I’ll begin this article with an admission: I never watched Power Rangers as a child. I was a WB kid, so Pokemon, Animaniacs and The Jackie Chan Adventures were already rounding out my TV line up.
It was only when I was in college and my incredibly stressed out boyfriend chose arrested development as a coping mechanism that I was introduced to the sentai genre. Grant had a lot of teaching work, and when he was done all he had the brain for was sitting in his dorm room in his pajamas and a juice box and watching Power Rangers. I figured I’d give it a shot.
I shotgunned the entirety of Mighty Morphin.
So, when I heard there was a tile-based strategy game that paid homage to the Sentai genre (the Japanese costumed crime-fighting genre Power Rangers popularized in the US) I knew I’d need to play Chromasquad. Eventually. When it was on the Steam Summer Sale. Because I’m not made of money.
After playing the first two seasons of the game, I can honestly say I wish I’d bought it sooner. It’s a fun, interesting simulator/tile based strategy mix with innovative but intuitive graphics that would be a blast even if you’re weren’t devoted to cheap Japanese kids shows, but is even better if you are. Here’s why:
Plot & Dialogue
The basic plot of the game is fairly simple: You play as a group of stunt actors who get sick of working on someone else’s sentai show and decide to start their own show using cardboard boxes and costumes pieced together from what they could find in their closets. This simple plot, though, is more than enough.
The character’s mid-fight discussions of broken narration software, deadbeat extras and fights with their former boss are silly and fun. They provide just enough references to make fans happy, but not to the point of alienating other people.
In between filming episodes, your production team also gets emails. You get letters from fans, offers from agents and the occasional conspiracy theory. They add flavor to the world. The choices you make about how to reply to emails are probably fairly inconsequential, but they get you invested by letting you make up your own story in your head about what kind of studio you’re running.
I also feel like I should emphasize something I found incredibly important: One of your actors can be a talking beaver. This has no effect on gameplay (there is no anti-talking beaver discrimination) and somehow, this makes it even more charming.
I’m actually incredibly happy with Chromasquad’s battle mechanics. I’ve been playing on “interesting” mode, and it’s exactly what I want. It’s just challenging enough that I have to think about where and what I do in battle, but also just easy enough that I get to feel smart. I like feeling smart. There is at least one higher difficulty level for players who prefer having to replay challenges to defeat them, but I found “Interesting” lived up to its name.
The actual gameplay is simple, but not without nuance. On each turn, each squad member can attack, use a special skill, or move into teamwork mode where you can help other squadmates by boosting their movement or performing a team attack. That alone might give the battle mechanics enough to chew on (there’s a good amount of diversity as to when to do what, especially doing it in such a way that you meet the round’s optional objectives), but that’s not all. Because you’re filming a TV show, your actors have to think about audience appeal.
Through the match, certain moves appeal to fans and boost viewership. I’ll admit, in some other tile based tactics games, the benefits of their teamwork system weren’t always enough for me (why go to the trouble of moving characters into adjacent squares when you could just attack twice?) The added level of audience approval not only gave me a reason to use special attacks or teamwork, they made me want to use them. I really wanted to make my imaginary fans happy.
The In Between
A surprising amount of time playing the game is spent in between fights and I’m 100% okay with that. You’re basically getting two games in one: 1. A cool tile based RPG. 2. A TV show production sim with prop crafting mechanics.
During the season, as a producer, you need to make sure the studio is the best it can be (without ongoing costs running an episode into the ground), pick and manage an advertising strategy (do you want to focus on merchandising, gathering fans, making money or some combinations of all of them) and making sure your sentais and mecha (of course there’s a mecha) are in tip top fighting shape.
The game does a surprisingly good job of mixing a few different systems of management and crafting, so instead of feeling overwhelmed (or worse, underwhelmed) by your options, you’re excited about your freedom of choice. Do you want to use the duct tape you picked up in battle to upgrade your rubber boots or your cardboard box mecha? Should you spend money on buying a better padded suit and increase your health or studio lights to decrease your enemy’s dodge chance?
Chances are, there’s a mechanic to support your strategy of choice from a fighting and production standpoint.
I’ve only finished the first two “seasons” in Chromasquad, but so far, I can’t think of a single complaint (I’ll update this article if I find one). It sets out with a goal and executes it very well. It’s a great tribute to the shows that inspired it and every time I play, I’m excited to play more and at the end of the day, what else could I ask for?
With all the attention that’s going the Power Rangers’ way these days (I mean, the movie’s got Elizabeth Banks and Bryan Cranston for crying out loud), I really hope some of that love helps people find Chromasquad.
UPDATE: I have now finished the game and I’ll admit, I did find a couple flaws (or, I guess, places to improve). As you go on, the mecha fights get a little more redundant–I’d love to see slightly less battles or more complexity in them as you go on. The game is slightly buggy (sometimes commands executed as other moves which was inconvenient but infrequent enough not to be gamebreaking), and as you get closer to the end, your money becomes a little pointless (I was hoping the last season or game would have some ultimate uber crafted weapon, but it did not). My last complaint is that later on on the game, you make a major decision that may add a character. If you choose to gain that character, they are like a permanent guest character (you can’t choose their gear and they don’t participate in full team attacks).
THAT being said, I still loved the game. The last levels ramped up the difficulty in a fun and challenging way, and the last mecha battle was a really good match for the tone of the game. Also, you get to fight a bader dressed like Napolean. Not many games can claim that.
I’d still happily buy Chromasquad again and I really hope there’ll be a Chromasquad 2.
Do you think Chromasquad does your childhood (or adulthood of watching children’s martial arts shows) justice? Tell us in the comments