s world is inhabited by bizarre anime creatures, whose sole purpose seems to be getting shot during menus, causing them to emit a loud yelp (admittedly, I had more fun doing this than playing most of the actual games). The music and sound effects, while annoying at times, are of decent quality. I honestly can’t fault the presentation or production values of the original arcade game—it’s really well put-together on the surface.
But having a pretty surface can’t change some simple facts. First, the game is extremely short. I was able to successfully unlock—a term I use extremely loosely, as there isn’t anything significant to unlock—everything in less than two hours. After that, there nothing to go back to. Second, some of the 80s coin-op classic games are very irritating, with sound effects that are extremely grating. The repetitious nature of these games makes them an exercise in memorization, nothing more.
However, the biggest problem is the platform for the game. The Nintendo DS is a remarkable machine, and its touchscreen and dual screens have shows themselves to be diverse and interesting, giving developers a vibrant canvas on which to work. But in Point Blank DS’s case, it’s actually a hindrance. Playing the game is like playing House of the Dead with a controller; it’s just not fun. Light gun games, due to their superficial nature, are about having fun. The challenge comes from being able to accurately aim at the screen and time a trigger pull. Point Blank DS’s challenge is how quickly and how long a player can tap the screen before their arm cramps. Hit detection is decent, but how challenging is it to point at something repeatedly? Even in the “Insane” modes, where the only way to win is to induce a localized seizure of the forearm and tap away, there’s not much in the way of difficulty. Being able to aim a shot right on the exact pixel takes away a lot from the experience. The fault, though, does necessarily lie in the DS itself. Because Point Blank DS is essentially a static shooting gallery, a lot of its worth is lost in the translation to the DS platform. A moving, dynamic camera in any other modern shooter such as Time Crisis would add that level of challenge that’s missing here.
Ultimately, Point Blank DS falls flat because it’s an old, outdated generic shooting game. Without replayability, unlockables or any other motivation to continue playing, Point Blank DS shows how advances in game design since the mid-90s could have saved even superficial titles. This game shows that the DS is a capable machine, able to emulate other platforms quite well. Perhaps next time developers could choose a better game to emulate.