|April 30, 2015
|PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, XB1
|ESRB – Everyone 10+
Did you ever want to save the world when you were a kid? Of course you did; we all did. Unfortunately, we all eventually grow up and realize that saving the world is really hard. We may be old and jaded now, but sentai shows like Power Rangers continue to inspire kids to want to save the world through sweet martial arts moves and giant robot fights even to this day. Behold Studios’ strategy game Chroma Squad seeks to allow players to create that same feeling by guiding a team of stunt actors through the difficulties of running their own sentai TV studio. Does it succeed, or are the corny lines and flashy poses all sparkle and no substance?
I’ve been pretty much infatuated with Chroma Squad ever since the first time I heard about it last fall. Clearly I wasn’t the only one sold on the concept, either, as the game enjoyed a successful Kickstarter campaign, earning almost double its initial funding goal. Not that I’m any massive fan of the sentai genre from which this game draws so heavily (with a couple of exceptions), but, with such a unique premise, my interest was piqued regardless. Much of what Chroma Squad entails has already been explained in the preview piece we posted previously, but I’ll cover the ground again as a refresher. The game opens with the five stars of the sentai TV program The Super Rangers walking off the set after finally getting fed up with the show’s domineering director, Dr. Mi Ah. Deciding that they are more than capable of running their own sentai TV studio, the team heads off to an old warehouse owned by one of their uncles and proceeds to take on the arduous task of recording episodes, maintaining business deals and winning fans. Of course, when I say “the team,” I really mean you. Everything from recording episodes to obtaining costumes and props to upgrading the studio will all be in your hands.
Once players have been through the tutorial and opening scenes, they are taken to the team setup screen where they will choose the identities and abilities of their five heroes from a rolodex of such well-known actors as Alert Johansen and Weasley Stripes. Here you can compare their abilities and see where they may thrive. Some actors have higher health or attack power, faster cooldown times on skills and other bonuses. Plus, depending on their role in the team – as the Lead, Assault, Scout, Techie or Support – even more bonuses are possible. While you’re pretty free to put any character in any role, it’s usually best to form a team whose existing strengths naturally gravitate to a certain role; such as someone with bonus damage to guns being a Techie so his shooting skills cool down faster, or a powerful fighter being your Assault to maximize their damage output. Players are also able to customize the team’s name, colors and the things they yell during fights. While one of the better choices to follow was taken in the preview piece, I was still able to make do.
With the team put together, players next move on to running the studio proper. While you only have some petty cash to begin with, you’re still able to make a few small changes, should you feel the need. The team starts with some pretty slapdash armor and weaponry, which gets the job done, but you’ll soon want to hit the Shop and purchase equipment offering better protection and damage. However, if you’re strapped for cash (which you will be in the beginning), you can also hit the Crafting menu and make your own armor and weapons from various materials that can be purchased or acquired through play. While many of the early items you craft won’t be that different from what you can buy, some crafted equipment applies random buffs when created, giving you better stats by default. A lot of times, you may want to save your money and just make your own. As you get farther into the game, you’ll also be able to craft class-specific weapons that play to the skills of each member of the team. Equipment that makes your Techie’s cooldown times almost non-existent or lets your Scout cross almost the entire map with ease will eventually become available to you. All you have to do is have the right materials and get a little lucky with the random buffs (or reload your save until you get something you like). There’s a great amount of customization available to you if you just put a bit of effort into it.
Once you feel comfortable with your setup, it’s time to record an episode. Hitting the Record button pulls up a menu of available episodes. All episodes must be recorded before the season finale can be played, but they’re available in any order you wish. Each episode generally starts with how the team wants to shoot the upcoming scenes, at which point a bunch of minions show up and the fists start flying. Gameplay is your standard strategy fare. Click to move to any square your selected character can reach and click an enemy to attack. The skill bar on the bottom of the screen also features a “Teamwork” button which can either set up for team attacks or will allow other characters to vault off them and travel farther than they could on foot. Most of the time, the team starts an episode in their street clothes, locking them out of their weapons and abilities, but filling up the Audience Meter at the top of screen enough by fighting and performing acrobatics will allow your characters to “Chromatize” and change into their armor. It may seem limiting at first, but I found it nothing if not true to the source material, where the heroes would always try to fight enemies on their own before coming to their senses and changing into their armor. At this point, your class-specific abilities will be available, and you can proceed to lay out the remaining enemies. A short list of Director’s Instructions in the upper corner will also give you a couple optional objectives that will give a big boost to your audience, which will net you more money and fans depending on how well you do. Either way, most episodes end once you beat all the enemies on the map or take out the boss monster.
Of course, in true sentai fashion, not all fights end once you’ve pounded the boss into the dirt. It’s at this point that the boss gets their second wind and grows to gargantuan sizes in a last-ditch effort to destroy the team. The scene then transitions, having the team board their mecha. From here, the two colossi will trade blows until one comes out on top. Sadly, I found this to be a bit weaker compared to the normal strategic gameplay. Players have the option to attack, defend or use a special move (granted by different body parts that you can craft between episodes). With each attack, the damage of the next hit will increase, but so will the chances of missing. Each round becomes a game of chance as you decide whether you want to try going in for another hit at the risk of missing and taking the full brunt of the enemy’s next attack. It might sound like a novel approach at first, but this formula never changes for the duration of the game. Granted, the strategy portions of the game may be a bit simple compared to its contemporaries, but at least they include new enemy types and abilities as you continue. It’s just too bad the normally-epic giant robot fights couldn’t provide the same kind of variety.
Aside from that, you’ll eventually unlock the ability to market your studio through a variety of different advertising agencies, which will give different bonuses in one- or three-episode increments. Some of these can be a double-edged sword, such as hiring a large, faceless corporate firm that will bring in additional money, but at the cost of losing fans who feel you’re selling out. It’s best to take a look at what episodes still need to be recorded and plan accordingly. Have a handful of episodes with mecha battles? Capitalize on that by hiring a toy company to increase the max health of your mech and make some extra money from toy sales. As the game continues, more advertisers become available to you, but I only ended up using a small handful of them, mostly because I didn’t understand how a few of the bonuses could be used to my advantage.
That’s part of the problem I had with Chroma Squad. While it was a mostly-enjoyable experience, I can’t help but feel like some of the mechanics were only half realized. I still don’t quite understand the difference between the show’s audience and the show’s fans. The meter at the end of each episode shows that the audience gets me more money, but I don’t know how that translates to more fans. Likewise, I feel like it was a missed opportunity that so little was done with the audience meter during battles. Aside from needing a nominal amount of audience to chromatize and unlock the team’s special abilities, it is not needed for anything else. No special attacks fueled by your fans’ enthusiasm, no special extra scenes for completely filling it up; just more money and fans once the episode is over. Even the story, which starts out with a novel premise, fizzles out by the end in a fairly uninspired and rushed conclusion with more bland plot points and character interactions and relationships not quite reaching fruition. Both the art and music, however, were fantastic. I’m a big fan of sprite-based graphics, and the characters and environments show the huge amount of work that was put into the art style.
While the writing may be a bit stunted at times, Chroma Squad’s gameplay still makes for an enjoyable, if somewhat basic experience. Crafting your team of heroes is an interesting feature and allows for a fair bit of replay value after completing the 15-hour campaign. Plus, there is a handful of different endings based on some choices you make near the end of the game. That, coupled with all the customization options available to you for both your team and mecha, may certainly warrant at least a couple playthroughs. If you’re a fan of the old Power Rangers of yesteryear or just looking for something that looks a little different, it’s certainly worth a shot for $15.
Review copy provided by the publisher