Title Gun Bullet
Developer/Publisher Namco
Type 2D Shooter
English version Available (Renamed as Point Blank)
Reviews #1, #2, #3

Review by Michael Motoda

Anyone who remembers the first generation games of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES, or Famicom (FC) in Japan), should remember some of the light-gun games that graced it quite vividly. Whether it was Duck Hunt, Gumshoe, or Hogan’s Alley, these games defined the core element of what makes gun games so much fun: simple, addictive gameplay that stays focused and is presented well. In addition, Sega was quick to release a few light-gun shooters of their own for their ill-fated Master System (SMS), ranging from Safari Hunt to Shooting Gallery. They even went so far as to support their 3D LCD shutter glasses with a few gun games as well. There’s no need to mention 16-bit gun games, because there weren’t any worthy ones to speak of. Now, literally 10 years later, Namco has decided to release GunBullet, a seldom-seen arcade game in the US, to Sony’s PlayStation console. Does GunBullet deliver the fun, excitement, and twitch gameplay that all its classic predecessors possessed while still offering something new and refreshing to the genre? It sure does, and it is a game that is executed almost flawlessly.

GunBullet is the follow-up to Namco’s well-received home version of the arcade hit Time Crisis. Known in US arcades under a different title (Point Blank), GunBullet is the 2nd PlayStation title which takes advantage of Namco’s proprietary Guncon light-gun peripheral. An interesting note is that the first few Japanese characters used to write the title "GunBullet" are GA-N-BA-RE, which translates into, "Do your best!"

GunBullet starts off with a rendered FMV intro, showing the principal protagonists flying through various locales, all the while perched on top of a smiling bullet. The quality of the FMV is better than the Namco Museum intros, but not up to par with Namco’s other triumphs, Soul Edge and Rage Racer. Still, it is done with classic Namco flair and establishes the fun atmosphere of the game quite well.

Graphically, the colorful 2D sprites and hilarious animation are a breath of fresh air in this day and age of 3D dominance. Colors and sprites are vibrant, backgrounds possess a very cartoonish feel, and the animation, scrolling, and scaling are sharp and smooth. The look of the game is appealing and consistent throughout, giving the game a true feeling of competence and direction.

The object of the game is much like any other shooting gallery game of this sort – hit all your targets in a given amount of time as accurately and quickly as possible, while not hitting things like bombs, innocent people, and the other player’s targets. If you happen to hit a wrong target, you’ll lose a life heart for each of them you hit. Additionally, if you do not meet your quota for that stage, you’ll also lose a life heart. The variety in this game is unmatched. At one point, you may be asked to shoot the numbers 1-16 in succession without missing. After that, you may be asked to shoot a car 60 times in 15 seconds. But then again, you may have to shoot a falling leaf with only 1 bullet. There are also fairly standard shooting gallery style levels, like hitting flying ducks or stationary wooden targets, but it is the other levels which will delight the player with their undeniably addictive qualities and straightforward humor. And much like Time Crisis, don’t expect to be entering your name into the hall of fame unless you finish an entire game.

One of the features in this game that immediately charmed me in the arcades was the stylish and appropriately wacky music. For example, if you’re trying to protect your character from flying torches, all set to a jungle background, the music playing comes complete with exotic drums and tribal chants. Fighting an onslaught of tanks? Pseudo-army marching music begins to play. The music really adds a spark and dimension to each level which breathes even more life into an already very entertaining game. The sound effects in the game are also very original, detailed, and pleasing to the ear. For example, when you shoot the screen to choose your level, you can hear the casing from the round you just shot hit the floor. It’s a nice touch that people who have played Time Crisis are very familiar with. Another example would be the great piranhas – they look like balloons, and when you shoot them, yes, they pop like balloons.

In terms of options, it remains sparse, but for a game like this, fewer options is better. You can adjust the screen, re-adjust your Guncon, load/save games, adjust the target hit width (basically simulates the arcade light gun and makes targets easier to hit), and select the sound mode. Additionally, you can adjust the number of credits and life hearts you get.

This game is split up into two different sections. The first one is Arcade, and it is a virtual carbon-copy of the arcade game. For those unfamiliar with the arcade game, the game is split up into various ‘stages’, which consist of 4 ‘screens’ each. These 4 screens are randomized by the game, and as you progress to different stages, the difficulty increases steadily. Within each of these stages, you get to shoot and pick which screen you want to play, and since there are many different screens and variations of these screens, it is almost impossible to play the same game twice and ensures a different experience each time you play. 4 different difficulty levels are available to you (Training, Beginner, Expert, and Very Hard). Training consists of 1 stage with 4 screens, and the other 3 consist of 4 stages with 4 screens each, plus a bonus level and final round. While some of the levels are elementary and simple to beat, there are some levels which take expert skills to pass. One example would be a level where you have to shoot down skeets which increase in speed as time goes by. This is extremely difficult since there aren’t that many skeets launched, your time limit is minimal, the targets are small, and they fly almost straight across the screen. There are countless other marksman-style levels which are the ultimate test for your shooting skills. Luckily, the dead-on accuracy of the Guncon makes these levels a little easier to deal with, for if you miss, you know that it was you and not the gun. The gun hits exactly where you aim it, assuming that you have taken the time to calibrate it correctly, for it is in these more difficult stages where you will truly appreciate the accuracy of the Guncon. It really does make a huge difference, as no other light gun could hit on-target as consistently as this.

The second section of the game is known as Arrange, and it possesses many new features which are exclusive to the PlayStation version of the game. One of the new game modes allows you to play any level in the game individually, which is good if you are looking to better your abilities or high score on any particular level. It also gives you a rating line graph which compares your performance to your performance on other levels, which is useful in helping the player figure out which areas they need more work on.

The next mode included in the Arrange section is the Special game, which is similar to the Special game in Time Crisis in that Namco has gone beyond the call of duty and included both new variations on levels seen in the Arcade mode and entirely new and original levels as well. This addition alone basically doubles the size of the game and adds a new twist to familiar ground if you are used to playing the arcade levels.

Third, a great feature called Party Play allows multi-player competition between individuals or teams. You can compete for points, take place in a tournament, and compete in other group-friendly games. Speaking of multi-player, you can use 2 Guncon light-guns with GunBullet. Simply plug the second yellow composite pass-through cable into the first one, and plug it into controller port 2. GunBullet is a wonderful 2-player game, and definitely adds a new dimension to the gameplay, since in addition to battling the clock and achieving your quota, you’ll be competing against each other to reach your goal. It definitely makes for a great time among friends, and while you’re at it, you can also adjust handicap levels for the less experienced shots in your group, or vice versa.

Finally, Namco has also included a Quest mode, which is basically an RPG set in the whole GunBullet world. You can talk to people, buy items, and explore the entire world, but without a decent understanding of the Japanese written language, this section of the game is similar to the Quest mode in Tobal 2. It’s great for Japanese players, but probably a bit too daunting for non-speakers. GunBullet’s Quest mode is very similar in look and feel to the Ganbare Goemon (Legend of Mystical Ninja in the US) titles from Konami. The humor level is high, and the graphics and music are excellent. It will be interesting to see if Namco decides to translate the Quest mode for its US release in the future.

The only downside to this game that I can see are the load times. Between switching modes, saving and loading games, and traversing various screens before playing, you’ll be waiting at a silent "Now Loading" screen more often than you’d like. Granted, the load times are fairly short, ranging between 3-5 seconds, but since they happen often, they do tend to get rather tedious.

For what it’s worth, I am having more fun with GunBullet than I am with Time Crisis, although both games are excellent in their own right. The personality which is evident in GunBullet really helps in the total enjoyment of the title, and the huge variety in levels ensures lasting replayability and great competition among friends and family. The pace of the game is also quite relentless, and nothing beats the relief and satisfaction one feels when they just barely meet a difficult quota. In the end, if you enjoy gun games, then this is definitely one that you will not regret picking up. Let’s hope that a Steel Gunner collection from Namco is next.

Final Scores:
+   Sharp, hand-drawn 2D sprites with lots of personality.
+   Excellent animation throughout.
+   Graphics accompany on-screen instructions, making understanding 
    of each level easy and straightforward.
+   Lots of visual gags and related hidden Easter Eggs.
+   Original visual style will appeal to both male and female
+   Humorous rendered FMV intro sets up mood of game nicely, but...
-   ...characters on-screen irresponsibly point guns at their own 
-   Slight slowdown in-between certain rounds, but does not occur
    during actual gameplay.  Very minor.    
+   Very catchy soundtrack with lots of variety and class.
+   Excellent sound effects reflected by individual targets.
-   Some of the tunes are slightly bland.
+   Highly-addictive gameplay based on time, accuracy, and number of
    targets hit.  
+   Difficulty curve is administered well.
+   Exhibits the "Let me try one more time... I can beat that score"
    train of thought.
+   Random variation in each game allows for a different experience
    each time.
+   Tons of PlayStation-only features not found in the arcade
+   Multiplayer modes are lots of fun.
+/- Expert skills required in some of the Very Hard and Arrange
    levels.  This will appeal to good shots, but may prove to be 
    frustrating for younger/inexperienced players.
-   Some of the jokes and penalties in certain multiplayer modes
    are entirely in Japanese, which is bad for non-speakers.
In a nutshell, this is my hands-down favorite light-gun game 
since Virtua Cop 1.  Insanely addictive and highly recommended.
Review Copyright © 1997 by Michael Motoda. Please email me with your comments or questions about my review. Thank you very much for your time.