It is interesting to look back on Capcom’s history with 3d fighting games. Where they more or less invented and perfected the modern interpretation of 2d fighters their 3d efforts, at least in the beginning, were less than thrilling. While some were solid efforts like Street Fighter Ex others like Star Gladiator, Tech Romancer, and Rival Schools suffered from numerous issues that prevented them from gaining mass appeal. Meanwhile Virtua Fighter and Tekken were the kings on the block. It was when they threw out all the rules that they themselves had established that Capcom would find success. Power Stone is the end result and alongside Soul Calibur, Sonic Adventure, and NFL 2K it was one of the brightest stars in the Dreamcast launch lineup.
Although Power Stone was released in the arcade it was the Dreamcast release that brought the series to everyone’s attention. The games focus on all out brawling much like Super Smash Brothers made it more accessible than the insanely technical Virtua Fighter. Midway’s Bio Freaks tried the same approach but failed spectacularly; it suffered from a very obvious lack of enthusiasm as the arcade release was cancelled and the console ports created to salvage it. With Capcom’s deft touch behind it Power Stone emerged as something truly original in the genre and although it suffers from a lack of post-game content it is still enjoyable in the time you’ll spend with it.
Forget about all of your preconceived ideas of fighting games as Power Stone does away with almost all of it. The round structure remains but that is all. The game is set up more like a brawler in an arena rather than a traditional beat em up. The controls are kept simple with a jump button, a grab and one attack. There are no special moves or button commands to learn as most moves are simple double taps or three hit combos. Hell there isn’t even a block. Using the environment is a key factor of any battle, one that successfully manages to make up for the loss of common fighting game tropes. Each stage is littered with all manner of crates and other objects to bludgeon your opponents as well as weapons that last a brief duration. Nearly everything can be picked up and tossed and the characters will dynamically adjust to their surroundings, automatically swinging on poles or tossing aside smaller objects. Each battleground is the perfect size, large enough that you can gain some distance from your opponent but also small enough that you can’t stray too far.
It encourages frequent engagement, not just to beat the clock but also to gather the game’s namesake. The Power Stones, once collected will change your chosen fighter into a super hero version of themselves with increased power and two power fusion attacks. While the fusion attacks are potentially incredibly destructive they also exhaust your power meter immediately, scattering the gems around the playing field. For the most part once you’ve gained the Power Stones you can change the momentum of a battle in an instant. It does basically cause each match to devolve into a mad dash to gather the stones and in concert with the game’s simplified setup it isn’t as deep as a traditional fighting game. That being said what depth there is comes from the game’s colorful cast.
The selection of fighters run the gamut from slow and powerful to fast but weak. There are outliers in the cast such as Jack, who is just plain…..weird. Stronger characters such as Gunrock and Galuda can rip telephone poles out of the ground to use as weapons as well as knock the power stones off rival opponents in a few hits. The more nimble characters make up for their lacking strength with more powerful and exotic power fusion attacks. In spite of this the game is heavily imbalanced. The previously mentioned Gunrock is vastly overpowered and fairly mobile to boot with a hard to dodge super move. Not all power fusion attacks are created equal, with some being impossible to dodge and others proving useless.
The one area that Power Stone comes up short is in its longevity. While multiplayer is always fun the selection of characters is still a bit limited compared to other games on the market such as the King of Fighters or Capcom’s own Marvel vs. Capcom. There are precious few reasons to bother with the single player mode aside from unlocking the three bosses and extra options such as new items and more power stones per battle that can be toggled on or off. The lacking extras hits extra hard as Soul Calibur was also available launch day and redefined what should be expected of an arcade port. The game is still fun with what it offers but it does have a limited shelf life.
Visually Power Stone was a god damn revelation coming off of the small environments and low frame rates of the 32-bit generation. The game runs at a perfect 60 fps with animation that is buttery smooth. It rarely drops even under the most strenuous circumstances when massive super moves are flying left and right. Capcom’s interesting character designs have been brought to life through the power of the Dreamcast hardware and while the models are a bit blocky they still exhibit a ton of personality. Each arena is of medium size with plenty of detail, full of lighting effects and shadowing. Even the soundtrack is generally excellent; this was a first class production all around.
As a stab at something new Power Stone succeeds wonderfully. But as a well-rounded package it is a bit lacking. If you have a consistent group of friends to play with than the game is more than worth it however if you are the type who would probably spend more time in single player the thrills are short lived.