Chroma Squad review: faux faux Power Rangers

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform Win, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Publisher Behold Studios
Developer Behold Studios
Release Date

I’ve never been a fan of the “It’s X crossed with Y” way of describing games or movies, it’s always seemed a bit reductive. But in the case of Chroma Squad, when the formula is “Power Rangers crossed with XCOM with a dash of Game Dev Story,” it’s just a bit too bizarre of a recipe not to share.

When group of five stuntmen get tired of the poor plotting and overbearing direction on their sentai series, they set out to form their own studio. If the term "sentai" is unfamiliar, just think Power Rangers: Spandex-clad heroes taking on rubber suit monsters with their super-powered weapons and their skyscraper-sized mech.

With little more than a warehouse borrowed from a squad member’s uncle, they start filming episodes of their own show, transforming into a super team that’s equally concerned with building an audience as they are bringing down the bad guy.

Primarily, you’ll control the spandex-clad, giant mech toting Chroma Squad as they take on their monstrous enemies in self-contained episodes. Battles are turn-based and tactical, with heroes using their powers to level hordes of grunts before (as with any good episode of Power Rangers) they combine their powers to destroy the big baddie.

The most interesting tactical twist is that players can spend an action to activate a "Teamwork" mode, which allows them to throw teammates (vastly increasing their movement range) or collaborate on an attack. For their final attack, the entire team must activate Teamwork mode next to an enemy to activate an explosive finishing move.

Occasionally, the team summons their giant robot to do battle, and that plays out in a 2D, turn-based fight with the occasional timed button press to defend against an oncoming attack.

None of the battles are particularly grueling, but there’s an added layer of difficulty in the form of requests from the show’s unseen director like "Keep all heroes standing," or "Kill final boss with a finishing move." You can ignore those commands, but I liked the challenge of trying to follow the director’s lead (which also netted additional fans for my show).

It may read a little odd, but in practice, it’s a great blend

Those fans feed into the studio management sim that’s layered on top of the action. In addition to defeating evil, you’re also trying to keep the doors to your studio open. That means hiring marketing firms, upgrading cameras, buying new lights, you name it. These upgrades can lead to new fans, more money to buy weapons and armor for your team and some in-game perks like a higher chance to dodge enemy attacks.

It may read a little odd, but in practice, it’s a great blend. Much like the combat, managing the studio isn’t an especially cerebral challenge, but it’s a fun way to customize the experience and to break up the action.

chroma squad

Customizability actually permeates almost every aspect of Chroma Squad. In addition to renaming your team and studio, you can personalize your robot, your outfits, heck, you even get to make up your own permutation of "It’s Morphin’ Time!" Chroma Squad is basically a grown-up, incredibly robust tool for playing Power Rangers.

If you grew up with the source material, you’re likely going to find yourself delighted by the whole experience, from the smartly animated pixel art to the adorable (if often clunky) dialog. For kids of the '90s, this is undiluted nostalgia.

That said, Chroma Squad tries to coast just a bit too far on its charm. Combat gets way too easy for a good chunk of the game’s middle (though it peaks back up right at the end), and I kept wishing the studio management aspect was a bit more robust. As it stands, the whole system basically boils down to a well camouflaged and adorably rendered skill tree. It’s fun at first, but with so few repercussions for your choices, it all feels a bit straightforward the longer the game goes on.

Chroma Squad tries to coast just a bit too far on its charm

chroma squad

There came a point at which I had so much cash and my characters were so well-outfitted I felt like the game could have played itself. I checked out a bit after that, and all the nostalgic charm in the world wouldn’t have been enough to keep me engaged. The story takes some cool turns as the threats to the team start to become a bit more real, but it’s not enough to keep up the momentum.

Chroma Squad tries to mix things up by piling on even more systems, some of which are pleasant (like the ability to respond to fan mail) and some of which fall flat. In the latter case, I’m thinking specifically of the poorly-realized crafting system (because every game in 2015 legally has to have a crafting system), which lets you transform the cruft you find on defeated enemies into weapons and armor. Like much of Chroma Squad, it’s cute — your materials in the early game are cardboard and duct tape, all befitting a cheaply-made sentai show — but it’s shallow enough to feel rote pretty quickly.

Wrap Up:

Chroma Squad's faults don't detract from its charm

But frankly it’s hard to be too critical of Chroma Squad’s faults. The whole thing is just so darn sweet and well-intentioned that its failings are less like roadblocks and more a nagging sense that this lovely, joyful thing should have been just a bit more consistently delightful than it is.

Chroma Squad was reviewed using a Steam key provided by Behold Studios. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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