The animal selection screen features a penguin, a walrus, a shark, and umm... what the [expletive] is that thing? And is there a reason why these animals are so [expletive] ugly? Each race is composed of three distinct events that flow into each other. The belly-surfing action is the most fun, allowing you to slide along open stretches of ice while pressing A to propel yourself. So far so good.
Next you need to swim through a narrow channel cluttered with obstacles. Not quite as fun. Finally you'll waddle through a crazy obstacle course, occasionally smacking an opponent along the way by hitting the "attack" button. I really hate how my animal stops and turns to mug for the camera after he gets smacked. The swimming and waddle events are marred by poor camera angles, unforgiving collision detection, and a general lack of fun.
When playing the split-screen, these issues are exacerbated to the point where players can become hopelessly stuck. Pen Pen offers four unique courses sporting themes of sweets, toys, jungle, and horrors. Would a normal "winter wonderland" theme have been too much to ask for? It would have been a hell of a lot better than these ugly, gaudy courses that wind their way through frozen jungles (ugh!) and junky haunted houses (gahh!).
In addition to the bad music, the repetitive "cute" sound effects really got on my nerves. And was Tri-Ice-Lon really the best name they could come up with? Really Infogrames?? Pen Pen should have been a light-hearted romp, but its problematic gameplay and cheesy style prove to be a major turn-off. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
There are several laser-equipped robots, a hairy wookie-like creature, a conehead freak with yo-yo weapons, a catlike creature with Wolverine claws, and assorted aliens of every type. The character models are somewhat chunky by today's standards, but cleanly rendered and smoothly animated. The gorgeous backgrounds depict fantastic cities of the future, magnificent ruins, and desolate planet surfaces. At times I had to pause play just to get a better look at the scenery.
Plasma Sword plays similar to other Capcom fighters, with plenty of combos, juggles, and Street-Fighter-style special moves. Some fighters are armed with glowing weapons including swords, rings, and even a chainsaw! When a character's "plasma power gauge" becomes full, he can perform some devastating assaults. I like how you can wipe out a huge chunk of your opponent's life with a single special move or well-timed combo.
On defense, there's a useful sidestep move that lets you avoid projectile attacks. Besides the run-of-the-mill gameplay, the only real flaw I could find was the weak endings in the single player mode. The main villain is pretty cool looking, but what kind of name is "Bilstein"? Couldn't they come up with something more intimidating than that? Oh well, Plasma Sword is definitely a keeper if fighting games are your thing. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
The fights are hyper and chaotic, and the torrid pace admittedly takes some getting used to. In addition to hand-to-hand combat, the simple control scheme makes it easy to bombard your opponent with boxes, barrels, and whatever else you find lying around. Weapons range from huge hammers to machine guns to rocket launchers. Collecting three "power stones" temporarily transforms your fighter into a "super being", making your opponent wise to flee until the effect wears off.
Power Stone's characters are nicely rendered in Japanese anime style, and they are a likeable bunch. The one obligatory oddball is the bizarre "Mad Clown", who looks like a cross between Beetlejuice and the Mummy. Power Stone is a blast to play, and the one-player mode is as addicting as it is relentless. Any respectable Dreamcast fan should have this gem in their collection. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
The twelve anime-style fighters are colorful and distinct, and a few are quite comical. But what really sticks out about Power Stone 2 is its incredible, dynamic stages. From high-flying airships to submerging submarines to Indiana-Jones inspired temple ruins, these stages are perfect for gamers with short attention spans. They change on the fly, and fighters often get tossed into multiple rooms or scrolling areas in the course of a single battle.
Some areas allow you to man huge turrets and shoot a barrage of missiles at your opponents. But while the stages are quite a spectacle, once their novelty value wears off, you'll start to tire of them. Some would say they actually tend to detract from the fighting action, and the changing camera angles can also be a problem.
The two-player matches are hectic enough, so as you can imagine, the four-player mode is lively but VERY confusing. I prefer the excellent one-player Adventure mode that lets you collect items in a series of branching battles. Dreamcast collectors will want Power Stone 2 in their collection, but it's not an easy game to track down. It's definitely one of a kind, but I prefer the simpler brand of melee of its predecessor. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Project Justice offers clean, high-resolution graphics, but instead of enhancing the visuals they seem to water them down. The character models are sharp but plain, and the stages are aesthetically pleasing but lack interesting detail. The courtyard and rooftop stages are beautiful, but the stadium, mountain, and even amusement park stages come off as dull. It seems 3D backdrops can never match the artistry of their 2D cousins.
The fighting action has a lot of depth, but doesn't flow as well as Rival Schools. Your "team" is now composed of three characters instead of two. When both players attack at the same exact moment, a cool lightning bolt strikes between them. I also like how your health gauge "melts away" with each hit. The game has a distinctive Japanese flavor, with outrageous special moves that are as bizarre as they are funny. When your "burning vigor" gauge is completely full, you can bum-rush your opponent with all three characters at once, unleashing a series of devastating blows.
It's a little disconcerting however with the wild camera angles, quick cuts, and multiple people running around. A few attacks are super lame, like the one that looks more like a synchronized dance routine! The arcade mode lets you play through the story (snore) or shoot for a spot on the high score screen. Project Justice may lack the freshness of Rival Schools, but it still has that Capcom seal of quality. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
The controls are limited to two buttons: shoot and bomb. You shoot in a rapid-fire manner, and your targets tend to be high-tech aircraft, including some that slither around like sharks. One of the better bosses is a robotic spider with three glowing eyes. His movements mimic a real spider so well that it's kind of freaky. Bosses tend to unleash hundreds of projectiles in criss-cross patterns. A natural response would be to yell "you gotta be kidding me!" but try to remain calm and look for a seam.
Typically if you can find a "safe spot" early, you can remain there untouched for most of the barrage. Surviving the torrent is particularly satisfying because you earn "buzz points" for near misses with projectiles, which in turn intensifies your firepower. It's a novel idea that really dares you to "thread the needle" and linger near errant missiles. The concept works great, thanks in part to some extremely forgiving collision detection. The explosions are some of the best I've seen, and I love how their bright flames dissipate into black smoke (although the boss deaths are a bit too over-the-top).
Ported directly from the arcade, you play Psyvariar 2 on a heavily cropped vertical screen, and some of the text and icons are extremely tiny. This is a one-player only game, and while the continues can be turned on or off, you can't set them to a specific number. The soundtrack really kicks ass, layering a melodic piano and soothing vocals over pulsating techno beats. Psyvariar 2 is yet another exceptional Dreamcast shooter than never made it to the states, and it breaks my heart. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Finally, I remembered the wise words of my friend Scott Z, who once proclaimed that first person shooters HAD to be played with a keyboard and mouse (with Halo being the one possible exception). So I hooked up my little-used Dreamcast keyboard and mouse, and sure enough, it made all the difference in the world. The mouse provides incredibly sensitive and precise control, and with a little practice, I started doing better.
The one-on-one matches aren't so hot, but the multiplayer mode (even with 3 CPU opponents) is a blast! There's no shortage of firepower, and your opponents get blasted into nice bloody chunks. I love how you get constant updates about who's recently bit the dust and how you're currently doing. The warriors include a wide variety of humans, undead creeps, and alien freaks. There's even a skeleton and walking eyeball thrown in for good measure.
The arenas range from medieval to futuristic, and the level of detail is quite impressive. They tend to be just spacious enough, and every wall and doorway is ornately decorated. The game looks terrific, although my friends steadfastly maintain that the PC version looks far better (whatever!). The only stages I didn't care for were the platform-laden outer space ones. The music consists of some grinding, high-octane guitar stuff - not great by any means, but appropriate enough. If you like first-person shooters and you have a Dreamcast keyboard and mouse, you can't go wrong with this. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, Shinforce, Sega.com, Racket Boy, Wikipedia, GameSpot, Video Games Museum, Moby Games, Sega Dreamcast.com, The Dreamcast Junkyard