Reality is overrated. Do you think for a moment that ingeniously choreographed fight sequences in films bear any resemblance to real life? All would be over after the first punch or, more likely, degenerate into a clumsy grappling match, with limbs flailing wildly.
Hardly entertaining. And because fun is the only thing Power Stone Collection cares about, authenticity is flung through the window.
Originally released for Sega's Dreamcast console, the Power Stone games delighted all who played them: Imagine the most outrageous bar room brawl, transpose it to vibrant three-dimensional settings as varied as a medieval dungeon, the deck of a submarine, or a space station, then nitro-boost the pace and steroid-feed the combat until only one of the stylised characters is left standing.
This Collection edition captures that essence beautifully because the included Power Stone and Power Stone 2 are exact replicas of the originals. Actually, that's not entirely true – both have been slightly enhanced to include bonus features such as new weapons, basic mini-games and new modes.
Power Stone, the originator, is a two-character 3D beat 'em up played out as eight stages comprising a best-of-three-bout structure and rounded off by a final boss level.
Combat takes place in a variety of large room-sized areas filled with objects just begging to be projected towards your opponent. Failing that, the floor is also littered with a variety of weapons – from bombs to rocket launchers – at the disposal of whoever picks them up first.
If you're a purist, you can just as easily rely on your feet and fists. It's a strategy that works satisfyingly in Power Stone (arguably less so in the game's sequel, due to more weapon-skewed combat) although you can't get away from collecting duties if you plan on winning. That's because whoever gathers the three 'power stones' at any one time enters a Power Fusion mode, undergoing a significant cosmetic overhaul and a massive increase in power that also introduces two new special moves (to add to the basic jump, grab, kick and punch controls).
Two stones are distributed between the two characters at the start of each bout, with the third subsequently appearing somewhere on the level. Simply rush over to collect, literally beat the remaining stone out of your adversary, pick that one up and laugh maniacally while unleashing extreme, relentless punishment.
That's the theory, anyway. The actual course of events is more likely to run something like this: you get hit by the oversized mallet your opponent is wielding and immediately lose your stone, which they collect; you pick up the third stone as soon as it appears, use a flame thrower to steal back your first and a well-timed kick sees the final stone fly out of your competitor's possession and land on the opposite corner of the level; but just as you're about to complete the gem trio, a thrown vase shatters against you, but not before sending you face first into the wall, making you lose a stone; while you're down, the latter is promptly picked up by your adversary who then proceeds to swiftly scoop the other loose stone...
And so it goes until someone runs out of health.
This ebb and flow, together with the strategic flexibility afforded to the player and the exceptional pace and vitality of the game's arcade overtones are the reason Power Stone is such a joy. Well, provided you're facing a human opponent via the wireless support – solo play against the PSP inevitably loses some of the charm.
Power Stone 2, meanwhile, adds Adventure, a more robust single-player mode with a slant on item (and gold) collecting which, interestingly, can be combined to create new weapons (or used to buy further items). The game otherwise plays similarly to its predecessor but does add four-player combat – the primary attraction of the original Dreamcast version.
However, whether against the CPU or friends (an ad hoc option is available), the multiplayer mayhem combined with levels that are more dynamic yet treacherous and a wider selection of (standard) weaponry remove some of the delicate strategic balance from the first game, and with four fighters even the PSP's generous widescreen can't prevent things from often getting confusing.
Some will argue that's part of the fun, and, certainly, Power Stone 2 isn't short on that – in context, frustrating moments are both rare and brief. On its own, it might have struggled to deserve the score below, but it's got the backing of its predecessor. Together, the two represent a wonderful distraction from reality.