The long-beloved Japanese TV tradition of tokusatsu (serialized Japanese television utilizing intensive effects – literally special filming) has persisted in America at least since our dads watched Ultraman growing up, but it arguably took the strongest hold on our shores in the 90s with the advent of Power Rangers and its various offshoots/imitators (I was always terribly fond of Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad, myself). Colorfully dressed sentai warriors doing battle with floppy rubber monstrosities while firework explosions detonated and inaccurately dubbed dialogue provided flimsy excuses for what we watched – needless to say, children everywhere were immediately enthralled. But have you ever wondered exactly how much work must go into these things, no matter how shoestring the budget?
Enter Chroma Squad, a recent Kickstarter success story from Behold Studios, creator of previous 24-hour game jam titles like Monster Jam and Bit Bit Machine. Chroma Squad places you both in the shoes of the director of a tokusatsu series and in the cheaply-made spandex uniforms of its heroes. Part business sim and part turn-based strategy game, Chroma Squad asks you to balance budgets, enhance props and special effects, and round up more viewers through persistent advertisement and responding to the wishes of the fanbase.
‘Balancing’ is the name of the game here in all aspects, and the early beta build we were provided pulls it off quite well. The heart of any good strategy title is the combat, and Chroma Squad provides some fun twists on the formula. In the style of most turn-based games after the original PlayStation era, combat takes place on a grid, where character speed indicates turn order and proper placement usually wins the day. But in a few twists almost reminiscent of the recent Mario & Luigi RPG series, teamwork, timing, and…awesome poses are your true key to success. Pairing up different characters near each other enables team attacks of varying types, striking awesome coordinated battle poses enables health regeneration and stat buffering, and under the right conditions you can perform a good old-fashioned morph sequence wherein your team of teenagers with attitude all become the heroic Chroma Squad (or whatever you choose to name them – the team members, team name, and production studio name are all modifiable at the start).
So the fighting is fun, but if I’m being honest I almost had more fun with the simulation aspects. Similar to XCOM, Chroma Squad breaks up the action with hints of business simulation, but in this case you have to gain commercial sponsors and viewers, which is way more fun than trying to pacify the United Nations. Everything you do between “episodes” (the game’s name for missions) affects your characters’ performance, equipment, and funding. Hiring the right advertisement team will help spread the word and give you a bigger audience per episode, and responding to the humorous pseudo-Twitter posts that you receive after each episode will keep the audience interested. This in turn leads to more money for your production, which allows the crafting of better equipment and special effects – this leads to more people watching, and so on and so forth.
Other than the adorable art style (and charmingly clumsy dialogue, which may very well have been intentional) I think my favorite part of Chroma Squad is how well everything works together, even in this early build. A strategy game where you control a pack of colorful Japanese superheroes would have been fun. A simulation game where you manage the studio producing a television show of said superheroes would also have been great. The fact that they’ve been blended together so well is terribly impressive, and worth looking at by any fan of strategy games, management sims, VR Troopers, or any combination thereof. How many other games are going to give you a chance to pretend to be both Zordon AND Jerry Bruckheimer? If that last sentence sounded fun (or even made sense) to you, then try out the Chroma Squad beta now on Steam, and keep an eye out for the full game later this year.