There is a trope in action cinema choreography that is familiar, and yet inoffensive to fans of originality as the reactions of the characters involved in said trope are, to an individual, never illogical. It is the moment in which two or more combatants have found themselves face down on the floor, the lone gun in the room equidistant and inviting in its symbolism of a decisive victory. The realisation, the wide eyes, the lunge - this is the moment in which the audience are most likely to lean forward in their seats, as the subconscious takes over and yearns for a degree of interactivity that cinema simply doesn't offer.
The PowerStone series, however, not only offers this interactivity - this audience-driven lunge for the gun - but demands it, relentlessly and without mercy.
In PowerStone, that gun is represented by the gem. In the original, the fights are one-on-one, and as such both players start with a single gem. They require three, to transform into a more powerful version of themselves and deal enough damage to prevent their opponent from healing, slowly wearing them down through a hyper-violent cat-and-mouse chase across colourful but dangerous arenas. PowerStone2 increases the players to four, and requires all three gems be collected before the domination starts.
But what I find truly wondrous about the series is that there is no requirement for you to collect a single gem in order to win. I have come up against AI opponents that would quite happily grab hold of my super-powered body and throw me across the room, my unconscious form slumping to the ground as I stared in disbelief at this David who had so soundly beaten my Goliath. It is at once an outrage, and a lesson - that you are never too big to fall, and that one's single-minded lust for power can often act as blinkers to those who would seek to remove the floor from under us. Or alternatively, don't let the lasers and giant boulders fool you into thinking that this makes you "pro."
It's a masterclass in game design - the best games are always those that feature a system in which having the best tools is not a guarantee of victory. Where PowerStone differs from games like SuperSmashBros., however, is in its use of the third dimension. Weaving through pillars to dodge super-powered lasers, the slow realisation that your diagonal sprint towards a gem in the opposite corner will never defeat those parallel to the wall - there's more space to think, and more space to die in. The stakes are raised.
When I developed Failstone2 for this wonderful Dreamcast love-in, my initial intention was to give you that ability - that chance to whittle down your opponent's health without the need for gems. But because I'm still what one would refer to as "a total nubstick" when it comes to the development of videogames, I opted to simply have damage turned off until one player was powered up.
What this changed about the PowerStone setup was that there was no preliminary offense before the gem rush: there'd be a race to the gem, and then a chase sequence for all of five seconds before you turned back into a harmless set of pixels. But what appears is a set gem spawning pattern. Again, I thought it crude, but it means that pairs of players learning where the gems would appear - similar to PowerStone's fixed gem spawn points in each arena. And thus, the challenge never decreased. But what Failstone lacks is that perfect focus on skill - that ability to topple with a punch what should, for most, take a rocket launcher.
This is what games like PowerStone, DarkSouls, and MonsterHunter all have in common, and why PowerStone 2 on the Dreamcast convinced me and my friends to drag a television into our school hall at lunchtime and plug the console into it just so we could gem-hunt and bash the digital daylights out of each other. It was that focus on tactics, on knowing how to play the hand you'd been dealt. To know that a straight flush of combos, thrown crates and lockout grapples while the powerup timer ticked down to zero would keep you safe and force them to hunt for health restoration items while you made for the gems. PowerStone's appearance, shared with over-the-top Saturday morning cartoons, never ceases to catch people off guard. This is anything but a kid's game, especially when you grab your third gem.
Yes, the third gem. Because as deft and impressive as using your bare fists against a laser-blast robot can be, there's nothing more satisfying than actually being said laser-blast robot.