It would be apropos to begin a review of Chroma Squad with an anecdote about how important the Power Rangers were to my childhood. I won’t however, because while nostalgia is central to Chroma Squad’s overall appeal, it is also the game’s greatest crutch.
Chroma Squad, developed by Behold Studios, is a Super Sentai studio simulator, wrapped up with strategic RPG elements. Presented with lo-fi pixel art and a referential approach to its narrative, Chroma Squad presents familiar gameplay mechanics in its ode to all things ‘super’.
Because so much of Chroma Squad feels familiar, it’s hard not to be let down by some of its core gameplay elements.
Chroma Squad starts with a team of five stunt actors leaving their day jobs in order to forge a new television studio. There’s a certain charm to the available characters (which players can select from when creating their team) and seeing them put on their special Chroma Squad suits for the first time is a great moment. After choosing your actors and their respective roles – Leader, Assist, Assault, Techie and Scout – there is a genuine feeling of teamwork that can be felt from their dialogue together.
This is key to creating the over-the-top type of television that Power Rangers and other sentai shows are adored for. As the Chroma Squad bids for more popularity and their television show reaches a bigger audience, the quirky dialogue feels like the best parts of a low budget show. That is to say, the written elements of Chroma Squad don’t do anything groundbreaking, but they are fitting within the context of the game.
The studio management elements of Chroma Squad are enjoyable and integral to enjoying the game. Players are given the option to buy new gear for the Squad, craft weapons and armor from materials dropped by enemies, hire marketing firms, improve the studio, and eventually upgrade Chroma Squad’s Mecha. Each of the available studio management elements offers a considerable amount depth, giving players a sense of purpose as they guide the Chroma Squad team from indie auteurs to larger than life heroes.
There is an emphasis on the indie aspect of Chroma Squad because the subtext of an independent attitude persists in just about every part of the game. There are a handful of self-aware lines of dialogue that seem to be more of a nod to indie versus AAA development, characters revel in the low budget approach to their show, and even something as simple as crafting items boils down to essentially creating a flimsy suit from scraps of cardboard and duct tape. These indie-centric moments never feel shoehorned in, however, and add more character to the game than the sentai action.
When it’s time to film episodes of ‘Chroma Squad’, players take on the role of both director and actor. Each ‘episode’ (mission) that the team sets out to film comes with a set of unique ‘Director’s Instructions’ that can be completed to boost ratings. These Instructions are essentially additional challenges to complete per mission, and are certainly worth completing, as ignoring them leads to Chroma Squad’s SRPG elements to get stale very fast.
Chroma Squad’s SRPG half feels largely underdeveloped. While each team member has different skills and abilities, the fact that virtually every location is a variation on an essentially flat plane turns each battle (of which there are a lot) into something of an arms race, requiring players to march forward and attack whoever or whatever is in their way. What made games such as Final Fantasy Tactics work so well was the combination of varied character classes and diverse maps. Chroma Squad has the personality and fundamentals down, but feels as if it stagnates when it comes to delivering upon compelling gameplay.
The Mecha battles follow the same path. The first handful of times the Chroma Squad unites to take on massive version of the bosses, there is a true ‘holy crap’ moment. Taking control of the Mecha seems like the culmination of everything that has led up to the battle. It feels epic, at first, but eventually boils down to a simple attack, defend (with timed button presses) and super attacks. These Mecha battles could be the game’s greatest strength, but they feel largely underdeveloped when considering the frequency of them compared to the lack of skills and variation provided.
Even though many parts of Chroma Squad feel underdeveloped, it is still a fun title. Those who have fond memories of Kamen Rider and Power Rangers titles are sure to get plenty of enjoyment from building their own sentai empire. The game progresses at a decent pace and there are enough humorous moments to hold the interest of players. However, if you are looking for a true SRPG experience, Chroma Squad doesn’t exactly deliver.
“Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”
Editor’s Note: The Author was provided with a downloadable code for the purposes of this review