The most surprising thing about the original Power Stone wasn't its innovative go-anywhere/anything-thing-goes approach to the 3D fighting genre. The thing that shocked me the most was that it was produced by Capcom, a company renowned for catering to the most hardcore of its hardcore fans and milking its most popular franchises repeatedly to the point of utter ridiculousness and self-parody. Among the countless Street Fighter 2 rehashes, Mega Man reinterpretations and Resident Evil sequels, Power Stone was truly a diamond in the rough. Fortunately, respectable critical praise and low-key popularity made the title successful enough to warrant a sequel without reaching super nova status. Power Stone 2 manages to continue the series legacy of originality and innovation without being overly hyped or tainted by corporate greed.

Power Stone 2 is a sequel in the most worthy sense (I'm talking Godfather 2 here, not Grease 2). The game is still set in the same 19th century time period, maintains the same international-around-the-globe-mystical style, and the overall gameplay premise hasn't deviated much either. The goal is still to advance through stages by knocking out opponents in gladiator-style matches where players can climb nearly anywhere in the 3D environment and pickup, throw, or use virtually anything as a weapon. Of course the mystical Power Stones become a very important factor through out the matches since any player who gathers three stones at anytime will be temporarily "charged-up" and enabled with superior "Power Fusion" attacks. But like any good sequel, it's not what the developers keep the same, but what they improve upon. In that respect, Power Stone 2 beef ups all aspects of the original.

The most significant addition is the four-player simultaneous multiplayer gameplay. Instead of just mixing it up one-on-one (which is still possible), up to four players battle it out in teams or every man for themselves. Another major enhancement is the dynamic stages. Dozens of new weapons and items randomly pop-up everywhere, stationary cannons can be manned and mini-vehicles can be commandeered, but that's not all. Instead of one stagnate battlefield, each stage is broken down into three parts, and fights migrate from the first location to the last. All the stages are well-designed at encouraging action, visually pleasing and very effective at moving the action along at a brisk and intense pace. The resulting action that ensues is as every bit as frantic, dramatic and fun as it sounds. Gameplay tweaks such as removal of the overly effective darting jump kick and added vulnerability while "fusion-powered" also makes matches more balanced.

Rounding out the list of new features are the four new selectable combatants in addition to the original cast of eclectic internationals and an item shop feature that requires players to find items in the Adventure mode, and then mix and match those recovered items in a mystical machine for all new items (i.e. machine gun + molatov cocktail = flame-thrower). Up to five recovered, bought or created items can then be registered into a catalog book which in turn increases the chances of those items to randomly appearing through out all the game's modes. And in a very Pokémon/Diablo II like gesture, all the special items can be traded via VMUs with buddies also.

If Power Stone 2 sounds like great game, it is at least initially. The main problem with Power Stone 2 is that its too short and the overall play-life is questionable. There aren't enough stages to keep things interesting. The available stages exhibit variety and ingenuity in design, but after dozens upon dozens of matches in the same 10 stages (three of which are secret, hidden ones) the "surprise" events start to wear thin. What was once gleeful chaotic and wondrous fun begins to feel tired and expected.

Also, collecting and mixing new and powerful weapons can be incredibly addictive part of the game at times, but it can also be extremely frustrating and overly time consuming. Trying to figure out the literally hundreds different combinations that are possible and organize the mountains of items acquired gets to be mind-numbing. Having to wait through the mixing animation sequence over and over again can also be a quick road to insanity as well.

As I close my review of Power Stone 2, I find myself with mixed emotions about the title. The production values are simply fantastic. Graphics, sound, animation and design are all solid and tie into the concept brilliantly. All the lively environments and boisterous gameplay is sure to impress even the most jaded gamers who have waded through dozens of Street Fighter clones. What's ultimately lacking in Power Stone 2 is diversity, and that unfortunately mars what is otherwise a fine sequel to an innovative game. Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui

Chi Kong Lui

In the 1980s, Chi grew up in small town on the outskirts of New York City called Jackson Heights. Latino actor, John Leguizamo referred to the town as the "melting pot of the world," and while living there, Chi was exposed to many diverse cultures, as well as a bevy of arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Space Ace, Space Harrier and Double Dragon. Chi's love of videogames only seemed to grow as his parents finally caved and bought him an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (after being the only kid in the block without one). In the 1990s, Chi finagled his way into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.

Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.

Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
Chi Kong Lui

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