The developers at Capcom have always wanted to go this route since its early days. The major focus of their games has been about fast-paced action with big flash effects. That was easy to facilitate in the 80s and early 90s because of the acceptance of 2D graphics in all forms of video game entertainment. But with the advent of more sophisticated technologies, the gaming industry quickly moved past 2D graphics and embraced 3D. This move brought about a drastic change in gameplay; 3D games were more realistic but were also much slower (a tradeoff for the realistic rendering). This didn't seem to bother the industry too much and we ushered in a new era of realistic videogaming. That left Capcom on the outside looking in until they brought their Street Fighter franchise into the 3D realm with Street Fighter EX; it was to be the 3D version of the cult-classic franchise but with primitive graphics and unrefined gameplay, it never did catch on. But this is a new age and Capcom seems to have learned their lesson about 3D gameplay and have discovered that the power of videogame machines now are much greater than they were in the past. Their first true 3D fighting game is called Power Stone and its just what the industry needed.
The premise behind Power Stone is that the player is on a quest to find the mysterious Power Stone and take advantage of its magnificent power to fulfill their whims. The gameplay is intense and, with such a palpable sense of urgency, naturally reflects the motivation of the game's characters. Once the game starts, its a flat-out race to get the stones before the other guy does. The fighting is high-energy and quickly becomes chaotic. Even with relatively large fighting areas, most of the battles gravitate towards hand-to-hand combat as I try to knock the computer out of commission long enough to get the stones or I try to hit him and knock the stones out of him to collect them for myself. The fight, however, is not just a means to an end because, once collected, the stones can be used to aid my fighter in battle. Whoever collects the three stones first can temporarily transform him or herself into a super-being with phenomenal powers. This gives each character a limited amount of time to manhandle whatever opponent or object happens to be in his or her way. Needless to say, you want to be the one with the three stones as often as possible.
But one of the key innovations in Power Stone is that getting to those stones can be a battle in and of itself. The stages are real-time 3D areas, complete with multi-tiered backgrounds and 3D weapons and power-ups scattered about. Almost everything in these stages can be interacted with by the player, which makes the hunt for the stones all the more intense. When I realized that the usual jumping, kicking, and chopping wouldnt do much good, like when characters are on opposite sides of the stage, I naturally decided to pick up whatever was nearby and use that. This usually meant that anything from clay pots and bar stools to park benches could be picked up and tossed across the screen at my opponent. If I needed a more off-the-wall strategy, I could do that as well—literally. Each character has a varying degree of ability to jump up onto walls and fly through the air to perform aerial attacks or ceiling attacks from above. What makes Power Stone so good is that it can be won many ways. If the battle was won through simple kicks and throws, then great. But if I used the stones and wiped my opponent out that way, then it would fine too. The most satisfying, of course, was to win with close attacks, chucking objects, AND collecting the stones.
Thankfully, missing out on getting the three stones first is not the end of the world. At first, I admit that it was tough, but after some playing time it became easy to see that all was not lost if I was found myself facing a super human opponent. As I said before, the transformation is temporary so if I weathered the onslaught of flashy and insanely powerful moves, things will get back to normal in the same round and I could still have a chance at it. There is no blocking feature in Power Stone so wining and losing can simply come down to avoiding attacks, suckering the opponent into showing his hand, or launching objects (and in some cases, your body) at him until the stones power wears off. This kind of gameplay can put some players off. There are no long strings of combos that can be strung together for attacks or any of the traditional martial arts grappling found in games like Virtua Fighter. Power Stone is the type of game that creates its own gameplay and I think you would be remiss to simply overlook it because its different.
With Street Fighter EX, Capcom hoped to make the transition from 2D to 3D but we all now know that that didnt work. However, in Power Stone, you have a game with a modest polygon count and a bright and cheery look (Power Stone takes on the look of the anime, Dragon Ball Z, I was into years ago). Everything about the game has the same energetic feel as well as a propensity for over-the-top and pyrotechnic moves. The eight cartoony fighters in the game are characteristic of the usual cultural stereotypes that Capcom is now famous for and, as usual, Capcom has supplied the usual template characters; Falcon and Wang Tang are Power Stones Ken and Ryu and so on. But in their defense, they have the most well rounded moves and abilities of any fighter Ive come across as of late. Power Stone somehow manages to maintain a consistent cartoony look even in a realistic 3D world and it works well with the overall game and pacing. The fact that there is hardly any noticeable slowdown or break-up in the graphics is a testament to the Dreamcasts processing might in handling the simple character models and detailed environments. Everything remains clean with a consistent and frantic pace (even with tons of furniture, weapons, and bodies flying all over the screen).
The only real negatives are not huge deals but are still worth mentioning. For one, there are only eleven characters available (eight available at the start). And in an age where fighting games hit store shelves with up to twenty characters to choose from, eleven is a rather small number. Cheating in Power Stone seems to be second nature to the computer. During a battle, it would be common for the computer opponent to grab me and throw me against a wall or hit me in such a way as to cause the stone I had obtained to fly off in the opposite direction. This wouldt be so bad if it werent for the fact that the opponent would then run off after the freed stone before I even hit the ground. Lastly, I guess my final beef is based on something that an arcade port such as this cant really get past, which is that the game is easy to beat in the single player mode. For one thing, adding a four player mode would have went a long way towards the replay value of the game. But Capcom seemed confident that they could make up for that by adding extras that can be obtained by going through the game with more purpose. By beating the game with a certain number of characters, VMU mini-games are opened up as well as previously inaccessible game bosses. There is also the assortment of sound and picture galleries and a gallery all the character endings.
Its almost heart warming to see Capcom come up with such a wonderful game given their history of releasing quasi-sequels with rehashed and dated gameplay mechanics. A release like Power Stone is so full of personality and innovation that I would hope it isnt overlooked simply for its arcade look and feel. With the next-next-generation hardware, Capcom has found a way to offer a game that is a throwback to the days of 2D arcade brawlers but with new school 3D freedom. Its a clear sign of the times that hardware limitations are becoming less and less restrictive.