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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Power Stone 2

Year: 2000
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: Dreamcast
Metacritic score: 87
VGChartz sales to date: Unknown

The follow-up to the successful arcade fighter and Dreamcast launch title, Power Stone 2 is a frantic fighting game known for its fully 3D interactive stages and colorful, fast-paced mayhem.  Released less than a year after the console launch of its predecessor, Power Stone 2 was designed to improve on every facet of a game that was genuinely good but ultimately outshone by the competition.  The series stood out for its interactive 3D stages at a time when most stuck ardently to 2D design.  It also eschewed the long input chains and strict timing demanded in most of those games, instead using a basic set of moves whose input remained constant but effects varied by character.  Power Stone was Capcom's answer to Nintendo's incredible Super Smash Bros. but without the world famous mascots.  What at first appears to be a very basic fighting mechanic can, in the hands of an experienced player, offer a surprising amount nuance to experiment with.

Clever use of the environment is a must.  Failing to maintain a tactical advantage can be punished with a facefull of turret fire.
Make no mistake, this is still a fighter that appeals more to the button-mashers among us, but it also delivers a strategic depth and replay value that was lacking in the original.  For starters, up to four players could fight at once instead of just one-on-one and multiple new game modes were introduced. They also bumped the roster to 14 characters, significantly expanded the number of weapons and power-ups (you can even create your own), and vastly improved the scope of the interactive stages.  That's a lot of changes, but the core of this game is still about frenzied action.  Trivialities such as blocking and countering have been cast aside, fights consist of relentless attacking and using the environment to outmaneuver your opponents.  The random appearance of weapons and items can drastically swing the flow of battle, especially the eponymous Power Stones.  You'll quickly be conditioned to start salivating whenever one of these gem-like objects pops into existence since collecting three of them causes your character to transform and grants the use of massively powerful special attacks until the boosted power bar is depleted.  

Let your opponent collect three Power Stones and you're in for a world of hurt.
The classic 1v1 story mode returns and is expanded upon with the new Arcade mode that serves up a series of 4-player fights in which the top two survive to the next stage.  There is also an Original mode (essentially a Free Play multiplayer mode) and Adventure mode which offers the bulk of the replay value.  Adventure mode lets you unlock new items, earn cash to purchase unlockables from the shop, and also collect cards that can be used to mix unlocked items to create new ones.  Anything you unlock can be used in the other game modes and they're often superior to the stock weapons and power-ups which gives an added incentive to keep playing long after you've seen each character's ending.

Perhaps Power Stone's biggest innovation in the genre is the hugely interactive 3D arenas each consisting of multiple sub-stages that change over the course of battle.  One of my favorite stages begins atop a massive warplane that is gradually destroyed by the chaos, sending everyone into a free fall to Earth.  Rather then interrupt the fighting, players continue to slug it out until reaching the platform floating below.  Each stage is also packed with unique environmental objects ranging from simple chairs up to airships that can be used to upset the balance.  These backdrops look gorgeous thanks to Sega's excellent NAOMI engine whose shared architecture with the Dreamcast made porting arcade hits to the console a breeze.  Super Smash Bros. may have the star power of Nintendo's stable of mascots, but nothing can touch Power Stone 2 in terms of fast, fun and frenetic four-player fighting.  

Just because you're all plummeting to your death doesn't mean you should stop beating on each other.

Did you own a Dreamcast?  Well, neither did anybody else.  Sega's missteps in launching the Dreamcast have been well documented and their surprise decision to push the North American launch to coincide with 9/9/99 (desperately trying to beat the PS2 to market) didn't fare much better.  You'd think getting a console early would be a good thing, but Sega managed to piss off retailers, developers, and publishers who were caught off guard by Sega's grand surprise.  The Dreamcast put up record sales in the few months before the PS2's released killed demand and Sega only managed to sell around 10.5 million Dreamcasts before production ended in 2001, a mere two years after its North American release.  To put that in perspective, it's widely rumored Sony still produces new PS2's over a decade after launch and has shipped a record-setting 150 million units globally.  The smaller your player base, the harder it is to launch a successful game since it requires that practically everyone who bought the console also purchase the game.  

With the odds already stacked against it, Capcom further ensured the Power Stone franchise would become a cult classic by releasing it alongside their own Capcom vs. Marvel arcade fighter.  Just like Power Stone and many other Dreamcast games, MvC was originally a visually stunning arcade-only title that made its console debut during the Dreamcast launch.  Unlike Power Stone, MvC appeals to the hardcore fighter crowd and has a massive stable of well-known characters with huge fanbases among both Western and Japanese gamers.  If that wasn't bad enough, there was even more competition thanks to the Dreamcast's other groundbreaking 3D-fighter: Soulcalibur.  I can't recall another time when three incredible fighting series were launched in the same year, let alone on the same day!  Despite positive reviews, gamers flocked to the more hardcore-oriented Soulcalibur and MvC which outsold poor Power Stone by a margin of over 2:1.  Capcom immediately went to work refining what they knew was a winning formula, but it was already too late.  The missteps launching the series effectively killed any chance of building a solid fanbase and thanks to the phenomenal PS2 launch just a month earlier the writing was already on the wall for the Dreamcast faithful.

The Temple of Doom inspired boulder chase isn't just an example of inventive stage design, it's also a fitting metaphor for what it felt like to be a Dreamcast fan in the days after the PS2 launch.
Sad to say, but I'm afraid this series is well and truly dead.  It's not that fighting games can't succeed in the era of the FPS, there will always be a small but dedicated market for people looking to wail on strangers.  Power Stone's own litter mates Soulcalibur and MvC outlived their console of origin and continue to find success with new iterations as well as HD and collector's edition re-releases of their classics.  Even the brawler sub-genre has proven it's staying power as evidenced by Nintendo's critically acclaimed Super Smash Bros. series and Sony's joining the mix with their upcoming Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale.  But humble Power Stone remains the black sheep among Capcom's extensive roster of fighting games.  An attempt to re-energize the series was made in 2006 when both original games were merged to become Power Stone Collection for the PSP, but only 80,000 copies were sold worldwide.  

An outspoken minority continues to stalk Capcom's forums with pleas for a Power Stone 3, or even some HD reissues for download on PSN and Xbox Live.  A quick YouTube search returns dozens of fan-made trailers and pleas all hoping to spark a renewed interest in the franchise but hopes are fading.  The realities of game development today are fairly hostile towards new and unproven IPs, and Power Stone simply lacks the brand recognition enjoyed by its now well-established competitors.  Capcom could take steps to breathe new life into the series, for instance including some of the Power Stone cast in the roster of their crossover fighting games.  But they passed on the opportunity with the recently released Marvel vs Capcom 3 (and it's even more recent "Ultimate" re-release) despite including characters from relatively unknown series such as Darkstalkers and Final Fight.  It seems that even Capcom is content to pretend the Power Stone series never existed at all, and that's a real shame for all the people who enjoyed it and everyone who never got the chance.  
A fun cast of characters, but not a Mario or Kratos in the bunch.
Have you played this game?  Is there a game you remember being great but no one seems to have heard of it?  Sound off in the comments below, and be sure to Like us on Facebook for updates and teasers on upcoming posts!

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  1. I used to play this game as a kid and it's my favorite of all time.

  2. This was my favorite game to play on my Dreamcast and sadly it's the only one that won't read anymore in the console so I'm stuck with the old sonic games.