Welcome to "A Fantastic Pop!", American Fantastic's pop culture blog. I am also mirroring A Fantastic Pop on blogger so that more people can find out about the website, and so I can also follow other pop culture blogs. So if you like this blog and you're also on Blogger, please spread the word among your friends and invite them to check out the main site here. My goal is to write about examples of pop culture that I enjoy, that helps inspire me as an artist, or at least helps me enjoy my time as a human being.
My name is John Beechem, and I am the Editor-in-Chief of American Fantastic. But enough of that, time to write about Chroma Squad!
Launch trailer for Chroma Squad
If you're a millenial like me, or even someone who was semi-conscious during the 1990's, you remember Saban's Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. For the uninitiated, MMPR was a live-action, costumed martial arts show about a group of American teens who teamed up to take on all kinds of cosmic threats, often in the form of strange monsters with weird outfits designed on a tight deadline but a decent budget. The show also had giant mechs, dinosaur themed weapons, hunky teens, and never took itself too seriously. After the action animation boom of the 80s and early 90s (G.I. Joe, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) MMPR was a live-action karate extravaganza that gave energy to the imaginations of all kinds of kids.
Photo still from Saban's Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Chroma Squad takes the basic concept of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and turns it into a squad-based tactical strategy game with a meta-narrative concept: instead of being in the literal roles of the fictional characters, the player plays the role of the actors themselves who've splintered from their universe's version of MMPR to create their own T.V. show, Chroma Squad. This is an excellent way to pay homage to Saban's T.V. show while also keeping the concept fresh for gamers today.
Behold Studios does an excellent job of crafting a tight, challenging, but not too difficult squad based strategy game for fans of the show and tactics-strategy gamers alike. When MMPR was on the air, I didn't even like it. I was slightly too old for it, and felt the costumes were too cheesy and the action was on the wrong side of goofy. But now, I can look back and see it for the silliness it embodies, and Behold takes this concept and runs with it, balancing the eccentric concept of a live-action, kids sci-fi martial arts epic with the tight gameplay of a well-done tactics-strategy game.
So let's get into nuts and bolts. How does Chroma Squad look and play? The game looks quite charming with colorful, pixelated graphics and neat little touches like a loading screen that looks like a staticy T.V. (they've even curved the corners as the game loads to recreate the look of a tube T.V. set on your flat-screen monitor). Animation is smooth, the tiles of movement and action are laid out in a way that's easy to understand, and the epic mech fights at the end of some stages have the same kind of of zoomed out look of the MMPR or Tojo (Godzilla) cityscape fights. Cut scenes are well done too, played out on the same isometric map as the missions themselves, but with comic book speech bubble dialogue. The music is enjoyable, and the sound is retro but effective.
Strategy Tactics Gameplay against some silver henchmen
For fans of tactic-strategy games, you'll get what you'd expect. You can choose your difficulty, from easy to difficult. I chose average, and winning the missions (so far) has been fairly easy. Where the challenge comes in is fulfilling optional mission specific goals, such as clearing enemies in a certain number of rounds or defeating the boss with a finishing move. This keeps the gameplay challenging, and fulfilling these optional objectives is no hollow reward: increased experience and loot makes meeting these goals well worth the effort. The game doesn't have the deep complexity of Final Fantasy Tactics, but for an indie studio, that's understandable. And the game's remarkable charm and low price tag ($15) more than make up for this. As a busy adult who only has a few hours for gaming a week, this gives the game a pick-up and play feel, as individual missions usually don't drag on for more than a half hour.
Aside from the tactics gameplay, players can spend as much time as they'd like between missions crafting items, deciding which skills they'd like their characters to use, purchasing improvements for their television studio, improving their mech, and equipping gear. The game is deeply customizable too: players can use the default crew, or create their own characters from scratch, going so far as to create original catch-phrases, show names, studio names, and other opportunities for originality. Players can choose the episodes they'd like to play next, and the choices involved as the game plays out offer multiple endings. And I can't say enough of this game's charm. The "tweets" you read from fans after each episode are a neat touch that make you feel engaged with these imaginary fans you're struggling so hard to earn.
Those post-mission victory tweets
So if you're looking for an excellent tactics-strategy game that won't break the bank, or want to relive a little bit of your childhood, give Chroma Squad a try. It'll keep you well-entertained for a game-filled weekend, or stretch it out for a few weeks if you're strapped for time like I am. Behold Studios is an independent video game developer who funded their project through Kickstarter, so if you're a fan of independent media, that's another reason to give the game a try.
Thanks for reading, and keep checking back for more updates from A Fantastic Pop! May the forces of good continue to triumph, as chromatic and pixelated as they care to be.