Chroma Squad evokes a lot of the same responses that many children of the 90s have to Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. The clear inspiration for the game, Power Rangers was a Saturday morning cheese-fest that didn’t create overly complex plot lines or inspire discussion over controversial topics. There was a baddie of the week, and the Rangers had to stop it.
Much like Power Rangers and other sentai-style shows, Chroma Squad is just that: pure fun and entertainment, without much below the surface. This isn’t a slight to the game, but those seeking rich, complex systems and powerful storytelling in their SRPGs will be better served elsewhere.
The story of Chroma Squad centers around a team of stuntmen, fed up with playing second fiddle while doing all the work, who decide to create their own sentai series. In one of the rangers’ uncle’s warehouse, they find an old prop of a brain that can speak through text-to-speech; with that, a narration program, and a low budget, they set out to make their own studio.
Charm is what carries most of the plot and the game as a whole, but it nails that charm tenfold. There’s fun references, quips between characters, and the art and design of the game really leans into the nostalgia factor. The animations for each of the characters is fantastic, with plenty of over-the-top moves and acrobatics, and the whole game just oozes Power Rangers nostalgia.
Most of the out-of-combat gameplay is similar to sim management games, with a litany of bars, meters, and resources to keep track of. While there’s a ton of them, they all boil down to how much cash you have, and how many fans you’ve garnered. Fans increase cashflow, which gives you more income to spend on upgrades for your studio, which gets you more fans.
The upgrades you can buy are mostly either boosts to the amount of fans you can earn with each new episode, or stat boosts for your rangers and robot. It’s a little underwhelming at first, but seeing the studio blossom as you complete new episodes is rewarding in its own way.
When not buying studio upgrades, you’ll be outfitting your rangers with new weapons and costumes. Each ranger falls into one of five archetypes, and each can specialize within that archetype. Your assault is an up-close-and-personal fighter, who you can specialize into incapacitating multiple enemies at a time. Recon can focus on movement increases, while your leader can increase Teamwork benefits. The costumes and weapons you buy help with that, though each class tends to gravitate towards one weapon type and focus.
The episodes of each season are where combat comes into play. As you film each episode, you’ll go through a series of instanced encounters, with a set of Director requirements to earn fans. You can beat episodes normally, but to maximize fandom you’ll need to achieve all the requirements, which range from defeating enemies in a certain order to completing the episode in a set number of turns. At its best, this system encourages inventive play and strategy; at its worst, I felt held back by the requirements. In one specific mission, I had to hit the boss once every turn but also eliminate him last. I failed the requirement because my rangers couldn’t catch the sniper-esque enemies fast enough before my weakest ranger beat the boss down solo.
The coolest feature in Chroma Squad’s combat is the Teamwork mechanic. After your initial movement for each ranger, you can then choose to attack, move again, or put the ranger into Teamwork. They strike a pose and wait for other rangers, allowing them to either vault off the Teamworked ranger to move further in a single turn, or they can attack enemies with adjacent rangers in combination. Teamwork creates a fun way to adapt to any situation, and keeps in line with the spirit of cheesy team attacks and acrobatics.
While you start episodes in your street clothes, you can Chromatize to become rangers and open up a wider range of special abilities and options. The requirements for this system were never very clear, but I actually found myself rarely using it. Even the later bosses were easy to overcome, and I found myself using the Chromatize button only when I felt like it, rather than using it out of necessity.
The combat is certainly entertaining and engaging, but there’s little complexity to delve into. Most special moves are superfluous besides stun moves for bosses, and gameplay usually just revolves around surrounding enemies before beating them down with team attacks. I would’ve liked to see more customization options for each of the ranger classes, as they have barebones skill upgrades and little in the way of branching playstyles. Most fights were just checking the requirements, running in, and defeating the enemies in whatever order the game wanted me to.
The robot fights have some issues with binary design as well. While fun to see, most of the fights in your giant transforming robot are just using the attack command, then playing a stop-the-bar timing game to block. It felt a little underwhelming for what should’ve been a climactic finish to the episode.
I just can’t fault Chroma Squad for too much, though, when the style and charm is so pervasive. It isn’t the deepest SRPG, which might be a pro for some, and it doesn’t tell a grand sweeping story or make you feel for the characters. It’s just Saturday morning cartoon fun, the kind you can flip on and smile at, laughing and cheering when the boss is taken down by your over-stylized finishing team attack. Tweets from fans encourage you after each episode; one of my favorites said that the Tweeter’s little brother wouldn’t stop running around the house, yelling my team’s catchphrase (“Time to spend our budget!”). It’s little moments like that which carry Chroma Squad for me, and make it stand out as an alright game that completely nails a concept.