If you were a kid growing up in the nineties, chances are you watched an episode of Power Rangers or two. Chances are also that you pretended to be said costumed heroes on more than one occasion. If you then went to find video game versions of the heroes, you were left woefully disappointed by pretty much everything except an occasional brawler. Behold Studios looks to rectify that with the release of Chroma Squad. It lets you take command of a group of Sentai heroes, as well as let you manage some of the behind the scenes stuff to boot. It sounds great, but did they pull off the game we’ve been dreaming of?
The game starts off with a group of stunt doubles from a Sentai show getting fed up with the director. They abandon the show mid filming session and form their own studio. Each battle in the game is an “episode” of the show, and each chapter is a “season”. The characters break the fourth wall, compliment villains on their acting performance, and hope no one notices the minion who forgot his lines. It’s very tongue in cheek to be sure. There’s also a nice progression as the show goes on. The costumes get better, the narrator uses less broken English, etc.
Unfortunately, the story is bogged down by not so great writing. Because you’re meant to customize your actors, all of their lines are decided by class type instead of who’s playing each role. This means your typical white dude hero will say the same lines as the alien and as that sword wielding girl from that zombie show. It limits what they can say as well, so characters are bland archetypes that do little to evolve. There’s also a ton of guest characters that represent people who funded the game on Kickstarter. While I’m sure being in the game is awesome for them, it leaves other players with several missions where some random dude shows up once and never again. The plot is usually temporarily shelved for these sections, and the game suffers a whole because of it. So while the story is overall enjoyable, it has some problems that hold it back.
To say that the presentation of Chroma Squad is a bit old school is to undersell it. This is a game with pixel art and midi music. On the former front, the bosses look fantastic and there are enough animations to give the characters a degree of personality. Strong use of color and varied backgrounds score some points as well. The music, however, is the real star. From the Japanese intro theme to the battle music, every song is an aural treat. When this kind of music is done right, it can take you back to the olden days of gaming in the best kind of nostalgic factor. CS has that in spades.
While it might at first seem like this game has a lot of sim-like elements, in fact, these sections of game are a novel replacement for typical progression methods. You see, characters don’t gain levels or earn experience. They get stronger via equipment and studio upgrades. To do that, you need to spend money and craft items earned during battles. For example, you’ll start out with a costume made up of painted clothes you had lying around. Upgrade to a plastic bucket over your head, and you’ll seen some stat bonuses. Upgrading the studio lights makes it harder for enemies to dodge your attacks, a broom handle can be used as a spear, etc. The neat thing is to get in the later seasons and watch your equipment grow from things found around your house to legitimate weaponry.
That’s not to say there are no skills you can tinker with whatsoever. You have five different characters under your control, with each one assigned a specific role on the team. There’s support, techie, lead, assault, and scout. You choose the actor for each roles, allocating bases bonuses and negatives where you see fit. Each season a new tier of skills is unlocked for each role. This will give you one to three different choices for what skills you want to take. You can switch these up between episodes, but not in the middle of battle. There’s actually a good deal of customization here. For example, your lead can become a tactician who can manipulate character placement on the field or become a tank designed to absorb all of the enemy’s attacks. The techie is good at exploiting weaknesses, or can simply put all of his/her skills into dealing maximum damage with ranged weapons.
What you do on the battlefield is actually quite simple. You don’t have to worry about taking cover, getting the height advantage, attacks of opportunity, or even a fog of war. You can see the whole field of play from an isometric viewpoint at all times. Characters move on a grid bases system and can attack or use a skill. It’s all done with simple mouse clicks. It’s not an overly complicated system, as most of your tactical decisions involve which enemy to take down first.
There are a few flavor themed kinks though. For starters, your characters will start off most battles without their gear. By performing attacks and actions that boost your audience meter, you’ll earn the ability to transform into their armored selves. This is a fun nod to the shows that inspired the game, and an interesting tactical decision. When you transform, your characters are all healed, and they also move to the location of the character who initialized the transformation. Doing this at an advantageous moment can make the battle go a lot easier. That audience meter isn’t just for show either. You want to boost it because it will give you extra fans and money at the end of battle. The best way to boost it is to fulfill the director’s instructions. These range from using specific skills to making sure your troops don’t lose too much health, to performing flashy team attacks. Speaking of which, each character can choose “teamwork” to end their turn. When they do this, then can give nearby allies a movement boost or join in on attacks against adjacent enemies. Anywhere from two to all party members can join in for a team attack. Properly utilizing these mechanics makes the game significantly more enjoyable.
Finally, there’s the Mecha battles. In typical Sentai fashion, enemy monsters tend to grow to enormous heights. In order to combat them, your squad employs a giant mechanical warrior. These battles are a simple risk/reward system. Each hit you land increases your combo damage, but also decreases your accuracy. If you miss, your turn ends and your enemy gets to pummel you. If you end your turn before a miss, you can get a defensive boost that mitigates their attacks considerably. The mech can also be upgraded, and different parts unlock various skills and finishing blows that give you some tactical decisions to make. It’s a simple system that gets a little long in the tooth by the end of the game. However, it just wouldn’t feel right if it were missing.
A standard playthrough of the game will last you about a dozen hours. While short for the genre, the game compensates with customization features and multiple endings. There are even a few parts of the game that play out differently based on how you answer your fan mail. You can even play on a tougher difficulty setting if that’s your thing. The big potential drawback is that the combat isn’t deep enough to keep more strategic minds busy. It can get boring during long sessions.
Short Attention Span Summary
In the end, Chroma Squad is a great game for fans of Power Rangers and other Sentai shows. Its humor, references, and presentation will delight fans. However, the game is lacking the strategical depth to really stand out in the genre. It’s a fine game, but not so good that you’ll end up playing instead of the old stand-bys. Just keep that in mind before you decide to buy it.