Welcome back to this utter mistake of a blog in which I talk about Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid. Since my last blog, I have gone back and watched one (1) (いち) entire episode of Mirai Sentai Timeranger (Which is fuckin' great, it's got a big ol' fish mob boss smoking a cigar, total mastahpeece) and I've gotta thank Zalno for pointing out that SHOUT! had those on their website. (Commercial free, too! Damn, that's niiiice.) Anyways, to get the newbies up to speed, I blew fifty entire dollars on Battle For The Grid: Super Edition for some ungodly reason, and god damn it, I'm gonna make the most of it. This is Power Rangers: Battle For My Last Braincell; a series of blogs on Battle For The Grid from the perspective of someone who has a passing familiarity with tokusatsu and a passing familiarity with fighting games.
Today... the gameplay.
Yeah, it's fuckin' good.
So, okay... Battle For The Grid has great gameplay. I'll say it. It's just fucking good! It's simple enough that you can learn it in a day, yet complex enough that you'll be picking up tricks and learning nuances days into playing it. Now, I say this as someone who's not usually a huge fighting game guy; I've played a lot of fighting games, but I rarely delve into them very deeply. I've played one Arcade Mode, almost two entire acts of Story Mode, and some local multiplayer. For those of you saying "But it's a fighting game, play online, tell us about the netcode..." Y'all know there are actual game critics out there, right? I'm here to talk about the parts I liked and I can't name a fighting game I've enjoyed playing online. Much easier to shit-talk your opponent half to death on the couch. Well, technically a chaise, but I digress.
BFTG seems absurdly simple at first glance. There's a dedicated special button, three dedicated attack buttons of light, medium, and heavy, and a bunch of characters. The biggest variation most of them have is their special. I hear FGC vets groaning already, but I swear there's more. BFTG is very much based on MvC3, which I played a fair amount of on my PC, and that means there's a tag system! Each player pulls in three characters, and tags in one of the other two. When tagged out, characters heal a certain amount of damage. They can also be called in for a brief assist to deal some damage and get heat off the player's back. In addition, the game also has Push Blocking, which allows you to, with a button press while blocking, shove the opponent back and get some breathing room, alongside EX Supers, weaker Super moves used mainly to get the player out of a tight spot or manage some extra damage in an intense combo.
Super Moves are ridiculously simple to pull off. Just pressing the heavy attack and the special button at the same time automatically initiates one. There's no dial-combos, no advanced button presses, and no complex-ass dexterity requirements. In other words, the core gameplay is very accepting to new players. My issue with MvC3 was always that I could never get combos and special moves right; for such a fast-paced game, they were always too complex for me to actually pull off. Battle For The Grid removes that limitation entirely, so that even the newest player could perform a dazzling super move like, say, sending the opponent hurtling into the air and repeatedly striking them with energy bursts. (Drakkon's super move, for those wondering.)
For one last wrinkle, there's the Megazords. Megazords are essentially a combination of a comeback mechanic and an assist. When the Megazord meter has at least two bars, the player can summon one of a handful of Megazords, chosen at the character select screen. The Megazords will unleash different attacks directly after your attacks, depending what button you press. Essentially, you can call in an invincible giant robot to fight alongside you. Pretty kick-ass. I always preferred the Dragonzord since it's got a very powerful light attack, and watching it drill your opponents into oblivion while you bitch-slap them silly is pure joy. (Kick reason to the curb and break your limits! That's how Team Oliver rolls!) Megazords are just as essential to the game as tagging and assists. They can help a losing player out of defeat and can help a winning player enhance their attacks to just edge into winning. They also encourage the opposing player to play offensively rather than defensively, as Zords still do damage when you block them; you don't want to get attacked? You've gotta kick the shit out of your opponent before they can even try to hit you.
So, lastly, this game has a huge emphasis on combos. They're easy at first, but more importantly, a good player can extend them into huge chunks of damage, to the point where a solid enough player can cleave off half a health bar with a single combo. While I've never done a really solid combo except once with Gia, I have been repeatedly bodied by the AI with these tactics.
Let's talk about the AI in this game. Because it's something. It really, really is. The AI in Battle For The Grid is not bad at all. I'm going to preface everything I say with that. The AI is very smart, very good at what it does, and flawed enough that it never feels invincible. It's like a very skilled player; excellent at what it does, but far from unbeatable. It's got weak points and strong points.
To make it brief, the AI is capable of some incredible stuff. It has weak points, yes, but it can also dodge your every attack, speed you into a corner, and hit you with a combo that could win EVO without you having a chance to resist. Fighting the AI is a thrilling experience for a player like me, but it can also be a frustrating one at times. The issue is that the AI settings are limited. They are very bare bones in a way that feels rather lazy in some ways and insulting deliberate in others. On the one hand, it's transparently obvious that this game is very much aimed at fighting game vets; there's no easier mode for the AI, it's extremely dangerous, but I'm sure someone who's very good at fighting games could absolutely stomp it into mush if they so pleased. Additionally, there are certain characters who are deadly in the computer's hands. RJ, Eric Myers, Doggie Cruger, and Gia Moran can all wipe a player off the face of the map without a second thought, and will do so because there's no easier mode. The AI plays at one level, all the time. That's it. It's a sort of "Win or Die" scenario, because the player? Ain't gonna get any handouts.
This is... a mixed bag. It's a great way to show off the AI, to make the AI show the player what they could be doing if they grew in skill, and to draw in fighting game vets. At the same time, while the AI can absolutely be felled, the computer tends to give it unfair advantages. It's a nigh-perfect player at times, and while I'll talk more in the next blog about where the AI really gets frustrating, suffice it to say just one Arcade Mode took a while to beat. That said, I am very much capable of beating it with a combination of cheap trickery, skill, and luck. I feel like hot shit for beating Arcade Mode but I'm honestly sure if I went online I'd endure the virtual equivalent of getting kicked in the nuts and suplexed into the Grand Canyon at the hands of people who're actually good at the game.
The other issue is this: Everything else about Battle For The Grid is welcoming to kids. It's based on Power Rangers, an absolute moneymaker of a children's franchise. The base gameplay is easy for a kid to pick up and flashy enough to keep their attention. Kids playing against one another in local multiplayer would no doubt have a ton of fun in my opinion. It's like MvC3 in the way that its flashy combat, bright colors, and surface simplicity will easily draw in children, and you'd think children would be the target audience.
A visual display of what a child fighting the BFTG AI probably looks like.
Now, not to talk down to children? But the computer could beat the shit out of most of them, no sweat. Everything else in the game is tailor-made for kids and adults alike, but the AI? If I struggle with it as a young adult, I don't even want to see what a kid's response to it might be. I assume it's probably frustrated a lot of the target audience, because contrary to what people seem to think, I'm still very convinced kids watch Power Rangers. It's not the sensation it once was, but as long as Sentai shows keep being imported and remade, I'm betting kids watch them. To say the least, I find it odd that everything else about the game is so accomodating for a child audience, and yet they can't just play it on easy mode. And that doesn't just extend to children; everything about Battle For The Grid is absolutely tailor-made for casual players, to the point where its simplicity was actually a point of marketing. The AI being so powerful and the lack of additional settings hampers an otherwise super accessible game, since it means singleplayer can be very frustrating.
Overall, the AI feels very much like the weak link in the armor of Battle For The Grid's gameplay, which otherwise perfectly makes itself easy to learn and difficult to master. I had far more fun playing local multiplayer than I did playing against the computer, despite getting my ass kicked by someone who picked up every single trick in the game in under ten minutes of first playing it.
The other weak link has to be the unlock cycle!... because there isn't one. About half the roster is paid DLC, and the other half starts unlocked, with all costumes and variations already unlocked. There's frankly no reason to buy the launch edition of this game as half the roster wasn't even in. There's no currency, no unlockable characters or costumes, and no rewarding loop. The closest thing to a rewarding unlock cycle is the banner system, which gives you a banner for finishing a character's Arcade Mode or meet other requirements. Banners are purely cosmetic and very simplistic in nature, basically only having a difference in color and texture. My personal banner choice is, of course, Lord Drakkon's "Destroyer of Worlds" banner. While banners nicely incentivize the player to finish Arcade Mode with everyone, there's no unlock cycle for anything else. While I appreciate it for not being grindy, and for having all its content upfront, there's pretty much no rewarding loop for consistent play. Fuck's sake, Duolingo Japanese feels more rewarding!
Network multiplayer has a ranking system but I don't believe you really unlock anything. So, like the AI, the unlock cycle is a mixed bag. I love it for not having grinding or predatory microtransactions, yet at the same time the abundance of paid DLC offends me and the lack of an actual unlock cycle doesn't give much incentive to experience everything the game has to offer and makes battles feel superfluous and unsatisfying.
Overall, the core gameplay of Battle For The Grid is among the best I've ever experienced, with an extremely welcoming style and fun, flashy fighting. That said, while the core of the combat is completely captivating, the trimmings surrounding it, such as the AI and unlock system, could use some polish.
Next up is the story! It probably won't be tomorrow, but hoo boy. It'll probably be the longest of the lot and will definitely be the most negative. I haven't finished the story, but unless it starts pulling some real quality out of its ass in Act 3 (And I will try to finish it eventually) I'd say I've seen enough to make my call.