Developer: Gameness Art
Review Date: 5/11/03
The plot is simple: Every couple of years, the world's greatest fighters come together for a fighting tournament to try and win the Stake Emblem. What makes it different from other fighting games is that it's a split screen multiplayer brawler with large arenas and lots of power-ups and weapons. Imagine the perfect blend of a traditional fighting game and a traditional first person shooter game and you'll get an idea of how the game is structured. Unfortunately, its execution is seriously flawed. "Stake" could have been an extremely fun game with the addition of just one more feature: the ability to rotate the camera. Incredulously, this crucial element was left out of the game, which means that most of the time you can't actually see any of your opponents when they're beating the crap out of you. It also makes navigation very difficult when you can't see where you're going, and you'll often find the camera imbedded in a wall. Imagine playing "Halo" (or any other shooter) if you could only look in one direction and couldn't turn around. This design makes the game infuriating and nearly unplayable.
With this glaring fatal flaw, it's easy to nitpick the rest of the game. First of all, the inability to choose your character's costume really irritates me. This is an arguably insignificant issue, but one that pisses me off nonetheless. For instance, the only way to get Pharo's cute Japanese schoolgirl outfit (complete with loose socks) is to play as Player 4 and have everyone else play Pharo as well. This should have been a trivial feature to implement. The menu controls are downright bizarre and don't follow any standard conventions, making character selection a serious chore - especially if multiple players are involved. You can expect a lot of false starts before you actually start playing a real match. For a multiplayer game, the game modes lack variety. You have standard death match and team death match and nothing else. Some sort of "capture the flag" mode would have been nice. The characters also lack moves. The marketing materials for the game claim "tons of moves for each character", when in fact there are only five, and they can't be chained together for combo attacks as far as I've been able to tell. There are also no defensive moves, so stronger characters have an unfair advantage over weaker characters. This all adds up to a frustrating and boring fighting experience.
On the plus side, the game looks nice and the controls, while flawed, are tight and responsive. The arenas are large and detailed and the anime styled character designs are cute and colorful. Possibly the best visual effect in the game is the blurred depth of field, which gives everything in the distance a soft haze. This keeps the action focussed on your immediate surroundings without the distraction of what's going on further away. For an FPS this would be very bad, but since "Stake" has no range weapons, it works extremely well and is pleasing to the eye. The generic J-pop sounding music is innocuous and upbeat, and you can also rip your own soundtrack if you want. The game also carries a bargain price tag, which helps to justify the lack of variety and depth in the gameplay. As a party game, it can be marginally fun since everyone has the same handicap (i.e. the same crappy controls), but fighting against AI's is no fun at all because they have a serious competitive edge over you (since they don't need the camera to see what they're doing). Overall, a frustrating game where the biggest disappointment is realizing what it could have and should have been.