A Youtube commenter once said (6 months ago, apparently) “If you say you owned a Dreamcast but never played Power Stone, you never really owned a Dreamcast”. I think I’d have to agree, as the console port of Capcom’s arcade fighter is almost as ubiquitous as Crazy Taxi was during the era of the Dreamcast. It was also popular enough to warrant a 4-player sequel, but the 2-player original still stands up today as a unique fighting game in its own right. And here’s why;
Released way back in 1999, it still holds up pretty damn well. As you may already know Power Stone is a rather untraditional 2-player fighting game, with battles taking place in open 3D arenas allowing combatants free reign to run about leaping over obstacles, up walls and get an environmental edge against their opponent. To compliment this, the control scheme is extremely simple to pick up and understand with just one kick button, one punch button and yet another for grabbing with the final face button for jumping. Punches and kicks can be strung together in the regular manner, but the emphasis on fighting here is on finding weapons to pick up and use to defend yourself with. These range from bombs and swords to flame-throwers and handguns. These are usually stored in chests, but you can also find and use entire sections of the stage as weapons. Some smaller characters can use poles for instance to swing around and quickly launch themselves at the enemy. The stronger characters can instead just pick it up and smash their foe from a wide range.
There are actually only eleven or so characters in the game, which can be seen as somewhat small against the huge roster of say Marvel Vs Capcom 2 or Smash Bros., but similar to Garou the small number of fighters actually emphasises the variety of those present, especially with the outlandish designs presented in an extremely bright and vibrant style (It also features the largest character portraits I’ve seen in a character select screen). There’s the British Rocketeer – Falcon, the Kung Fu Legend – Wang Tang, Nimble Ninja – Ayame, Giant Pirate Grappler – Gunrock and Prideful Samurai – Ryoma to name a few. There’s even a terrifying spider-like character called Jack, who wields a pair of small daggers and is strongly hinted as actually being the infamous Jack the Ripper. Each character has their own motivation for fighting, but all are after the ultimate prize. The Power Stone.
The best thing about THE Power Stone, is that during fights you actually get to taste a small fraction of its power. During combat a number of coloured gems will appear in the field. Once you collect all three (and these -can- be beaten out of your gasp by strong impacts) your character will transform into their powered up state for a short period of time. During this time all of their regular attacks become small special moves like fireballs or rockets, and they gain access to two large special moves that consume the rest of the entire power gauge keeping them transformed. For Gunrock his transformed state is that of a giant golem who can turn himself into a boulder to entirely crush his opponent, whereas Falcon puts on an armoured jetpack suit and can launch a massive barrage of missles (Bangai-O fans will enjoy this one) that home in on the poor sap trying to flee in panic. Actually getting to use the power of these smaller stones makes you understand the characters’ motivations, as if the lesser ones can do that to them then just what exactly could the real stone be capable of?
Of course you learn this upon fighting the final boss of the game, Vargas, who uses the power stone against you. Both he, his extra boss form and his underling Kraken are unlockable fighters, and there’s plenty of motivation to play it through with everyone as all the characters have their own endings and unlock extra game content like new weapons and items to find during fights, mini-games to play on the VMU and a virtual mode that lets you fight in first-person even during two-player match ups. Even today the game is great fun, especially when everything is unlocked and you really start just fighting for the fun of it with other human opponents. While the music is fairly forgettable, against the incredible efforts of Brawl or BlazBlue, the sound effects are incredibly impactful. You feel every punch connect, and special attacks feel incredibly powerful, whether it’s one of Wang Tang’s beam-like punches or Ryoma’s bladestorm. There’s a lot of attention to detail here, and it provides a wonderfully engaging experience for every fight. The stages are a little hit and miss, where Jack’s stage is closed in and boring, but Gunrock’s is expansive and features a lot of cool elements like a conveyor belt leading to a damaging crushing machine and twisting gears constantly keeping you on your toes.
It’s a great game, and it makes sense as to why it’s such a popular inclusion in Dreamcast libraries everywhere. Even after all this time it’s an incredibly fast-paced and compelling fighting game. It does lack a number of features we’re used to these days, for instance there is still no online-enabled version released and there isn’t even a training mode to play around with the characters in controlled conditions. Still, if it’s just couch-based versus fighting you want it’s one of the best on the console, and had they not made a sequel it’d be rated even higher than that. Fortunately for all of us, they did. And it’s good. Damn good.
Welcome to the Power Stone World! A-