Put on your best superhero costume and get ready to channel the likes of your favorite actors: Chroma Squad flamboyantly struts onto the Nintendo Switch studio floor leaning heavily on all of us old people’s nostalgia and love for the Power Rangers. Chroma Squad does little to hide its inspiration and never takes itself too seriously, which may come off as feeling “too meta” as the Chroma Squad drama unfolds. Controlling a squad of Power Ranger-like characters in turn-based strategic battle is a dream come true- as long as you can tolerate the occasional doldrums and gameplay elements that feel out of place or extraneous. Let’s suit up and take a look at what makes Chroma Squad great- and bloated- all at the same time.
Go Go Chroma Squad
Chroma Squad puts you at the head of managing a hit new television studio where it’s your choice on what studio upgrades to buy, which items to craft, and even how to respond to studio fan mail. We all know television shows are episodic, and it’s no different for Chroma Squad. The game consists of numerous seasons which contain a variety of episodes. Upon completing these episodes you will earn money, which can then be utilized to craft or purchase new items. Similarly, this wouldn’t be a television show if fans didn’t play a part. Fans are earned by successfully completing each episode and by completing the optional director’s side quests. These are the currencies that power Chroma Squad.
The combat gameplay doesn’t start until the cameras are rolling! Each episode is its own turn-based strategic battle, complete with an accompanying storyline, where you get to decisively utilize Chroma Squad’s abilities to defeat the forces of evil. During these battles, you will get the opportunity to show Chroma Squad fans your sweet stunt-person moves against a cast of similarly-radical bad guys. Your wits and abilities alone are not enough for Chroma Squad to succeed, however- the game has a large variety of weapons and items that you can both purchase from the shop and craft yourself. Of course, all of this is cleverly done within the context of recording a television show. Your sword is not really a sword, but a prop that was assembled with some tape with cardboard and those bad guys are really actors. After completing each season, new studio upgrades, shop items and craft recipes become available, which keeps Chroma Squad progressing forward, even though it becomes a bit of a boring slog somewhere between the start and the finish.
Strategic Turn-Based Battles
Chroma Squad feels like a very mixed bag. You control your highly specialized team of actors, each having their own unique abilities to aid you in battle. The battles are quite fun during the later levels of the game, after you have acquired new abilities and cool items to use against your enemies or buff your fellow teammates. Yet, the whole battle system itself comes off as very one-note and unoriginal when first starting out, with not very much to do other than move across the screen, performing the occasional flip. While I realize this is synonymous with a new television studio starting out, Chroma Squad is still a game that has to be engaging and fun, and a large part of the fun is using all the cool abilities and wrecking enemies with high-level items.
Often, I see squad-based games where it feels like a member or two are tacked on for good measure because they offer a unique support skill or have a devastating attack. Chroma Squad does a superb job at making everyone feel like part of the team, which also just so happens to be one of the overarching themes found throughout the story. When battling, you have the opportunity to not take an action and perform a teamwork action: this will allow other teammates to stunt-flip off the teamwork player, reaching farther distances than you normally are allowed to move, or perform a devastating combined attack. This is also the key to unleashing the final strike- essentially the finishing move from the ending part of a Power Rangers episode- where the team comes together and simultaneously strikes the bad guy down in some fantastic fashion.
It’s Imagination Time!
Some episodes in Chroma Squad contain a gigantic mech battle- yes, the same kind of battle as you would see once the Power Ranger’s enter their Megazords. The mech battles are also turn-based, as you get to choose from a pre-defined set of actions based on the upgrades purchased for your mech. These battles rely on chaining hit combinations via a quick-time-event-like button pressing slog. At least, this is what the majority of my mech battles turned into. Timed button pressing wasn’t fun, and didn’t feel really challenging as long as you could press buttons at the right time. Although it thematically fits Chroma Squad and (as we all know) makes for a pretty epic television show, it didn’t make for engaging gameplay. I would have much rather preferred if they skipped this entire feature and further fleshed out nearly anything else, as choosing between Chroma Squad item and mech upgrades made me feel like I couldn’t do both efficiently.
Choices, Choices, Choices?
As the storyline of Chroma Squad advances, you are given numerous choices in the form of email responses. While I have definitely made what feels like a lot of choices in Chroma Squad, I’m not sure if they ever made any impact. A few of these choices are quite obviously key narrative developments, but the others possessed uncertain results. I’m not sure whether to write them off as story filler, studio theme elements, or actual story driving decisions, but this lack of clarity feels like a failed opportunity. I feel that these choices are another facet of Chroma Squad gameplay that adds to the overall theme, but fails to provide any meaningful gameplay enhancement for the player. Combined with the sluggish mid-point of the story, I was often left wondering when my decisions were going to have some sort of narrative payoff.
Despite this, the more I played Chroma Squad, the more I liked it. The story transformed from cardboard television show props to galactic alien technology, and I was totally ready to lay waste to bad guys with my new abilities and items. Before all those cool moments happened, however, it felt like I had to suffer through an obtuse and lackluster middle section where it felt like nothing important or major occured. The pacing of Chroma Squad is decrepit, and could have easily been halved in favor of encouraging additional playthroughs. The story can be a bit too in-your-face with all its meta-commentary, but that’s only a minor annoyance compared to the boring repetitive mech battles- I’d like to do nearly anything else than play quick time events for 10 minutes. Thankfully, you end up spending most of your time battling bad guys on foot, using all the items and juicy abilities Chroma Squad has on display. Overall, Chroma Squad is a decent enough turn-based strategy game, bogged down with unnecessary features and slow pacing that do nothing more than nearly destroy its charms.