Unlike its “brother” franchise, Kamen Rider, the Super Sentai series has been absent from the gaming world for quite a long time. Its last appearance on a home console was Ninpū Sentai Hurricanger in 2002, which was nine years ago. Now, after almost a decade’s absence, Super Sentai has finally jumped back into the game with Super Sentai Battle Ranger Cross, which also coincides with its 35th anniversary series, Kaizoku Sentai Gōkaiger, a (currently airing) series gaining a warm reception itself. Seeing as this is such a special occasion, let’s take a look at what Ranger Cross has to offer as a commemoration.
The premise is a slightly different take on Gōkaiger‘s very own. The villain group designed exclusively for the game is called “Devil Jark” (“Devil” + “Ja [wicked]” + “Aku[evil]”; or maybe they’re called that way because they’re just jerks), and comes from a black hole. This means Earth is in danger — again. Sentai teams present on Earth (or, at least those present in the game) try to fight back. Gōkaigers also arrive to Earth and end up fighting against Devil Jark because they’re in the way.
“Subtlety is not part of our contract.”
This is how the TV series goes: Gōkaigers are a band of space pirates looking for “the Greatest Treasure in the Universe” — a treasure that no one has seen. They can transform into any and every previous Super Sentai warrior through the use of “Ranger Keys” — small figures with a key inside — which are physical manifestations of previous Rangers’ powers. Their arrival to Earth coincides with that of Space Empire Zangyaku aiming to — wait for it — conquer Earth.
Earth is in a crisis because all previous Super Sentai warriors lost their ability to transform while they drove back a Zangyaku invasion in the past (leading to formation of Ranger Keys across the universe), leaving no team capable of opposing the villains. While the heroes don’t feel anything special about a small planet being added to an intergalactic empire, they decided to confront Zangyaku because otherwise, it’d make their search for the Treasure difficult. It turns out that, in order to obtain what they’re looking for, they must unlock the Grand Power (Ōinaru Chikara) of Sentai teams, usually involving learning a life-lesson related to each series.
As shown on the cover, there are five Super Sentai teams you can play as in Ranger Cross:
– Kaizoku (Pirate) Sentai Gōkaiger (2011)
– Tensō (Celestial Equipment/Power) Sentai Goseiger (2010)
– Samurai Sentai Shinkenger (2009)
– Engine Sentai Go-onger (2008)
– Himitsu (Secret) Sentai GoRanger (1975)
There are a few other teams present in the game as well, but they’re not playable and mostly serve as “cameos”.
The game features an energetic narration from Tomokazu Seki, who’s also the narrator for Gōkaiger. In fact, he’s not the only voice in the game; there’s quite a lot of voice-over involved. For one, dialogues are fully voiced; Bandai even hired the actors from Gōkaiger to perform the same characters here, and needless to say, they feel and sound just like in the TV series. Other teams also get voicing, but I’m not exactly sure whether their voice-actors are the originals; for example ShinkenBlue sounds like he is, but ShinkenYellow sounds different. Aside from dialogue, many menu items also have voice-overs for descriptions.
Ranger Cross requires a Nunchuck-Wiimote combo to play. Like many recent Tokusatsu games from Bandai, there’s an “Easy Mode” and “Normal Mode”. Like in All Kamen Rider, this is not difficulty; from what I’ve seen under “Options”, the game doesn’t seem to have any difficulty levels, and it’s really easy overall. The only difference I found between the two modes is that Easy Mode adds motion controls to combat, though not in a complicated manner; it just translates a shake in any direction to a press on A button. Not sure why it’s necessary, but I suppose the intention is to give kids some opportunity to role-play.
On the Main Menu, there are six icons: Story Mode, Treasure Search Battle, Treasure Chance, Figure Collection and Options.
Story Mode is just what it sounds like: You play through a pre-determined story, split into different Stages. As the story covers the five Sentai’s struggle against Devil Jark, your given roster changes after each “arc”. When you select a Stage, its pre-battle dialogue scene plays, after which you’re taken to the “Strategy Edit” screen. It has two options: “Begin Battle” and “Roulette Edit”. The latter leads to another screen where you adjust your “Strategy Roulette”. In Gokaigers’ story arc, there’s a third option where you can select their “Gokai Change”, where you can set a prior Sentai to transform into and use as the team-finisher (this is where the non-playable Sentai cameos come in).
The Strategy Roulette comes into play when you start the battle. Press A to stop the roulette and choose any of the four types of icons: Rock (Attack Up), Paper (Defense Up), Scissors (Speed Up) and Sentai Spirit (the yellow V-sign). Your enemy does the same. The winner gets the bonus associated with the icon while the loser gets none; if it’s the same sign, it counts as a draw and you’ll have to push the enemy’s icon off the screen by shaking the Wiimote to win. If you hit the Sentai Spirit icon, you win the Roulette round automatically and gets boosts for all three stats. As you clear Stages and gain points, you’ll get icons of higher power levels, with which you can modify your Roulette to suit your needs. The downside about it is that you’ll have to set it up every single time. After some Stages, I just ignored the Roulette altogether.
After editing the Roulette, time to select a Ranger and jump into battle. Combat controls are simple. Press A to attack, or just shake the Wiimote if you’re playing on Easy Mode. B is for special attacks that require some criteria first. Hold C to guard, minimizing the damage you take. Hold Z to dash; the distance depends on how long you press, and you can dash pretty far. Having to select a single Ranger means that you can’t switch control to another member during battle, and you fail the Stage when you die. Each character has only one moveset; if you want a different one, you’ll have to pick another character.
Battles involve beating up enemies in a small rectangular field. Enemy type and numbers vary depending on the Stage, but most of the time, you’re against either enemy grunts (called Karakkara, based on the “clacking” sound they make), an enemy Boss, or a combination of the two; occasionally, you’ll be fighting against an impostor version of another Sentai team. No matter who you’re up against, though, all you need to do is just hit them repeatedly to make them drop yellow hexagonal “V-Power” pick-ups to fill your “V-Gauge”. When it’s finally full, press B, watch the team finisher knocking enemies down in unison motion, and you win the Stage. In fact, a team-finisher is the only way to clear a Stage: otherwise, grunts respawn endlessly, and Bosses don’t die even when their HP bar runs out. Except for Stages where you fight grunts and a boss, in which case you win by reducing Boss HP to 0. Why this is the exception, I have no idea.
There’s another type of special attack which you execute together with another Ranger. If you try to stay close to somebody in battle, a small icon of their helmet will appear on the left side of the screen, with a 5-segment gauge below. Keep yourself close to them until it fills up and press B to do a Combiation Attack. Aside from visual fanciness, I didn’t notice any particular difference by using it; Bosses don’t seem to lose HP, and grunts only get knocked down and get back up again immediately.
Then there are Robot fights. They take place on a 2D plane instead of a 3D field (although for some reason, you can still face inward/outward from the screen), but plays the same way as before. These fights are even easier because the game outright tells you when to attack and when to guard. Repeat the pattern until you collect enough V-Power and press B. Stage cleared.
While I’m at it, I should mention that a Stage here means just a single battle. To give a measure, a typical Sentai episode — which consists of a grunt fight, a monster fight and a giant robot fight — would be three Stages by the game’s standards.
Treasure Search Battle Mode (the VS icon) on the Main Menu is for two playmodes separate from the Story Mode: Survival Battle and Giant Monster Battle.
Survival Battle is like Boss-and-grunts Stages in Story Mode with some differences: You’re not given an HP bar and thus won’t die, you’re always fighting in the same field, enemies respawn endlessly, “Bosses” are just slightly stronger enemies that die pretty quckly, and there’s always a 1-minute time limit. You can’t change the round time or a visually different field, as far as I’ve looked around.
Giant Monster Battle, on the other hand, seems to be unique to Treasure Search. This is where you choose from the five Devil Jark villains and fight an enlarged version it with a lone Ranger. You’re in a small field – smaller than those in a regular Stage, in fact — with the camera looking up to the enemy. The enemy monster stays in the background and never steps closer to you; instead, it throws waves of projectiles. All you (can) do is run around in the field, dodging a few waves, at which point, a glowing red circle will appear on the ground. Run into it, and your Ranger will hop up and be transported onto a specific part of the enemy’s body.
Start hitting the enemy to earn some V-Power symbols, and after a few seconds, you’ll be transported back down into the field, earning another batch of symbols released from the enemy. Rinse and repeat until your V-Gauge is full, press B to execute your finisher and knock the giant off its feet, and victory. No need to worry about reducing its HP bar, because it doesn’t have any. Controls are the same in this mode, except that guarding is useless because you’re up against a giant; which, in turn, means that you’re gonna be dashing furiously to-and-fro in the small field to dodge incoming attacks.
After clearing every Survival or Giant Monster round, you get some treasure chests to be opened in the Treasure Chance option in the Main Menu. They yield “Figures” to be viewed under the Figure Collection option, also on the Main Menu, which is an in-game 3D Model viewer in practice. There are 100 Figures to collect, but it’s possible to get duplicates from chests, so filling it up will take some time. Why the two options are split into two major items on the Main Menu instead of being combined into one is beyond me.
The game has multiplayer elements too, but these aren’t always convenient to play. In Story Stages, Survival and Giant Monster Battles, you can play split-screen. The quirk is that it’s a vertical split; this doesn’t work in the players’ favor because it limits the horizontal scope while wasting the top 1/3 of the screen showing the sky. In addition to that, both players share the same HP bar; while it’s not a big problem in normal Stage, given the lax difficulty, it makes things (relatively) more difficult in Giant Monster Battles as there are now two targets in a small field.
There’s also another method of “multiplayer” in which the second player is merely controlling a target on screen with the Wiimote and pressing B to shoot at enemies, not unlike in Super Mario Galaxy.
The game has a handful of downsides. First and foremost, I should mention that the 3D models are lifted directly from the arcade game Super Sentai Battle: Dice-O released last year. The models themselves are passable for a children’s game, but stiff animations and inconsistent lighting effects didn’t work in their favor. Additionally, the frame rate is poor during action parts, although you won’t see that on advertisements and promotional materials.
Music is very limited and repetitive. In Stages, the BGM in Story Stages consists solely of an instrumental version of the series your current Rangers are from; they’re “TV-length” (i.e: only as long as their TV openings, between a half- and full-minute), and most other tracks are shorter. No matter which track, though, they loop endlessly.
And then, there’s the AI. Being lenient for children’s ease-of-play is one thing, but the enemy grunts’ AI can be downright lethargic. They barely fight you back in battle, and practically serve as the source for V-Power needed to clear the stage. Bosses, on the other hand, are a bit too nimble, as they can let out one attack after another without much break in between.
Last, but not least, are the loading times. Even with its simplistic audio and visual components, it takes 16~18 seconds for any play-mode. This applies even to the Giant Monster Battles, which contain one enemy model, two player models and one limited environment.
Ranger Cross is filled with Rangers and different ways to play, but it’s very obviously aimed at appealing to younger children who would have fun seeing all of their favorite Ranger teams again, and perhaps not care as much about aspects of the game such as challenge or pacing. That being said, I hope that this small step can at least serve as part of the foundation for more solid releases in the future.
Special thanks to my friend, MrGinSilver, for helping me go through the game’s multiplayer modes.