With the ongoing Renaissance for indie game developers comes a pill for a deficiency we didn’t even know we had – a chronic lack of tactical sentai sim games. Available now for PC, Chroma Squad, put together by Brazilian Behold Studios, tells the story of five stunt performers who decide to break off from their current Power Rangers-like gig and produce their own show.
So far I’ve only sunk a couple hours into it, but it’s been an enjoyable game with a lot of positives. First off, there’s a considerable amount of customization. You choose your actors and assign them each a role on the squad, like the leader, support character, techie, etc. You can adjust their colors if the traditional Power Rangers’ red-blue-yellow-pink-black aren’t to your liking. Even things like the name of your team and their catchphrases are customizable.
As the game goes on, you’ll also be able to buy or craft armor and weapons. I was pleasantly surprised to see that armor changes the “morphed” appearance of your squad as you upgrade. You’ll also be able to upgrade your giant mech and choose between parts that emphasize certain stats or add extra abilities.
Between episodes, you’ll also receive emails from fans and other individuals – many of which let you choose a response, which then can have consequences. Studio upgrades and marketing decisions are other elements you’ll have access to.
The gameplay has been fun so far. Generally you start off an “episode” with your squad in its normal, plainclothes form. As you use your characters, you’ll gain “Audience” points for performing certain actions. You can also gain Audience by completing objectives assigned at the start of the episode. Once you reach a certain Audience threshold, your Morph ability (or whatever you named it) becomes available. Using this repositions your squad (sometimes the enemies, too), restores their health, and grants them certain bonuses like allowing them to use their weapons and special abilities.
Another interesting combat element is the “Teamwork” action. Each character essentially gets to move and then act once per turn. If you set someone on “Teamwork,” however, they’ll assist their allies by allowing anyone who can reach them to move farther (by helping the ally to flip), or by joining a combo attack with anyone who’s attacking an adjacent enemy. By surrounding an enemy with your whole squad, setting 4 members to “Teamwork,” and attacking with the last, you can execute a special “finishing move” combo.
There are a few other factors to combat, like skills and skill regeneration, but these are the essential points.
So far as story and dialogue go, I have mixed feelings. First, the fact that the game has a big sense of humor makes it light and easy to enjoy. The characters are corny and say a lot of silly things, but some of their jokes are pretty funny.
I’ve also spotted a fair amount of pop cultural references so far, which may please or irritate depending on the individual. I think it’s nicely done, though. My main complaint is that sometimes the English just doesn’t seem natural. I’d guess these guys did their localization in-house (if they localized; not sure if they released in Portuguese too), and while they did a good job, it just feels a little off in some places.
That said, I’ve played a lot of great Japanese games with questionable to poor localization, and I feel like Chroma Squad is ahead of the curve here.
The only story issue that’s bothered me so far is *SPOILER ALERT HERE*:
There’s one episode where you must rescue someone from a monster, and one of the actors suggests casting her sister as the hostage. This is ultimately vetoed in favor of having a male hostage, so as to battle stereotyping. It’s hard to say how serious this bit of silliness is – after all, this is a very light game that tends to make fun of itself. Could be a poke at the type of people who would actually balk at casting a women to be a hostage. Still, I guess I’ve become a little sensitive to SJW messaging in games of late, and I could have done without thinking about it altogether.
+ Lots of customization and studio/squad management
+ Fun tactical combat; simple but interesting
+ Lighthearted story and dialogue
– English feels a little off at times