After a development cycle interrupted by looming threats of legal action due to copyright issues, Chroma Squad, a a Kickstarter turn-based isometric tactical strategy with Super Sentai spices, created by Behold Studios, has made it across the finish line after reaching an amicable agreement with Saban Entertainment. Thank goodness for that, because it’s every bit as charming as the developer’s previous game Knights of Pen & Paper, only without those pesky micro-transactions.
The tutorial begins as a group of disgruntled stunt performers in colorful spandex jumpsuits (think Power Rangers) taking orders from a hack director until realizing they basically are the show and walk out to form their own studio. From there we jump to a character selection screen to fill five slots using a roster that includes parodies of Hollywood action stars, an anthropomorphic beaver, and Kickstarter backers. All have their own stat modifiers, plus their names and suit colors are customizable. Nobody is saying you should model your team after 80s girl band cartoon Jem and the Holograms, though it couldn’t hurt…
This is where the tycoon portion of Chroma Squad kicks in. Managing a studio isn’t complicated, needing only a couple of minutes between missions to get things sorted. Studio upgrades give bonuses during battle and almost all are affordable from the start, tempting less cautious players to splurge instead of heeding attached upkeep costs. A shop and crafting bench offer a wider inventory upon completion of each season of the show. Any base crafting materials can be duplicated by double clicking, so getting the best items is merely a matter of patience. Chroma Squad’s lack of any digital manual obfuscates a few minor details, so I’m not even sure if this is a bug or feature to encourage experimentation.
Further options gradually open up with sponsorships and upgrades for a giant robot (more on giant robots later!), as well as cute multiple choice in-game mail that can net some goodies and raise a smile. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few were at least inspired by Kickstarter backers themselves, because backer content shows up all over the place in the form of in-game characters and monsters. That’s the nature of a project built on a foundation of trust between 4,000 generous people. For those who are bothered, yes there’s also backer-only content which exists in the form of exclusive suits and episodes. Personally I never found any egregious examples of exclusives that hinted at an incomplete product, but some gamers have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to exclusive content regardless of the reason.
After selecting an episode to record, the stuntmen engage in a simplistic story scene before combat where the focus of Chroma Squad lies. Characters move on an isometric grid and have various skills related to their fixed class. Utilizing these skills is essential to coming out on top, as certain moves require multiple team members like the acrobatic boost where one character flings another a few extra squares over opponents. Calling on the power of jumpsuits fully heals and nullifies negative status effects, so there’s strategy in waiting for the right moment to transform. There’s depth to the rules and fun to be had working out the proper order to pull off advanced maneuvers.
An audience bar fills up as crowd-pleasing moves are performed and huge boosts are awarded for following the director’s instructions like “kill all minions before the boss” or “don’t drop below half health.” Filling that bar is important because a portion of the audience become fans, which equals more money. These multi-tiered objectives are sorely needed since maps are so plain, lacking any environmental hazards or interesting minions. As the game advances, the minions are palette swapped and given more powerful versions of the same attacks. It’s disappointing how rarely the player gets called upon to adapt to new creatures. More resources should’ve been shifted towards the minions populating every level rather than one-off boss monsters. This may be a case of poor translation across mediums; what makes sense for a TV show isn’t necessarily compelling for a strategy game.
Bosses are much more carefully crafted with their own move sets. Usually when a boss gets beaten they increase in size to tower over a cardboard city, prompting the team to summon their huge robot to duke it out. These fights forgo movement and positioning from ground combat, boiling it down to both participants building up damage from abilities and combos. A percentage hit chance lowers with every blow, and a miss ends the turn, so the risk of having a turn end prematurely keeps rising. Reducing damage from enemy attacks is a matter of clicking a slider at the right time in oddly the only instance of twitch reflex in the entire game.
Despite a few questionable design choices and small bugs, Chroma Squad is an enjoyable experience. The customization makes all the difference in the world, and it has an infectious innocence that evokes fond childhood memories. The campaign goes on for a solid ten hours, plenty of time to use the framework’s potential to the fullest. If that doesn’t appeal there’s also a branching story, talk of adding multiplayer, and the end credits promise an upcoming New Game+ mode.
What do you think, Raptor? Easily the best Super Sentai game on the market?
Minor edit: Copy edits
A whimsical love letter to Super Sentai and a must have for a fan, though far from perfect in design.