Chroma Squad Review: Go Go Not-Power Rangers!
As someone who grew up during the ’90s and has a love for turn-based strategy and management games, Chroma Squad has been on my radar since its successful Kickstarter back in 2013. While the future of the game was a bit uncertain when Saban dickishly went after the developers last year, Chroma Squad is finally out and I get to wax nostalgically about some of my fond childhood memories of the simpler times when I used to rush home from school to catch the latest episode of Power Rangers…before I was stuck working a dead-end job at slightly above minimum wage to pay off my crushing student debts, and before I came to the crippling realization that I’m a fat nerd who will never amount to anything in life and will almost certainly die alone. What I’m getting at is that Chroma Squad is pretty good.
After a humorous tutorial that does a nice job of giving Saban the double bird, five stunt actors for a super sentai series quit their jobs to start their own studio and make the show they want to make. Starting with a budget that can generously be described as “shoestring,” it’s your job to take this tiny, no-name super sentai show and build it up to an unstoppable juggernaut of adoring fans and overpriced Chinese merchandise.
You’ll generally accomplish this by upgrading your studio with higher-end equipment, hiring increasingly larger marketing firms, and interacting with fans via an email system. All this upgrading takes place in your studio screen between episodes, and Chroma Squad‘s basic formula is quite similar to XCOM. Studio upgrades like HD cameras or better sound equipment can increase the number of fans who tune in every episode, and marketing agencies have various boosts like releasing teaser trailers to generate hype or selling action figures to bring in more cash. As you’d expect, your studio is also where you buy or craft new gear for your characters and mecha.
The real meat of the game is the episodes themselves, which is a fancy way of saying turn-based battles. You’ll typically have your five-man team fighting against a small army of minions and a single boss monster, with director instructions to accomplish specific objectives to generate more viewers. These instructions run the gamut of super sentai clichés, like defeating all the minions first or using a finishing move to destroy the boss.
The combat itself is very simple and easy to pick up, using a two action point system to move and make attacks on a grid-based board. Your five characters are divided up into five classes that, again, employ super sentai clichés like the Lead who inspires the rest of the team or the Techie that focuses on advanced gadgets. Your attack options include a standard hand-to-hand combo, weapon-based attacks with a cooldown, and a range of special abilities that your characters unlock with each new season of the show.
The primary focus of the combat is the Teamwork moves. These special abilities mimic the sort of dynamic team-focused attacks you’d see in any Power Rangers-esque series. They work by putting a character in the Teamwork stance, which allows you to use various contextual abilities. Team Acrobatics allows a character to use someone in the Teamwork stance as a springboard, letting them move further and get into better positions, while Team Attacks allow multiple characters to gang up on a single enemy. The strongest of these is the Finishing Move, a powerful attack that involves all five characters and the best way of taking down a boss after knocking them around for a bit.
The combat is fast, flashy, and fluid, but doesn’t have a whole lot of depth to it like in XCOM or similar turn-based strategy games. Most of the strategy of the game revolves around completing the director’s instructions and performing flashy moves to generate more viewers, which in turn gives you more money at the end of the episode. The game is also a bit too easy on the normal setting, so anyone looking for a real challenge should consider cranking up the difficulty level. There could be more variety in the level locations and director instructions too, as these tend to get reused a lot. That isn’t to say the combat is bad by any means, it’s just not particularly complex.
This lack of complexity is especially apparent in the mecha battles. In typical super sentai fashion, many episodes end with the boss growing to monstrous proportions, thus requiring you to call in your giant robot for a smackdown in the city. The mecha combat is mostly a timing mini-game where you attack to build up a combo, which increases the damage of your special moves. Defending is a matter of stopping a bar at the right moment to reduce incoming damage. Pretty much all the mecha battles can be finished by smacking the monster until your hit chance gets below 60%, then using a special move or defending.
The game is a little buggy still too. One bug I encountered prevented me from continuing because a level wouldn’t spawn an enemy I needed to beat. That issue has since been resolved, but there are still occasional hiccups. Sometimes the camera bugs out during the enemy turn, making it hard to see what is going on, and there was one instance where dialogue wasn’t showing up.
While Chroma Squad isn’t particularly complicated or difficult, it’s still an incredibly charming game full of lighthearted dialogue and appropriately cheesy jokes. The amount of enjoyment you ultimately get out of it is really based on if you watched shows like Power Rangers as a child. If you did watch super sentai shows at some point in your life, you’ll no doubt get a kick out of all the quirky humor and clichés poking fun at the genre. If you don’t know anything about the genre, you’ll find a fun but fairly shallow turn-based strategy game with a fairly basic management element tied in. As a child of the ’90s, I personally had a blast with Chroma Squad and highly recommend it to anyone who grew up on a diet of Power Rangers, Beetleborgs, and VR Troopers. You can currently find Chroma Squad on GOG, Steam, and Humble Store for $15.
Frank is an aspiring game designer that currently writes for IndieGameSource and Bell of Lost Souls. You can follow him on Twitter @Frank_Gaming for updates on future articles and reviews.