Making It Up as You Go Along in Chroma Squad

Chroma Squad is part tactical RPG and part management sim. You fight evil and entertain television audiences as a team of colorfully festooned heroes who are totally not the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and you run the independent TV studio that the actors themselves founded after breaking away from an overbearing showrunner who is totally not not Haim Saban.

You craft costumes, you improve your studio, you negotiate advertising and promotion, and you train up the talent—but you do those things pretty entirely on the side of the costumed heroes. The monsters-of-the-week and their easily dispatched minions, on the other hand, materialize semi-independently and semi-magically, while the actors alternate between in-episode dialogue and meta-commentary, in control and not in control, feigning surprise and sometimes being genuinely surprised.

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It manages to feel like the delirious, inscrutable narrative playground games I played as a kid. My friends and I would bring in existing concepts and characters that we liked—what we were into was a point of pride—but we’d always put our own spin on them, of course. That too was a point of pride.

We’d make things up as we went along, while also establishing labyrinthine and inviolate continuities intelligible only to us.

It also reminds me a bit of how John Darnielle approaches professional wrestling on his recent album Beat The Champ, full of personae, stories, and acts of violence that are simultaneously real and not real, believable and unbelievable—and that, specifically because of that ambiguity, are resonant and surreal and weirdly powerful.

The game draws a blurry line between producing a show about cartoon heroism and actually being cartoonily heroic. It’s never particularly self-serious, mind you, but it does take its subject matter admirably and intriguingly seriously.

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