Chroma Squad comes to us this week from Behold Studios, makers of Knights of Pen and Paper. This time around, Behold has decided to make a combination business management and action RPG game that explores the many tropes surrounding Super Sentai-style shows, which in the western world includes things like Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Let's suit up, battle some kaiju and explore Chroma Squad in this review!
Related Video Before it came out, I loaded up Chroma Squad and showed it off on our YouTube channel:
We originally saw Chroma Squad at SxSW Gaming, where Saulo Camarotti was showing off a prerelease build. Saulo and Behold's press contact Sae hooked us up with a Steam key this week, a few days before release.
Chroma Squad follows the antics of a set of 5 stunt actors working on a popular martial arts program. They capital-H Hate their boss, and so they all agree to walk out and start their own studio. With the help of an abandoned warehouse and a conspicuously lucky brain-in-a-jar prop, they set out to make a better show.
The game itself is divided into two parts. While at the studio, you can outfit and upgrade your actors, your mech, and the studio itself. Once you have everything set up to your liking, you film episodes where the combat sequences are represented as turn-based tactical RPG segments.
The overall story follows the former stunt actors turned studio owners as they brave the trials and tribulations of starting out on their own. There's a definite parallel between the action in game and the story of many indie game studios. You've got to meet fan's expectations and deliver a compelling experience, while dealing with business problems, managing marketing, allocating budgets, and so forth.
There's a total of 5 main "seasons" of the show that tell the story from start to finish. All told, it's around 30 episodes worth of combat.
Along the way, there's a ton of tongue-in-cheek moments, and more fourth wall breaking than you can shake a stick at. Fans of Super Sentai style shows will probably get a lot more of the references than non-fans. There are also a lot of Kickstarter backer callouts and cameos, which is probably fun for them but not for a lot of others.
It can sometimes become hard to separate the story of the stunt actors and their studio from the storylines that their show is about. The dialog often switches back and forth between the two, and often the problems are intertwined as well. This makes the story somewhat confusing, so it pays to just not take it seriously and roll with it.
Chroma Squad's studio interface is a somewhat simple business management simulator. Income comes in from filming episodes, and you can allocate funds towards various upgrades.
You've got the studio itself, which can be upgraded to give special benefits during combat sequences. These upgrades require lump sum cash and then cost you per episode filmed. For instance, you might purchase a "healthcare" upgrade which gives your actors bonus health.
Some of your budget can be spent on marketing. Different marketing agencies unlock as you progress, and you can pay them to unlock bonuses, which normally effect how much money and how many fans you gain from a successful episode.
Pro Tip As you gain fans, your marketing dollars go further. The various benefits from each agency can only be activated up to a limit determined by the number of fans you have. Thus, sometimes it doesn't pay to over-spend on marketing, as the more expensive agencies require more fans to get the most out of them.
There's also the matter of your actors' equipment. Their suits and weapons can be bought or crafted from materials you find when fighting enemies. Simple gear might just be a plastic bucket and some duct tape, but as you move through the seasons the available cash and materials expand to allow you to build much more professional looking props.
Pro Tip You can combine weaker upgrade materials into more powerful materials in the crafting screen. Although the ratios aren't great, it can sometimes be enough to get you one really good piece of gear, which can mean the difference between a successful episode and a failure.
Finally, there's the mecha. Using cardboard and tape in various configurations, you can build parts that give special properties during mecha vs kaiju fights. Parts can give passive bonuses as well as unlock active skills.
As the show progresses, new options unlock in all of these areas. This serves as the primary way in which you become more powerful - there's no experience or levels for the actors. Instead, they get more powerful as their gear becomes stronger and the studio bonuses start to pile up.
I generally enjoyed the business management side of the game, although I found it a bit simplistic. I was playing on the "normal" difficulty and found that I usually had so much cash that I could buy all the upgrades as soon as they unlocked. Thus, there weren't a lot of interesting choices to be made - I just grabbed the best of everything right away.
Some of the equipment interfaces make it easy to compare your current gear against what you're trying to buy/build, but others don't. There's a lot of painful swapping between menus to see if a particular piece of gear is better than what you have.
It's Morphin' Time!
The second half of the game is where you'll be spending most of your time. Once an episode starts, you'll have to guide your stunt actors through the scene, keeping them healthy and the audience interested while pummeling the bad guys into submission.
The more cool tricks you do - team acrobatics, skill use, etc, the more audience you draw in. This audience translates to fans and cash after the episode is over. In addition to just decimating your opponents, there are also secondary objectives, called "Director's Instructions," which can be completed for an audience boost. These are sometimes tricky, but the rewards are often worth it.
During the episode, there's usually a threshold you have to reach before you can "Chromatize" and don your trademark spandex suits. Once you've Chromatized, each character gains access to their special skills and weapons. Each team member has a role, which determines what set of skills they have and what specific weapons they can use.
Pro Tip When you Chromatize, all your squad members are healed, and they will walk to whoever was active when the button was pushed. This move doesn't cost you anything, so you can use this to get your heroes in position early on, for example.
One of the more unique elements of Chroma Squad's combat is the Teamwork aspect. Each team member can choose to end their turn in a "Teamwork" pose, which allows them to join forces with other team members. Teamwork allows your squad to fight together versus a common foe, or it can allow your squad to work together to move much further in a turn than would normally be possible. Teamwork, along with the right gear and skill combos, is essential to success.
Pro Tip When your Assist uses Teamwork, they will heal any of your other squad members in neighboring squares. You can move your squad around before your Assist uses Teamwork to maximize this benefit. However, note that the Assist won't heal themselves.
Teamwork attacks combine the power of two or more squad members to devastating effect. Against bosses, you can even bring your whole squad to bear on a single attack. This causes a special finishing move animation to play. Doing a finishing move that doesn't kill an enemy actually costs you audience, so be sure that you can kill before you use it. Boss monsters will get a "Finish It" star over their head when they are ready.
Pro Tip If you have a weapon and use it to attack, other squad members who are set to use Teamwork can also use weapons, assuming their weapons are ready to fire. This helps in a couple of ways - one is that squad members with ranged weapons will hit with them as long as they're in range. Second, if all of your squad members have their weapons ready, and you use them all in the same team attack, you'll get an extra special animation.
One thing I thoroughly enjoyed was the soundtrack. Especially in combat, the music is awesome. I found myself really jamming out to the battle music.
The tactical combat is fun and didn't feel tired through all 30 or so episodes I played to get to the end. It's not as deep as, say, Final Fantasy Tactics or XCOM: Enemy Unknown. There's not really that many situations where height, line of sight, or cover come into play. There's also a rather limited set of ability choices as well. Still, it's executed well and manages to capture the appeal of shows like Power Rangers with choreographed combat and silly rubber suited bad guys.
I'll Form the Head
Sometimes, though, punching stuff and doing backflips just won't cut it against the forces of evil. When the really big monsters come out to play, it's time for a mecha vs. kaiju segment. Chroma Squad's mecha vs. kaiju combat is handled as a pretty simple turn-based game with quick time events. It's somewhat similar to the Paper Mario RPG style of gameplay.
When it's your turn, you can order the mecha to punch, defend, or use a special skill. The more you punch, the higher the combo, and the more damage each punch does. However, your chance to hit plummets. Missing or using most special skills ends your turn.
On the enemy turn, the kaiju will wind up its attacks, and your defense depends on timing your block. Time it perfectly and most of the damage will be mitigated. Kaiju also have special skills they can use to hit much harder and inflict status ailments.
Overall, the mecha segments are fun and add a change of pace from the normal turn based combat that happens during episodes. They're not especially varied, but neither are the giant robot combat sequences they're based on.
I'll Squash You Like a Bug!
There are a few issues I had with Chroma Squad. Some of these I've mentioned already - occasionally the interface is sub-optimal or doesn't explain itself well. There are a few translation bugs here and there, although they're relatively minor and I am willing to be they'll be fixed quickly.
Like I said, the story is a bit hit or miss at times, owing in part to the game's loose separation between the different stories it is trying to tell. If you get the references and/or you were a Kickstarter backer, you'll probably have more fun with it than if you don't.
A few times I ran into bugs that broke secondary objectives. I never had a crash to desktop, but I did encounter one game-breaking bug in the final mission that made me have to replay the level a total of 3 times to get through - and that mission is long.
Chroma Squad is a darn fun game. It takes aspects of several different game genres and blends them with a deep appreciation of Super Sentai style plots and pacing. It's consistently silly, balancing over the top dialog, ridiculous enemies and crazy plots with a firmly tongue-in-cheek playfulness. It's got a few issues, which I hope will be resolved quickly with patches. There's nothing fundamentally broken here, and what is busted is unlikely to ruin your experience.