Published/Developed by Behold Studios
Platform(s): Windows, Linux & Mac. To Be Announced for XBox One, Playstation 3/4 and Vita
Steam for $14.99 CDN -|- GOG.com for $14.99 USD (DRM Free)
Consider also: Chroma Squad Soundtrack on Steam or Bandcamp
Power Rangers, Saban’s imitation of the sentai hero genre in Japan, is a formative experience for most of us in the 1990s and have continued to this very day. Over a dozen variants of the rainbow spectrum suited warriors have left an indelible mark on western culture. Chroma Squad captures that nostalgia with an imperfect experience, but memorable gameplay and undeniable warmth of heart.
You guide five stunt actors who have decided to strike out on their own and start their own sentai-themed television show. The cutesy pixel art belies an RTS with chops. On a hexagonal map, positioning is vital, and team attacks will take the sting out of odds out of your favour. You’re always outnumbered and usually outgunned. Thankfully, character skills both active and passive couple effectively with a difficulty setting that can be adjusted at any point during gameplay.
Dialogue is both cheesy and self aware, but not self depreciating. Absurd and amusing enemies (a man in a barrel, seriously… ) belie the challenge they’re going to give you, and the playful story is both deeper in plot and commentary than it appears to be at first glance. In fact, the difficulty options are an effective balance of challenge and fun. ‘Casual’ grants you access to the story without any real fear of loss; ‘Interesting’ means you’ve got to play attention; ‘Challenging’ is punishing enough for seasoned RTS players.
The soundtrack, in chipmusic and synth-1990s style, is varied and reminiscent of period pop music more than the rock that Saban popularized adapting the genre to suit western sensibilities. Raphael Muller and Washington Rayk have no minor achievement on their hands, standing alone as a worthwhile addition to any game music enthusiast’s library. Melodies interwoven with enthusiastic percussive sounds and effects combat music that can wear out its welcome, executed by lesser talent.
Chroma Squad’s combat is not to be underestimated, but it does have its flaws. Those accustomed to a genre that can be grindy may be pleased to learn that your characters automatically gain new abilities after each episode which you are sometimes able to choose between. Unfortunately you aren’t notified of this, which can lead to unusuable abilities because they require certain weapons to function. A tutorial, or warning at least, would do a lot to migitate confusion about these requirements.
Prefer a high counter rate and skill regen? Or perhaps you want the vertible damage sponge. A wide variety of crafted and purchased gear grants your choice, if you’ve got the material, and funds. There’s the rub; available funds for upgrades are determined by battle performance which gains audience and earns you cash and drops critical for your team. How do do this? Perform team attacks, skills, final strikes. Each level has a maximum audience and you are usually adequately rewarded.
Side quests are perhaps unnecessary in so short a title, but they could afford the chance to acquire components for gear after a poor performance has left you lacking. Especially with a single save system that doesn’t provide for backtracking. There is an element of iron man gaming here, where lackluster performance has a lasting impact on the rest of your gameplay, limiting your options going forward. There is no effective way to make up the difference.
Of course, changing the difficulty does much to address that issue which is likely to affect those who are going to stubbornly hold to one setting. This is a missed opportunity to add content to a game that does not overstay its welcome. It is a nice change of pace from games that exploit the DLC paradigm by adding superficial missions with no quantitative content.
At the end of the day, this is a fun game with a charming aesthetic, thematic and memorable chip/synth music. Combat can become a little wrote; enemies vary little and the laundry list of objectives is woefully short. However, it does not become tiresome. Chroma Squad is not ashamed of its tropes, but executes them in a competent way that will have you coming back for each episode to see how everything turns out in the end.
What’s fun: Combat is energetic, easy to learn and fun to master. The soundtrack is a separate purchase and well worth adding to your library. The story is well written and though light hearted, puts a lot of faith in the player. Perhaps the popularity of this game will warrant more missions and/or game modes to look forward to. The visual appeal of this game goes a long way toward redeeming its flaws.
What’s not: Boy, that’s a tough one. Few games put ‘have a blast’ into their description, but Chroma Squad did just that. A little more exposition in the form of tutorial for the nuances of stat balancing and skill selection would improve accessibility for players who love the theme, or gameplay style, but are nervous first timers. Consider a game like Chess, with every piece on the board and the mechanic of each easily explained. Console players, especially, would be encouraged with a little heads up about these systems.
Verdict: Buy this game at full price at Steam, GOG.com and in the near future, your console’s digital storefront. It may look like a fan tribute to bucket helmeted heros, but under the coloured suits is a solid RTS with a heart of gold.