Even though my generation waxes nostalgic about Mighty Morphin Power Rangers at the drop of a hat, I think we can admit that story was never its strong suit. The first season alone has 60 episodes; perhaps fifteen of them advance the paper-thin plot. No, the fun part about Power Rangers was watching just enough to gather the basic setup for creating your own adventures with the toys. Chroma Squad, from Brazilian indie developer Behold Studios, is a Power Rangers toybox for adults — and it’s a pretty darn entertaining strategy/role-playing game, to boot.
With its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, Chroma Squad debuted on Steam a few years ago, and while it’s admittedly a niche title, it’s everything its target audience wanted it to be. The game follows a team of five stuntmen (you can customize them) who are tired of being stand-ins for the big stars in a Power Rangers-style show. They strike out on their own, armed with SD cameras, cardboard props and a shoestring budget — but soon find themselves wrapped up in what could be a real intergalactic adventure.
Chroma Squad is (finally) available for PS4, Xbox One, Android and iOS ($15 on consoles; $5 on mobile) in addition to PC, and if “satirical Power Rangers strategy/RPG” alone doesn’t sell you, maybe a few thoughts on the game’s other features will.
Behold Studios isn’t just channeling ‘90s pop culture; Chroma Squad embraces old-school video game aesthetics as well. Save for its incredible color palette, Chroma Squad would have looked right at home on the NES. The game’s catchy chiptunes are easy on the ears, and there’s even a super-sentai-style intro song, complete with zany, badly translated lyrics.
The gameplay itself is, weirdly enough, half management sim and half strategy/RPG, but the combination works better than you might think. The combat sections are pretty straightforward: Control your team of stuntmen, each of whom has a different skill set, as they do battle with henchmen, bosses and giant rubber monsters. (Naturally, you get your own giant robot, too.)
Each battle earns you both money and fans (who will proclaim their love for you on Twitter in increasingly unhinged ways). Money will buy gear for your characters, or studio upgrades, such as better cameras (more audience members), workshops (crafting upgrades) and even health insurance for your actors (more HP, naturally). You can even sign on with PR firms to leverage your audience outreach for a variety of bonuses.
Every part of the management sim is fodder for silly jokes (such as entrusting your PR to crazy family friends, or getting fan mail from conspiracy theorists — who turn out to be right), but it also makes Chroma Squad a much deeper game than it might appear at first glance.
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The real joy of Chroma Squad lies in its customization potential. When you start the game, you can choose your characters and determine their costume colors. If you wanted an all-female team of Various-Shades-of-Blue Rangers, there’s nothing stopping you. You can name your giant robot, kit out your characters with various weapons and even invent a catch phrase for your team when it transforms. By the end of the game, you will have a Chroma Squad (or whatever you want to call it) that feels uniquely yours.
One thing that surprised me about Chroma Squad was just how much effort Behold Studios put into the story. I had expected a lighthearted narrative about a team of misfits who wind up in over their heads and have to rise to the occasion — and in fairness, I got one. What I didn’t expect was a fairly fleshed-out cosmic mythology, complete with ancient betrayals, romantic subplots and choices with tangible consequences.
Chroma Squad has three different endings, but phrasing it that way actually sells the game short. These three endings aren’t just based on dialogue choices or your performance in battle. Instead, right before the final act, players have to make a critical plot decision, and its outcome changes the entire structure of the game’s last half-dozen missions. Whether you want a traditional “sixth ranger” plot, a “galactic policemen” adventure or a “lone hero on a mission” arc, you can get it.
The game even a little bit of emotional resonance. Without spoiling anything, every once in a while, Chroma Squad brushes up (maybe accidentally?) against a serious point: What we love, even if it’s just a nostalgic TV show, helps shape who we are, and that’s not a bad thing.
The game isn’t that deep — the tortuous final mission in particular overstays its welcome, and you can unlock every upgrade without too much trouble. Still, Chroma Squad can help you recapture the afternoon joy of martial arts, goofy monsters and giant mechs for eight to 10 hours without having to sit through those interminable 60 episodes again. Nostalgia is a double-edged sword.