Monday, 19 August 2013

Dreamcast: Power Stone 2

The realm for the 4 way fighting game up has had some interesting attempts over the years to either define it, or participate in the genre. Your usual standard of fighting game effectively borrows from martial arts and boxing matches, one vs. one in a clearly defined physical arena. Though thankfully, video games like to spruce things up quite a bit.

The majority of fighting games were your Mortal Kombat and street fighter affair, 2 opponents kicking punching and battering each other silly in a 2D arena until one hit the other enough times to cause them to fall over and not get back up without more money or pressing continue. Sometimes games would take a 2D fighter and put it in a 3D arena, going back as far as Battle Arena Toshinden, other games following such as Soul Blade, Dead or Alive, Bloody Roar but very few took the game fully into 3D and with more than one other opponent. Ergheiz managed it with a full 3D arena involving interactive elements and a key focus on the combat itself but remained with just one vs one combat.

The problem with 4 player combat was that it could get hectic, fast. Street Fighter Alpha 3 on some of its various console ports had a 3way fight mode, 2 vs. 2 if both players were on the same team. Thrill Kill/Wu Tang: Taste the Pain managed 4 way combat in an arena in a focused battle environment though the arena was just a barrier to prevent further movement.  While Super Smash Brothers took the 4 player into 2D combat in large open 3D but moving on 2D planes. Power Stone however took the game fully 3D, and Power Stone 2 took it into four players and went mad.

The premise is simple enough, put 2-4 combatants in a fully 3D arena, combat is based on attacks, jumps, picking things up and grabbing items, you attack towards the nearest character automatically unless you’re manually aiming things and picking up 3 of the 7 available power stones allows you to free base PCP and become a super powered THING (some of the transformations are odd... Dinosaur, Dragonball Z ripoff, a walking carosel) where upon you get a short time limit to do huge damage with power moves to your opponent(s) before you transform back and the Power Stones are gone.

The first game brought about a mechanic of being able to use the background and scenary to aid in attacking characters. Pressing grab while pushing into various objects could pick it up, slide it along the floor at them, run you up a wall and bounce off them, pick up something and hit them if you’re the ‘heavy’ type or perform some mad acrobatic feat for attack. The second game has moving levels which invariably involve a chase of some sort before landing in a final arena for the last of the fight. Taking an example, starting on a flying airship where a few gun turrets could be used and throwing opponents into the giant rotary fans is highly recommended. Leading to the ship falling apart and everyone freefalling for a short while players try to grab umbrellas to slow their fall or cakes and food items to heal up. At most, 2 players will land safely on the floating castle while the other 2 take damage before the rest of the fight involves a midair river, tanks turning up to be jumped into and shooting the other players and catapults on the high walls to hurl rocks at your enemies.

That’s just one fight. Sadly, of five. With a bit of victory and fortune you can however unlock bonus areas in which to fight but these are stationary arenas with none of the dynamics of the main levels, particularly not when you’re comparing Temples a la Indiana Jones with giant boulders chasing you mid-fight, Space Elevators with huge alien monsters at the top waiting to fight you, alternating submergences of submarines arriving towards a giant glacier and a burning pagoda with a temple at the top containing secrets and a giant bell. There is a lot going on in them, lots to be done but you’re left wishing there was a little more choice in the number of levels.

Throw in 2 boss fights against giant sized enemies in the single and 2 player modes and you’ve a lot of fun to be had taking pot shots against giant 4 legged sphinx walkers or huge zombified looking tea-drinkers that pukes bees at you.  The game doesn’t take itself seriously at all and despite this (and it being Capcom probably helps) there is a solid combat system here made all the more complex by the item system.

Oh boy, the items.

Power Stone 2 boasts a whopping 128 bonus items to be found and used within the game. During a fight large chests (heh) turn up containing a random item. Initially there will be the basic Bazooka, Shotgun, Sword, Axe, a few basic food items and so on. However, while playing the game, any item you pick up, you keep in your bank of items to mix up in the shop after the game. There’s also many cards to be found that add elements or change outcomes of the mixtures. So a Sword mixed with a flame thrower could produce a flaming sword (new item, more to collect and play with) or a sword with another sword with a flame card, could also produce a flaming sword (or a mess that’s worth Sweet F. A.). After enough planning and mixing, and there’s several ways to make most items, 128 items can be obtained and dear god you’ll want to use them all.

3 Way shotguns? Sod that, give me a homing laser rocket. Fire sword? Give me the Dragon Slayer from Berserk, or the Legend Sword that heals when I swing it. Grenades? No thanks, I’ll take the fire cracker, or meteor shower, or the lance that rains fire on enemies. Skateboard? Could do but there’s also rollerblades, motor-scooters or instead of mantraps give me a beehive, portable warp holes, kittens that attack, dragons that breath fire, tigers that attack harder. Fire dragon no good? Give me the two headed lightning one. Light Sabre too showy? Ok take the frozen tuna instead and batter them to death with piscine icicle. Megaphones, gatling guns, morning stars, umbrellas, rods, bamboo seeds, wedding cakes, medusa shields, typhoons and a magazine of the game itself, can all be used to assault your enemies. With the addition of a profile on a memory card, you can set up a bonus five items to be loaded into the game JUST for your character to open (not collect though).

Though it can be too much of a lottery waiting for the right item, missing it, dropping it to fade away faster so the next chest spawns again and some items are far too unbalanced in the game where they can slaughter an opponent in one or two hits. The homing laser can launch people skywards where the next 6-7 shots can each hit too before they land and in the higher damage settings, you’ve won half the fight.

Further unbalance comes from the 14 characters and their stats. Some can double jump, some can’t. Which means any holes or pitfalls will claim them 9 times out of 10 while the weaker but faster characters will avoid most attacks and steadily wear down their enemies. A few of the specials are rather one-sided with one character launching some 30 homing missiles, while another fires a few easily dodged swords. Another launches a giant fireball a la Dragonball Z and while hitting him will cancel him out of the move, his alternative attack is almost instant and pretty much guarantee’s full damage (incidentally this char is almost entirely ineffective against the final boss’s heart where the Ball attack hits the head and damages and redundant damage point, and the combo move only works on enemies that can be launched upwards and here the heart stays still). Another char’s special rains rocks down around himself but not the whole level AND he’s slow moving.  The balance either wasn’t tested or just not checked thoroughly enough that there’s a clear and obvious tier issue.

The game is very short for a single player experience. However it’s an incredibly good multiplayer game and one I feel should be remade for the next, or this, generation of consoles or ported just for the online aspects. Ensure the online latency issues won’t be a problem and the random number generates the same string of numbers for each player, it could easily work if Capcom allow it. But this doesn’t draw away from the fact that there’s only five main levels and you’ll play three of them on each run through the game. Once you’ve beaten the game, there’s only the items really left to get, unlock the 2 secret chars and the 3 secret levels and that’s it. No career mode, no huge adventure with stipulated limits like “use only dairy products” or “Level 1 weapons only” i.e. the weak stuff. I can understand this given the arcade origins of the game but take Soul Calibur 2 from arcade and give it the Weapon Master Mode for home consoles, why not do the same for Power Stone 2 and add some longevity to it for all?

A good, fun, off the wall (sometimes literally) crazy game that falls apart on its brevity and dependence on multiplayer to make the most of it.