Developed in co-operation with Eighting/Raizing, the game is Point Blank- the video game equivalent of a funfair shooting gallery- with 3D graphics, a coherent plot (Kevin and Lisa have been turned into cats and visit a haunted mansion to remove the curse, shooting tomfoolery ensues) and a few bells and whistles here and there. You're given a selection of shooting stages with specific quotas to meet, which range from basic stuff such as shooting enough ghosts and hitting a target with one shot, to more out-there objectives like picking tiny ghost fleas off a cat without hurting it or holding off a gaggle of ghosts from kissing you. While some of the stages are adapted from existing Point Blank levels, Ghoul Panic does its best to jazz them up a bit, and has plenty of its own unique stages (the 'use the mirror to see the ghosts' and the 'find the cats in the maze' stages are particular highlights). Overall, the levels are up to the Point Blank standard, with a nice smattering of very difficult stages (the ghost books stage is one the toughest to pass on higher difficulties)- with the exception of a few stages with excessive time limits, I'd put most of the stages in this game above the ones found in Point Blank 3, at least!
Here Comes the Boss!
The game also throws in boss battles every four levels (with one final battle after the third boss) and while they're pretty much what you expect- hit their weak point until they croak, and watch out for their attacks and projectiles- they're surprisingly well-intergrated. Since there's no faffing about with reloading your gun every six shots, they're not as obnoxious as they could be (and can be made easier if you collect one of the three diamonds by beating the 'very hard' stage in every level set) and while some of their attacks can be difficult to dodge (the vampire's fire breath in particular requires a fast trigger finger) all of them can be dodged- no cheap shots here. As well as fitting with the story and theme, these boss encounters keep things lively, so they're a nice addition- my only issue is that the penalty for getting hit- a full life- seems a bit excessive considering you only have three hearts and there's no way to recover lost lives. Losing half a life would've been a bit more lenient, I think.
The other noteworthy problem is that the game sure likes to show you the NOW LOADING text a lot- the game will stop to load after the stage instructions are shown and before the stage results. Fortunately the load times aren't ruinous, it's just a bit jarring for the game to constantly load mid-game as opposed to loading before the level starts and after the results screen. The joys of old-school CD access times, eh?
The other main difference between Ghoul Panic and Point Blank- and arguably its only real weakness- is the consistent graphical theme. Unlike the bizarre and disturbing universe of Point Blank, where there's several different themes and nothing makes any sense, Ghoul Panic has a theme set in stone- the haunted mansion, and lots of ghosts. It's a nice bit of garnish, but ultimately hurts the game compared to Point Blank as it means you'll be seeing those ghosts again and again, making the game overall less memorable. It does its best to mix it up with a few ghost varieties, but they mostly stick to the same designs. It's not that the game's ugly- there's some nice touches such as the Loony Tunes-esque elasticity of the ghosts and the over-the-top expressions of the cats- and it's not like it's lacking in character- the boss characters in particular are quite charming- it's just, compared to Point Blank, there's a lack of visual variety, which is a real shame- a game like this thrives on that sort of thing. It doesn't help that the music is forgettable too (except the ranking music, which I could listen to all day).
Home Version Modes
All that said, the arcade mode (which, as far as I can tell, is a direct port with some touch-ups to the translation) is complimented by a few standard home-port modes like Survival, Training and Party (supports up to eight players using one gun) but the main extra content comes from Adventure and Remix. Sadly, Adventure isn't a light-gun RPG like Quest in the first Point Blank, but instead is a pleasantly distracting (albeit very short) first-person maze game. It's basic in the extreme- by shooting the on-screen arrows to move, you have to make your way through the mansion, take part in shooting challenges behind each door to get items, then find the boss on each floor. At the very least, it's a novel idea (and a nice way of hiding the unlockable content- PS1-exclusive stages and items like the machine gun and masks appear in this mode) and you can't accuse it of overstaying its welcome as it can be beaten in an hour. It's worth playing through just to unlock Remix, an extended version of the arcade game with all the PS1-exclusive stages and an extra boss at the start, which is the best way to play the game- it's longer and with greater stage variety. It's a shame it's not available straight from the start, but the length of Adventure means it won't be long before you can have the definitive Ghoul Panic experience.
Point Blank: Ghost Edition
Putting aside those extras, though, Ghoul Panic is definitely on par with the Point Blank games- although it's let down by its lack of totally out-there stages (as much as I love the 'shoot the ghost turkey' stage in this, it's got nothing on the sheep-shearing stage in Point Blank 2) and consistent-to-a-fault graphical theme, you can't deny that it's still a challenging and entertaining light-gun shooter, and its additions to the Point Blank formula (in particular the bosses) work very well without diluting the core concept too much. If your G-Con 45 is feeling a bit left out and you'd like to put it to use, then after Point Blank 1 and 2, Ghoul Panic is definitely worthy of your attention.
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