Version tested: PSP
While some may fondly remember the Dreamcast because it seems like the 'cool' thing to do, most of us do so for the right reasons - the wealth of lesser known titles that were disgracefully overlooked by many punters. Among these, the Power Stone games rate extremely highly for us and while we've been crying for a sequel for years, this portable collection of the first two games will do just as well for now.
What you have here is a pair of extremely simple arena combat games, the first far more so than its superior sequel. Power Stone is a basic one-on-one affair while the second game allows for up to four simultaneous combatants but the real draw of the games is their excellent use of environments and items. Players can scurry up and attack from most parts of the scenery in each stage and especially in the second game, each arena has plenty of unique and entertaining ways of causing pain to your cartoony rivals. Hopping into the mounted guns on a battleship, getting opponents crushed by boulders and even driving tanks are just a few such examples and with a little experimentation, there are loads more to find and abuse.
Items are a different story and chests continually pop up as you do battle. Some of these contain the gems that can transform your character in to his or her 'super' form when three are held while the rest hold weapons and items that can be used or thrown accordingly. Throwing items like bombs is a risky business, though - a skilled player can catch any incoming item with a swift tap of the throw button before returning it to sender. You'll often see items change hands six or seven times before one player finally screws up a catch, and your best bet is always to catch rivals off guard. Similarly, the weapons themselves are both devastating and varied, but you're more susceptible to having items lobbed at you for no reply if you're lugging, say, a minigun about the arena. The second game adds the strangely compelling Item Shop, where duplicate items that you buy or collect in adventure mode can be fused to create all-new weapons and equipment which will then spawn at random according to the item's rarity. Hundreds of rare and interesting items can be crafted in this way and you'll find yourself drawn to the shop whenever you come across new items as you try and create the most powerful and useful weapons the game has to offer.
Both games stand up extremely well today, and while other titles like Marvel Nemesis and Kung Fu Chaos have attempted similar things, none have come close to the daddy of them all. Control is tight and while weapon balancing might be a little off, a good player will always beat a lesser one - the sign of a great fighting game. On the PSP's small screen, the Dreamcast-level visuals look even nicer than you might expect, and while it is certainly outclassed by more recent titles in this department, Power Stone's speed and fluidity make this a non-issue. Even the range of characters (as well as their powered-up alter egos) is still interesting and relevant, and whether you prefer the big bruisers or the freaky characters that scurry around like Voldo looking for a contact lens, you're well catered for here.
The package is rounded off by the inclusion of the old VMU mini-games that could be played on the Dreamcast's unique memory unit and, of course, wireless play for up to four local players that works like a dream. Even though Capcom has gone back to the first game and put in the new characters that were added for the sequel, Power Stone 2 still outclasses its predecessor with its greater array features and it'll be here that you'll spend most of your time. The original is still a great game (but then so are the likes of Soul Blade and Tekken 3, now far outclassed by their latest sequels) and while it's nice for a change of scenery and it's certainly great to have, it will get less play. Do your bit for this hugely underrated fighting series and pick up this reminder of why the franchise deserves a sequel. If enough people do just that, Capcom might even think about that third game after all these years. That thought alone is pretty much enough to make us go out and buy this.
8 / 10