‘Power Stone:’ a forgotten gem in video game history

March 6, 2020

Over the past couple years, I’ve been on a quest to reclaim my childhood by trying to remember and rebuy all the games that I loved as a kid but are now lost to time. But I had completely forgotten about “Power Stone”—a 3D fighting game originally published by “Capcom” on the home console “Dreamcast” in 1999—until very recently, probably because nobody else seems to remember it either. Bu,t it will always have a special place in my heart for all the endless joy it brought during my early gaming career in elementary school with its original, liberating and accessible gameplay. 

“Power Stone” was, and still is, almost unlike any other fighting game in terms of its freedom of 3D space and a heavy emphasis on the interactivity of fighting stages and items. In the most popular 3D fighting games, like “Dead or Alive” and “Soul Calibur” you are able to strafe and run around your opponent, in addition to just going left and right on the screen (the axis that constrains the rest of the genre). “Power Stone,” however, takes 3D movement to a whole new level. You can run, jump, climb anywhere the map allows you to be, and every map is designed to contain planes of different elevations. Simply put, there are lots of possibilities for movement, and since there is no block button, you are encouraged to move around as much as possible. The camera adopts a slanted isometric view, and it pans and zooms dynamically to match this high degree of freedom. 

This freedom enables you to interact with basically anything on the map. Things like tables, chairs, barrels, boxes can all be thrown at your opponent—who can, of course, catch these objects and throw them back at you. Some characters can grab onto poles to do a leap or dive attack, and others can just pluck them up and use them as massive sticks. Some stages have pitfalls and hazards like falling barrels and spinning fans that can also be used to your advantage. There are so many viable options to tackle the fight that it’s very possible to beat the game without using your fighter’s moves. That’s how essential this emphasis on stage interaction (as well as items, which I will discuss next) is to the fighting game experience of “Power Stone.”

In addition to stages themselves, there are chests that spawn frequently, which contain a variety of powerful weapons. They range from simple melee weapons like pipes and swords to outrageous firearms like gatling guns, rocket launchers and a whole assortment of sci-fi and fantasy weapons. Then there are the Power Stones, the namesake of the game. Successfully collecting three of these gems transforms your character into a super powerful version of themselves for a short duration. You are given new, stronger movesets with two ultimate skills that, when used, will prematurely end the transformation. Some transformations are especially notable. Galuda, a Native American bounty hunter character, transforms into a totemic robot that can fly with wings while shooting arrows made out of energy beams. Wang Tang, the young Chinese martial artist character, transforms into basically a Super Saiyan. He gets golden hair, shoots kamehameha and throws out gigantic spirit bombs. As you can probably tell by now, using items and collecting Power Stones is easily the most fun and empowering aspect of the game.

Its focus on positioning, interactivity of stages and items naturally means that the fighters themselves instead have very simple input combinations and not too many moves, unlike many traditional fighting games. This was a conscious choice by the creators to make the game accessible, to the point that even eight-year-old me could master it. It’s a great move, considering that fighting games can be very discouraging and frustrating: it’s a very hardcore genre that demands a ton of mechanical skill and memorization of inputs. In other games, it’s not uncommon for new players to get absolutely crushed to bits by veterans.

“Power Stone” is so different from a typical fighting game that I never really saw it as one back in the day. In fact, now that I think about it, it feels like a mix between “Overwatch” and “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” (PUBG). The characters are all very unique, equipped with very different gameplay and identities—each with their own stage and soundtrack—but also somewhat comical because they’re all based on some established trope or type. Like in “Overwatch,” there’s a samurai character, Ryoma, and a ninja character, Ayame. However, the game is also about exploiting the environment and gathering resources, much like a battle-royale style game like PUBG. 

As you may have recognized already, the only similar game to “Power Stone” is Nintendo’s four-player brawler “Super Smash Bros.” These are both accessible games with a focus on stages and items. The difference is that the latter has solidified itself as perhaps the most popular fighting game series of all time, while the former has faded into obscurity. “Power Stone” was released only one month after the release of the first “Smash” and simply could not compete with the “Nintendo” brand and its enormous cast of well known characters. 

“Power Stone 2” was released one year after the original, featuring more characters, more items, more interactive, dynamic stages and a four player mode to catch up to “Smash.” It was another quality title that manages to surpass its predecessor, but there would be no new entries in the series since except for the 2006 “Power Stone Collection” for the “PlayStation Portable” (PSP) which is just a remaster of the previous two games—the version I played. If you’re interested in the game and have a PSP you can buy the game cartridge on Amazon, but at a surprisingly hefty price of 30 bucks or above. It is, after all, a worthy cult classic vintage.

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