Chroma Squad a turn-based tactical role-playing game by the Brazilian indie development team Behold Studios. It’s a quirky and creative game that fully embraces the ridiculousness of a super sentai television show, a theme that hasn’t yet been explored by many or any games at all. It understands the genre well and faithfully re-imagines those Power Rangers episodes I used to love as a child into a video game and boy does it translate well. Albeit with a few flaws…
The game starts out with five stunt actors quitting their jobs to start out their own independent studio with the belief that they can do better. So they produce their own indie television show of the same theme as their old studio: super sentai. Chroma Squad closely follows the same tropes of the shows which inspired it – with a twist. The game starts out very differently, almost a parody of shows like the Power Rangers and their production process. As the narrative progresses the threats they once faced for the entertainment of others slowly become more real. As predictable as this twist was I still found it enjoyable. The game used the narrative advantage of its episodic structure and took its time to develop, giving the player breathing room first to understand the: basic mechanics of the game and the world in which the game takes place. Slowly easing the player into the narrative and game play.
The episodic structure that the game uses gives the whole game a cosmetic flavor in its narrative. With levels dressed up to be known as episodes the narrative takes advantage of it by giving the whole structure a ‘monster of the week’ appearance. Making each level (episode) feel refreshing as it looks different. Placed with a new villain for the episode and a new sub-plot but with the same structure as the previous episodes in terms of its overarching plot. This is where it runs into a problem as this sole structure can only stay effective for a short amount of time until the player realizes a pattern with most of the episodes (as some don’t always have the same narrative structure). This can make the experience feel repetitive and less exciting as the plot of most episodes become predictable with a few having a few twists and turns. The group talks about a new sub-plot, new villain appears, group deals with villain, sub-plot gets resolved, voila episode finito. Then repeat.
This can be considered just a symptom of using the super sentai theme as most of the episodes a television show like Power Rangers has this narrative structure. But the writers has already shown us they can make twists to it if they want an example would be the real life/television parallel that the protagonists have.
Though as you progress the games narrative eventually twists and turns, mutating as you progress. Putting the protagonists in more interesting situations that explore their more human side to make them more relate-able. The narrative increasing in scale per each season the player completes and with the bond of the five stunt actors tightening as each make a mistake that they help each other fix learning from each other. Though the protagonists are the generic archetypes found in a super sentai show the exploration of their ambition and their flaws, though minimal and easily fixed, is a nice touch to giving each more personality rather than just a suit color.
Chroma Squads narrative perfectly matches the tone of its inspiration. Light hearted humor and dialogue adds to the games charm and keeps its themes intact. The game is peppered with cheesy, but funny, one liners from both the protagonists and antagonists. Many of the jokes that can be read by the player are self-deprecating, poking fun at the nature of the super sentai genre, which is used to the advantage of the narrative making sure the game doesn’t become too serious and that it’s self-aware. This keeps the game from being too cheesy and more humorous.
Comedy is the core of its narrative but the issue with this is, as much as I love the funny one liners from characters, some of the jokes are a miss and end up being cringe worthy punch lines. The games comedic aspects really are most effective when it’s focusing on satire, but less effective when the game points out plot holes for jokes. Pointing out flaws feel lazy as it feels like the writer is compensating for the lack of effort.
Fourth wall breaking lines are also within the dialogue coupled with pop culture references such as the famous Harvey Dent quote from Christopher Nolan’s legendary Batman movie: The Dark Knight. Give the whole experience a tongue in cheek tone making sure ice breakers prevent the tone from becoming too serious and always light. Though as entertaining fourth wall breaking lines can be in Chroma Squad they’re not effectively used. Or I deem appropriate. It completely breaks the immersion of the player as being the manager of this sentai group you’ve created. It just ends up becoming confusing and unnecessary. With no comedic or useful aspect at all. Flaccid.
Emails can be read for expanded opportunities of decision-making in which may the player be rewarded depending on their reply to the sender. This in turn adds a layer to the sense of managing a team/studio as a false sense of authority is given to the player. As most emails really are inconsequential but still effective in its own way.
There is at one point a time where you can make a decision which may affect the turning point of a story which increases replay ability of the game increasing it value.
Any flaws that the narrative has in Chroma Squad is held by its fantastic and fun moment to moment game play. The use of the isometric turn based tactical game play format is perfect for the super sentai theme. It faithfully recreates the experience of a team working together to fight a non-human threat which is the surrounding idea of a super sentai TV show.
The game starts out well with a creative and clear tutorial which teaches the basics of moment to moment game play. Commands are conveyed through director instructions in the tutorials level making it easily understandable of what the player needs to do at that specific situation. Which is transferable knowledge throughout the game. It also melds well together with the narrative which the main protagonists are in a studio being directed by Dr Mi Ah. It’s a clever method of easing the player into the basics whilst preventing breaking immersion.
You can also pick out actors near the beginning of the game to personalize your team. Each actor has different stats that maybe suitable with their corresponding role, of which there are five (Assault, Scout, Lead, Assist, Techie), coupled with a summary telling the back story of each actor and the fact that you can choose the color of their suit. Makes for an immersive, albeit limited, character customization screen that make the player feel like a studio director which strengthens the super sentai theme.
After the player picks out the actors menial things like the team name, special move name etc. Can be personalized to further make the team your own and create a more personal super sentai team.
Each role that an actor takes are important in their own way. Roles give each hired actor a special skill which can be used in the middle of battle. For e.g. an assist might have a healing ability. This makes each actor relevant as they have individual special skill sets that could prove useful to the director a certain situations which require them. Or at least make a battle easier for them to handle. Skills can be gained by recording through seasons and per each season recorded a new row of skills is unlocked for the director to assign. But you can only assign one specific skill per row in one actor. This prevents the player becoming too overpowered and balances the moment to moment game play.
This skill system encourages the player to create a build perfect for his play style and his or her team build. Making sure the chemistry between the skills of each team member is there to create an effective team. This requires experimentation or at least incentive’s it, as in effective build makes an efficient team. Making battle easier.
Tools are also something your team members can use. They’re something you can buy or craft but either way give your team members edge in battle. Different roles mean different tools an assault may have something like a battle-axe meanwhile an assist may have a bow. They’re important and something the player may wish to further upgrade if they intend to keep that edge in battle. They can give an assist and techie increased range due to their restricted weapon. Maybe with an assault or a scout increased damage. But as you progress you unlock better tools, more powerful ones that maintain that edge and makes sure the player doesn’t get too comfortable with his or her cash flow. This is also the same with armor but with four main parts: Helmet, suit, gloves and boots. As well as changing the attributes of your team members also their appearance. The better armor you unlock the slicker and more of a ‘Power Ranger’ your actors will look.
But to get the tools the player requires he or she requires currency. Which can be earned by gaining an audience, which can be earned by recording an episode. Per the audience you get their numbers get exchanged into money, specifically, dollars. As well as getting the tools and armor for team members, upgrades to your studio can be purchased. Upgrades help give team members or your mecha bonus attributes. And if you’ve run out of upgrades to purchase expand your studio to unlock even more.
Money can also be used to purchase crafting material which can either be used to improve the parts of your mecha to make it more formidable in battle (gain skills and bonus attributes) or craft new armor for team members, which I don’t advise as their attributes are usually inferior to the purchased goods. Which makes it only an alternative in early game. If you want to save that money obsolete tools and armor can be recycled back to crafting material though at the mercy of chance and percentages.
The constant chase to perfection of: Upgrades, armor, tools or your mecha. Is the addicting aspect of the game. The great thing about the design of the currency is that the game never reward you too much. If you want to improve you have to invest in those previously mentioned of even advertising. You can select an advertising company to help gain the television show more of an audience and fans. Which in turn increase your cash flow. The more money you invest in a company the bigger your return. But each company has different bonus attributes that may prove as useful as the audience gain. Making the choices harder for the player to make in terms of his or her investment. Also as the contract does last at least three episodes if you so choose. Maybe even just one. This is what makes the continuous cycle of battles fun, as well as the challenge, its rewards. As it allows you to do more and be more in the game.
Battles are triggered by starting to record an episode which puts the player and his team members in a scenario in which they have to push through a challenge. There’s a variety of ways and modes there are in Chroma Squad specific to each episode. A survival mode which requires the player to survive x amount of turns. A mode which requires the destruction of portals. And the obligatory beat all the monsters in the field. Which may or may not end with a concluding boss and mecha fight. For a twelve-hour (personal play through) game this variety is fine and does not become too repetitive as in later levels they start to mutate and the game combines each one for an episode.
In the heat of recording an episode you also get ‘directors instructions’ which are side missions in which its optional to partake in. Where it requires the player to perform specific tasks while battling to increase audience numbers. Which in turn means a bigger cash grab at the end of the episode. This system makes the game more challenging and tests the idea of the player putting more in the game means getting more out of it. It’s a rewarding system that flips the difficulty of a combat scenario and forces the player to be more creative with the movements which they make. Making each battle more interesting for the player.
The ability to do team based attacks adds to the super sentai personality of the game. In which adjacent team members can join an individual team member in taking down a targeted enemy when they’re put down in teamwork mode. If all team members are adjacent to each to each other or surrounding an enemy with teamwork mode on they can initiate a finishing move. If used without the indicator popping up stating ‘finish it’ the player will loose audiences as it was used incorrectly.
Mecha fights can happen on occasion and is an interesting version of rock, paper scissors. With a reliance on luck and before hand preparation it’s a fun little mini game that manages to capture the spectacle of a conclusive mecha fight found in super sentai shows but without its excitement. This is due to it not having as much substance as its tactical counterpart with the team fighting and is less intense. Lacking in some skill and more so on reflexes and luck in the heat of battle. With each turn you click on the attack or defense of choice. Shield/special shield or attack/special attack. Or if you’re turn is finished a quick time event in which you’ll have to press a button to stop the target, aiming for the middle, at a certain point of a horizontal bar. Riveting…
One of the best parts of the game is its presentation. The vibrant pixel art is pure eye candy and detailed to boot. It’s a game that’s easy on the eyes as well as the ears. As vibrant as its color palate the music is fast and jolly and action sequences with ‘Here they come’ being my favorite piece in the official soundtrack. While more creepier or somber soundtracks are perfectly used in corresponding scenes.
The game perfectly represents its narrative tone through its color palate and faithfully recreates the look of a super sentai show in pixel art. The use of the yellow, blue and red throughout the game help mimic the look of objects seen in a show like Power Rangers. As they’re watermark colors of the genre.
With some narrative flaws and somewhat repetitive game play Chroma Squad is held up by its polish and shameless confident style. With the added bonus of great amount of team customization and also managing to meld its narrative perfectly with its moment to moment game play. But not outside of it. Where immersion is broken and the players role as you progress through the narrative becomes ambiguous.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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