Ok everyone… Let’s be candid for a moment. I’m going to state something that I think most of us feel, but that we might not talk about very often.
I love the Power Rangers. (And if this is any indication, so do most of you.)
It’s true! And I suspect that I am not alone in this feeling. Most of us grew up with Power Rangers occupying a reasonable amount of our TV time. The show’s structure and focus affect us the same way that Days of our Lives affects 40+ year old soap opera fans: it’s an important part of our TV history!
I think that is why Chroma Squad really hits home for me. Behold Studio’s self-proclaimed Sentai Tactical game is full of the unsubtle nuances that we all remember from our Saturday morning TV marathons. Goofy goons to beat up? Check. Cheesy writing laced with cliches? Check. Giant Monsters and battle hardened Mecha? Check, check. Occasionally crummy casting, and questionable costuming? Check, and yes, check. Chroma Squad touches on them all.
Play begins with a tutorial set against the backdrop of an already successful Sentai program, introducing us to our actors as they film an episode of “Super Rangers” for a maladjusted director. Players learn to move and attack via a grid map (like many other tactical RPGs), and also learn about teamwork moves while dispatching gaggle after gaggle of grey goons. Teamwork functions in a few different ways. For instance, if an enemy is out of range of one of your DPS characters, you can actually use a team mate to throw your bruiser, effectively giving them a longer movement range (and looking really cool to boot). Teamwork can be also used to group attack a single enemy, doing much better damage than characters attacking individually. If all 5 members of your team engage in a team attack, a spectacular “Finishing Move” is performed, reminiscent of how almost every single Sentai program wraps up a plot.
Upon completing their shoot, the team of stunt-people providing the action decide they’ve had enough of the director, and leave to form their own studio. What ensues is an interesting and semi-eclectic game that provides a very unique experience. The first order of business is to locate a suitable studio location, which is provided in a thinly veiled bit of deus ex machina. True to form with the genre it satires, the crew is provided not only with a reasonable base of operations; their new site also includes a Zordon-esque prop, giving the team a plot device to help string together what might otherwise be just random action sequences.
Upon finalizing their new production facility, the player is given the chance to modify his squad prior to filming. As with most Sentai productions, you are given 5 team slots (utilizing 14 colors) to fill. Each slot has a its own unique role. These roles include Lead (your face man or woman), Assault, Scout, Assist, and Techie. Each of these roles comes with their own special power or ability. The Lead can, for instance, lasso an enemy within range and bring him to an adjacent square for some quick chin music. The Assist, on the other hand, has the Healduken, a tongue in cheek projectile that heals a teammate within 4 squares for %50 of their life total. Each role must be filled by a specific actor of your choice from a reasonably large roster. Each actor adds their own special static stat changes to the role (quite similar to what we have seen in Knights of Pen and Paper +1), and requires their own per-episode salary. Take time and care in choosing your squad; once it is finalized, there is no going back.
Your crew will find themselves making their own episodes, during which the actors engage in cheesy dialogue and turn based tactical battle. The behavior of your actors within the battle will change how many fans you have, and how much money you are making. There is also instructions for each episode from your director, and completing these bonus goals results in more fans and cash. Keeping things refreshing for your audience is a big deal; failing to do so has negative consequnces. For instance, if your actors engage in a “Finishing Move” that… *ahem*… fails to finish the big bad evil guy, your fans will lose faith, and in turn you will lose them. Engaging in successful team attacks, acrobatics, director challenges, and special moves will help you to continue growing your fanbase.
Each episode has a mild plot within it as well, complete with dialogue and director challenges that make sense for the scenario (as much as anything in the genre does). In one instance, as an example, one of the actors realizes he has a dentist appointment during filming. This results in the production company working that into the story by having the cast member be “kidnapped” by a boss and his goons, resulting in some challenging 4 ranger battles (and a twist that I won’t spoil for you here). The fodder enemies continue to get stronger as the game progresses, and the boss characters retain that quirky charm that makes the characters and battles quite memorable.
Settled snugly between shooting episodes is a studio simulator experience. You will be tasked with providing filmaking upgrades (such as better cameras, microphones, or even health care), as well as buying new props (used as gear in the actual episodes). Players may also engage in marketing to help grow their fanbase and their revenue. Studio managers will need to respond to emails and special events as well, with their choices used to change outcomes later in the game. Crafting is also done between episodes, utilizing components dropped by their foes. This allows the player to upgrade not only the gear for the crew but also their Mecha!
That’s right, there are Mecha and Kaiju present as well. While not necessarily present in every episode, the addition is faithful to the genre, and provides and interesting combat change from grid based tactical battles to a risk management 2D fighter. The player is given 2-3 actions on their turn, and can choose between attacks or defense, both of which are modified by a combo rating. Proper management is required to survive long enough to summon their ‘Zords Power Sword for a spectacular ending.
Couple the above mentioned systems with a smartly-written cliche filled story and 4th wall stretching dialogue, and you have a tidy and colorful little package perfectly fit for anyone who appreciates the super squad genre of the Far East. I’ve put a couple of hours in and finished my first season, and am just now preparing my blockbuster second season debut. I hope to experience the same success in Chroma Squad that Power Rangers experienced in the states, still running after 20+ years.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have Putties to pulverize. … Or was it Mudmen to massacre? Boy, where is my script…
Chroma Squad is available via Steam or GOG, with other platforms launching later this year.