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May 5, 2017

Chroma Squad (Part 1)

Time for another Steam game! I’m pretty sure we can all relate to this: You see a game that interests you – maybe it looks nice, maybe it’s curiosity, maybe you just don’t want to lose the link because you want to buy it once you’ve got money to spend… Some games get added to your wishlist, others leave it. In the end, you have a few dozen games you wish you could afford, so you end up purchasing only the cheaper ones… even if they’re in the 5$ to 20$ price range.

I was never into that series, but I see its appeal.
One could say it disqualifies me from talking about a game
that is all about this sort of show... but I disagree!
That was my case with Chroma Squad. I wasn’t quite sure what to think of that game, whose trailer began with a live-action spoof of the Sentai (or Tokusatsu) genre; you know, Power Rangers and all those similar shows that involve heroes in bright colors fighting silly monsters, often facing similar giant-sized creatures with their own huge mecha. I’ve never really been a fan of Sentai series, oddly enough; the grand campiness would turn me off. Still, these series have large fanbases, with some particularly dedicated fans willing to discuss every themed season of the genre’s most famous titles. By the way, hi Linkara, when’s the next History of Power Rangers?

Good thing there was this
conveniently empty field
so close to the city, huh?
Plus, the mere concept that these villains have usually access to a giant monster of their own, but always start off battling the colorful heroes on their level. And I’m supposed to believe that villains aiming to conquer/destroy the world have a sense of honor? Honor, my ass. If I was a villain, I’d try to stomp the Rainbow Spandex Five with a giant monster from the start. If I was a hero… I’d bring out the robot from the get-go and save the world in a single stomp. Hey, if it kills the enemy in one fell swoop, and prevents the potential destruction caused by two giant combatants in the middle of a city… It’s the results that matter, right?

Today’s game takes place directly in the camp and colorful world of Sentai shows. Or rather, it’s a game about making a Sentai show. Managing the resources, equipment, advertising, costumes, and the actors’ paychecks. That’s the management sim part. The action RPG comes in the next part, where the actors film their show – using regular punch attacks, weapon attacks, and special moves, all taking attack, defense, HP into consideration. Actually, the game kicks it up a notch, with equipment affecting the number of squares each character can move, their critical hit chance, their counterattack chance, and many other factors that make you wonder if they’re attempting to emulate tabletop RPGs as well.

Actually, that’s exactly what it feels like: A mix between tabletop and video game RPGs. Gear up, prepare your tight Ranger costumes – with helmets – and meet me in the fantastic and often not-so-fantastic world of TV show production!

This looks like a very professional set. It should be
a satisfying place to work in... but nope! Let's start our own!
The game begins at a random studio where our five characters act as stuntmen for a Sentai show. We’re explained how the game works; on each turn, we can move twice, or move once and attack. Each character can also announce Teamwork, and that character will stop moving – but can be used to perform team acrobatics that will allow another team member to reach further than they normally could. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Sentai show without a cheesy-as-Hell team attack system, so you can position your heroes around one enemy, make them announce Teamwork, and attack with another – and the target enemy will receive higher damage from all the heroes attacking it at once. If all five attack the same enemy at the same time, we get the team’s super duper powerful finishing move… however you want to call it. You can have the lead say “Maximum Effort”, “I like banana splits!” or “Yo Mama!” as the call for the finishing move, the game doesn’t care, you're the one to set it up. Dissatisfied with the direction this particular show is taking – there aren’t even any giant robot fights! – the five leave, with the costumes they should have left behind, and set out to create their own show.

"This thing looks too high-tech to be just a prop."
"That's exactly why they make it so real-looking!"
But first, they need a place to turn into a set; and they find one, an abandoned warehouse. Second, they need a mysterious entity that will serve as both mission control, mentor, and freaky element. Turns out, there’s a giant brain with spikes in a jar filled with a pink liquid, hidden under a drape in that warehouse! Sheesh, that’s lucky! And its name is Cerebro, too, how fortunate, we don’t even need to make up our own name! The thing can recite text-to-speech messages, so the group can use it as the big mentor in their show. The team leaves to gather materials in order to start work… but what’s that? Their ancient TV director has followed them, seen Cerebo, and decided he wanted it? I sense a rivalry here!

We have our own set. Now, we can decide what the actors looks like; up till now, they were always in costume. There’s the five classic Sentai roles: The lead (leader), the techie (inventor), the assault (tough attacker), the scout (speedy one) and the assist (healer/white mage). You can pick the actor for every role (taking into account the salary demanded, and the stat changes each actor brings into the role), and then set a name and a defining color for each actor’s character in the show. The actors? Among them, we can pick: An anthropomorphic dog, a robot, an alien, a few Kickstarter backers (yeah, this game exists thanks to Kickstarter – that’s really awesome), some famous and less famous actors... and loads of referential humor. However, do not take these decisions lightly – you won’t be able to change the team once it’s set.

The game will use every single name you’ve set up; your studio's name, your show’s name, the TV show characters’ names… all will be used. Even better, you can set up the various catchphrases that become a part of the show – like the Lead’s battle cry when they go out for some action, and what they yell when launching their finishing move. That’s really great.

Okay, time for the actual game! First we get the management simulator part. In it, you have five options:
-Shop (to buy weapons, armor, helmets, boots, etc.)
-Crafting (Buy materials and resources, combine them to create better materials, and craft them to build weapons, armor, helmet, boots, etc.)
-Marketing (Hire a Marketing company that will have some direct effect on your characters’ stats, and also on the rewards at the end of an episode. After a while, you can use your fans to gain even more bonuses!)
-Studio (improve the various tools, whether it’s better microphones, cameras, green screens, work benches… you can even get a partnership with a local shop to boost audiences! The local KFC parody will be happy to provide free chicken wings for the team!)
-Mecha (Build your own friggin’ mecha! Okay, a fake one, since you can build it out of cardboard and stuff… but that’s okay, after all, it’s just a show, right?)
-Actors (view each actor’s stats and bonuses; change around their set of special abilities, or modify their equipment)

Always keep in mind the current budget you’ve got. You cannot overspend the budget you have – but rest assured that you’ll have a bigger budget with every episode filmed, as your show gains in popularity and your contracts offer greater rewards.

Talking out-of-character about the show, while acting as their
own characters while filming the show, should be a big no-no.
And yet, they do it all the time.

Okay, let’s start with the Opening Episode! I find it rather comical how the members of the team keep on discussing out-of-character about the show itself, while they’re literally on-set, filming, and should be in-character. They bring the art of fourth wall-breaking to unprecedented heights; Heck, by the end I think they’ll be breaking the 64th wall.

Here are some things to keep in mind when an episode is being filmed:
100 out of 4,000? Let's keep it up, guys!
We're 2.5% on the way to the top!
-Doing some things, whether it’s acrobatics, special moves or reviving a comrade, will increase the audience for an episode. Each episode has a maximum audience, and you must try to reach that amount each time. Some things will also decrease an audience, like when a team member is defeated.
-The best way to gather an audience, however, is to complete the director’s instructions. Kind of like episode-centric achievements, these will make more people talk about the show and watch it. These instructions range from “let no character die” to “attack the boss on every turn”, passing by “Let no character go under 50% health”, “Defeat the boss with a finishing move”, and so on. These can be tricky every now and then, but they’re worth it.
-The audience you make at the end of an episode will convert into a certain number of fans. The more popular your show gets, the more fans you have, and that translates into additional rewards.

I see a squirrel, a pigeon and a turtle. You'd argue that
turtles aren't usually among the city vermins, but...
let's not drop this chance of making a reference!
You’ll soon notice a theme among the mooks that pop up during an episode; they’re all based on city vermin animals. Squirrels, raccoons, pigeons, mice, turtles (and yes, they’re ninjas, but no word on whether they’re mutant or teenage). I gotta say, that’s a pretty clever theme. As for the bosses, they follow the Sentai tradition of monsters with themes, even the most ridiculous themes you can think of. The first actual boss here? It’s a living box! It’s a living cardboard box! And of course, every boss is cracking puns around their theme, because of course they do. I can’t complain, I like puns. Although, a cardboard box… That’s pretty damn silly. But then again… Sentai shows ARE goofy, I think it’s one of the requirements. No matter how dark they can get, they stay silly. Can’t really go “Dark like the DCMU” when your main characters go around in flashy jumpsuits. Even the recent Power Rangers movie had a lot of silliness, apparently.

Season 1 sees the group, as an all-new production team, trying to make a name for themselves on this competitive market. Things are rough, but they can count on many friends willing to play the part of the various animal-themed mooks. Not to mention the often utterly ridiculous ideas for villains. I'd have to be paid a lot of money to wear some of the sillier boss costumes we see here. Of course, not all monsters die the first time they’re defeated…

Villains turning giant is a common trope of Tokusatsu series; one that also conveniently explains why they don’t start with the giant monster. For some unfathomable reason, when certain bosses are defeated for the first time, they go down… and then teleport away to turn giant. Like a form of second wind caused by the resurrection. I call bullcrap on that, it makes no sense, but hey – it’s a staple of that kind of show, therefore our Chroma Squad follows the trope to a T!

As a result, some of the episodes will include a giant battle. Instead of the usual isometric RPG battles, we switch to a 2D fight between the team’s paper mache Mecha and the monster of the week. You select actions for your mecha – usually trying to create combos out of them – and must deplete all three of the boss’s life bars. You have only one such life bar, but if you lose all of your mecha’s Hit Points, you can use your fanbase as a secondary life bar – literally, being superstars is what saves you! One slightly annoying, but understandable, aspect of these battles is that your combo chance starts close to 100% and decreases by 10% with every successful punch or attack. The odds of getting large combos of 4 or more becomes quite unlikely as time goes – and your turn ends when you miss or use a very special attack. After the giant monster is defeated, the stuntmen film the episode’s ending, and then we get the rewards.

Lord Gaga: Can we trust him? I'm not even sure he'd
be a good singer, the one Gaga in pop that we currently
have is already pretty damn good.
The episode’s audience is converted in a number of new fans, the actors get more money based on their performance (Again, the Director’s Instructions help quite a bit, if you can complete them), and then we can improve the studio, equipment, mecha and advertising. The enemies defeated during filming will often drop materials that can then be used to upgrade clothes, weapons and so on.

After a very successful first season, the quintet is called by a producer who goes by the moniker Lord Gaga (any resemblance in name with people, famous or not, living or dead, male or female, is either purely coincidental or a blatantly obvious reference). The guy has a banana hairdo that would make Elvis Presley blush. He asks to become their manager, having seen potential in them, and when they accept, he proceeds to install machines that will boost their ratings. Could they say no? They could, but then again, they need more renown if they want to make a decent living out of this. I mean, it’s not like that guy they never heard of before could be, in any way, shape or form, a malevolent character trying to benefit from this situation, right? Right…

Come on now, wouldn't you trust a guy who looks like this?

When we get to a new season in Chroma Squad, the team receives a new contract – with an amount of money given to them to prepare for the new challenges, in both TV production and combat. Among others, each new season gives each team member a new ability, offensive or supportive. I like how in-show and out of it, every season marks an increase in “power” (buying power, star power, in-show fighting power).

Season 2 brings us a stronger team… which is still clearly fighting people in silly costumes. The story of the show is now building a greater storyline involving monsters summoning portals in order to bring more of their kind on Earth. Sure, why not. There’s not much else to say about this one, really; and thus, Season 2 ends. However, with the rise in popularity of the Chroma Squad TV series (as can be seen in the tweet-like comments shown to the player after each episode), the grand risk for these characters is to grow an ego. They can’t simply forget that they started as mere stuntmen without much of a budget, and they can’t risk letting an inflated sense of importance turning them into divas!

Let’s continue this in part 2!