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Retro Review: Power Stone

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A Power Stone arcade cabinet. Check out that tiny CRT display.

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]EGA chose to closely align the Dreamcast’s innards with those of its popular NAOMI arcade board for a singular purpose; to encourage quick and easy coin-op ports.

This may have seemed like an excellent way to bolster the console’s software library on paper, but sadly not all ports are created equal.  The problem is, most such games were originally designed simply to guzzle tokens of the realm in exchange a few minutes’ fun, and can therefore offer a questionable value proposition when released for home consoles, tagged at full retail price.

In the past, developers have attempted to allay such concerns by cobbling a measure of new content together from existing assets. The Edge Master mode found in the Dreamcast version of Soul Calibur is an example of this done right. Sadly, Capcom added precious little to maverick brawler Power Stone for its non-arcade debut, which made it tough to recommend at launch.

Now, though, a PSP/Vita Power Stone Collection featuring the original, its sequel and other goodies, costs only £7.99/$9.99/EUR9.99 on the Playstation Store,  plus the Dreamcast release commands a pretty modest asking price on the second hand market.

Stone the crows

Power Stone is conceptually quite far removed from Capcom’s other, more hardcore fighting properties such as Street Fighter, Darkstalkers and the like.

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With only 8 fighters to choose from, Power Stone’s roster is a bit stingy by today’s standards.

Played from an isometric perspective in full 3D, the key objective is to collect all three of the game’s titular gems, which will appear periodically after each round begins. Doing so will transform your chosen character into a far more potent version of themselves, and usually tip things considerably in your favour by making you hit far harder and granting access to elaborate, screen-filling specials moves. Once you’ve used the power stones’ finite energy up, though, your character will revert back to their original, comparatively weedy form and the stones will scatter the play area awaiting recollection. Also available are randomly generated weapons and objects which can be used to pummel opponents into relinquishing any garnered stones one at a time; everything from bazookas to swords.

The action is as fast paced as it is unforgiving. You’ll find yourself initially playing at vastly reduced difficulty, as your computer-controlled opponents run rings round you with their seemingly impossible to match speed and reflexes. Once you’ve won a few matches and reached a modicum of understanding as to just what is going on, the fisticuffs become quite entertaining. It’s just a pity there’s not more to do.

The game really shines when served with an equally enthusiastic human opponent, but let’s be honest, the chances of you persuading any of your friends to spend an evening playing  a 15 year old Dreamcast scrapper may be pretty slim, and even slimmer as regards the PSP Collection, which would require two consoles and copies of the game for ad-hoc mode.

Like a stone

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Handheld, widescreen fisticuffs.

In terms of presentation, Power Stone‘s arcade roots are obvious. The game’s commentator vocalises anything and everything in the same overly-enthusiastic bellow, which is clearly supposed to attract attention in the context of a busy arcade, as is the bright and cartoony overall aesthetic. However, the in-game graphics have not aged particularly well.

Power Stone’s lack of even semi-modern lighting or shading effects is very noticeable, and consequently, the fights themselves appear little more than a mess of colliding polygons that just about manage to gel into a cohesive whole. Furthermore, everything is presented in glorious 4:3-o-vision, and seen through eyes used to widescreen high definition, inexplicably looks far more ‘off’ than many other similarly afflicted games of the era. The PSP collection does include the option to upscale proceedings, however.

In its defence, Power Stone does trundle along at an absolutely unshakable 60 frames per second. Although the 30 vs. 60 frames per second debate is perhaps best left for another day, fighters, even not-altogether-serious ones, always benefit from the fluidity and faster input response of the latter standard. Power Stone is no exception.

Sticks and stones

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Falcon’s name was changed for the Western release. It was probably for the best.

The game’s characters tend to adhere pretty strictly to established cultural stereotypes. Of particular note is British (well, from ‘Londo’, apparently’) pugilist Falcon, who comes complete with brazen Union Flags and airman gear. You got us, Capcom, we all look exactly like that; stuck in a perpetual, bizarre Battle of Britain stereotype, existing solely on a diet of tea and crumpets. Chocks away, God Save the Queen, and all that.

Thankfully, ours is not the only cultural heritage to receive a Disney-style, cookie-cutter distillation. Elsewhere, Garuda’s headdress, pipe and long, straight, jet black hair signpost his Native American heritage quite clearly, and Rouge is Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine in all but name, with all the sophistication and subtlety that implies.

You’d be hard pressed to find yourself seriously offended by any of this though, as a what’s on display here is clearly more a case of unworldly naïveté rather than outright prejudice. Also, some pugilists, such as dagger-wielding mummy, Jack, aren’t so easily pigeonholed.

Papa was a rolling stone

Power Stone to this day remains the same short, sharp shock it always was, though it’s far easier to recommend at the vastly reduced price for which it can now be acquired. If you’re a Dreamcast collector, chances are that since it was a launch title, you’ll want it simply for posterity. Curious Vita or PSP owners should certainly look at the aforementioned Collection, as Power Stone is an excellent way to kill half an hour on the go, and the sequel included in that particular release has an item crafting system that rewards perseverance far more than the original.

Power Stone is a fun brawler in the vein of Nintendo’s Smash Bros. series, albeit one with a potentially short-lived appeal. But ask yourself this: for less than 10 pounds/dollars/euros, is that really so much of a dealbreaker?

Pros

+ Fun, fast-paced action
+ Arcade perfect port
+ Solid performance

Cons

+ Limited longevity
+ Dated graphics
+ Sparse roster of characters

FINAL VERDICT

GOOD

GOOD

Power Stone is an arcade game through and through; fun, but lacking longevity. However, it may still be worth a look given how little the PSP/Vita Collection or second hand Dreamcast original will set you back. Just don't forget to pack your rose-tinted nostalgia goggles.

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Dan Smith

Dan is a videogames writer based in grim, rain-lashed Northern England. A true child of the '90s, his formative gaming experiences centered on the famous exploits of certain blue hedgehog, and what started all those years ago in the Green Hill Zone has since turned into a lifelong obsession. Check out his blog, Pixels for Polygons , here.

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