Genre: Strategy RPG
Sentai. Kaiju. Words that I became familiar with only a few years ago, even though I had been exposed to the concepts since grade school. Shows like “Mighty Morhpin’ Power Rangers”, “VR Troopers” and even “Super Human Samurai Cyber Squad” were staples in my before and after school line-up. Everyday people who had to balance living their regular lives and saving the world with martial arts in spandex suits, all the while having to hide the fact from the general populace to keep them out of danger or cause undue attention to themselves. It was the stuff of every nerd kid’s fantasies growing up.
Recently, a group started a Kickstarter campaign to bring a game to life to bring those fantasies to beautiful 16-bit reality in Chroma Squad– a strategy role-playing game that promised to let you form your own super team a la “Power Rangers” to save the galaxy from every ‘monster of the week’ you could imagine. The game came to fruition, much to my and my friends’ excitement. Was it worth the hype and anticipation?
The plot of the game is muddled on its worst legs and tongue-in-cheek fun on its best. It begins with a group of stunt people being dissatisfied with how their current director is treating them. They run off set one day, vowing to make their own show their own way so that they can have fun and do the things that they want. Starting from the ground up, they must raise funds and produce entertaining content each week or risk their new venture failing. That’s a basic overview, though I’ll cover why it’s remaining that basic shortly.
The game allows you to choose your actors (each with their own stats), the colors of their costumes, and their team name and catchphrases. You can customize the studio around them to allow for bigger and better effects (which also boost stats) and even choose which parts on their giant city-leveling mech can do what. Buying better crates will raise your mech’s hit points. Want your characters to hit harder? You can buy some weapons or, if you find certain materials through various means, you can craft your own. While in my play through the game, I ran out of upgrade methods by just at the beginning of the last season, it is imperative to keep up with them- especially regarding your mech’s stats.
There are two different kinds of fights. The regular strategy fights involve your five characters – your Lead, Techie, Scout, Assist, and Assault- usually starting in their street clothes entering a fight. After a few punches thrown, they ‘Chromatize’ into their alter egos to fight using weapons and special powers. As the levels or ‘episodes’ commence, the idea is to use acrobatics, teamwork, and special moves to gain audience. This, in turn, becomes income to upgrade your characters and studio. There are also Director Orders, such as ‘Defeat 10 enemies’ or ‘Keep all actors above 50% health’ that, if fulfilled, can garner a huge boost in audience. The second phase, usually, is a fight with your giant robot against a blown up version of the monster of the day. This involved taking turns striking at each other in a field that looks akin to a fighting game, but you can attempt to strike until you miss or use abilities that bolster your defense, heal you, or perform a powerful strike. If you can deplete the enemy’s life bar three times, they explode in a rain of special effect magic. If your mech is defeated, you have one more chance by fueling yo
urself with your audience’s love for your team.
It’s all super corny but all in good fun. You can tell the creators enjoyed the source material and that they put a lot of heart into the game itself. Everything has a reference, and while the game is certain to lose topical weight in a few years, some of it is genuinely cute at current. Pop culture and meme references aside, the game has some fun enemies and situations that feel like they would have been right at home on “Power Rangers”. The Director Orders keep the gameplay fresh, even after it happens over and over. While the gameplay gets a little repetitive, the game is not incredibly long so the repetition doesn’t last.
While the game is a lot of entertainment and nostalgia, there are some faults and it shows that this game is a first time effort. The plot is jumbled in the beginning half of the game, and it is hard to tell if your actors are really fighting strange monsters or things in costumes. This may be intentional, but it is too unclear to tell. This is not helped by the writing, which is not terrible but it is very wooden. Again, this seems to get better throughout the latter half of the game, but with misspellings and strange turns of phrase coming up every so often, it can be a little hard to follow.
The game is a labour of love, though, and it shows in the presentation. Caught in beautiful pixelated art, Chroma Squad shines with vivid color and fantastic style. Animations are crisp, levels are well designed (even the same construction site for the fourth time), and the cutscenes, as rare as they are, got me pumped for the next set of levels. The music is right on par, too, giving the vibe of the source material to a tee. From the title song to the end credits, the soundtrack feels familiar and driving. Given how often it can loop in some of the episodes, it’s a boon to the game that whoever made the music knew what they were doing.
Though it has a few shortcomings, I certainly don’t regret any time spent playing through Chroma Squad. The promise of multiple endings and being able to choose from a large stable of potential actors gives the game more than enough replay value, though it’s not as if the episodes change until a certain point in the game. Playing through once makes sense, especially to fans of any of the involved genres, but it does not feel as though there is enough variety or content to warrant playing through again without a good break between playthroughs. The game has a ton of charm and it is a good time, but if you’re even a little hesitant, waiting for a sale isn’t a bad idea. On a usual day, though, at $15 or so on Steam or GOG.com, the game is well worth the investment if the game’s concept has you hooked. The game’s humor won’t stay topical for too long, so the sooner the better whether you’re on the fence or already digging out your old Morpher from the closet.