Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid

If there was ever an idea for a game that I would never have called, a Power Rangers-themed fighting game in 2019 would be pretty high on that list. I can’t remember the last time Saban and Hasbro’s zany franchise about teenagers who gain magical powers, transform into spandex-clad warriors, and defend the world by piloting huge mechsuits was even vaguely relevant in my life; presumably not since I was a literal child. And yet, here we are, with developer nWay and an honest-to-goodness Power Rangers title in the year of our Lord 2019; in fact, it’s mid-2022 as I write this, and somehow this game is still played and enjoyed by people! But the question I have is whether or not I think it’s good; is this a case of go, go Power Rangers, or oh no Power Rangers?

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Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid (Switch, PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)

Released Mar 2019 | Developed / Published: nWay

Genre: Fighting | HLTB: 3 hours

Right, so first off the bat, if my little preamble above didn’t clue you in, I’m not the world’s most committed Power Rangers fan. I can remember very vividly watching the show’s first series, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, back when it aired in the 1990’s. As a child it was a homerun piece of entertainment; it was easy to take or leave the boring bits where the protagonists mulled around in high school, but obviously the show came alive when they transformed into their Power Ranger alter egos and fought iconic villains like the cackling Rita Repulsa and the hideous biomechanical Lord Zedd; I’m sure I also caused my parents more than a few laborious sighs whenever I sat down and proclaimed that I wanted to watch the movie, a pretty dreadful affair which I remember largely for the awful Nickelodeon gloop of a main villain, Ivan Ooze, and one wonderfully stupid line where the Black Ranger, less than overjoyed at his new morphing creature, sullenly grumps “I’m a frog.”

Anyway, while I grew up and moved on, Power Rangers seems to have continued for far, far longer than I ever had any inkling. A cursory glance at the franchise’s Wikipedia (research!) reveals a veritable smorgasbord of shows that have continued the Power Rangers action across the years, none of which I was aware of beforehand. With that in mind, I think it’d be pretty fair to say that sounds like ripe picking for a fighting game, giving plenty of opportunities to pick fan-favourite characters and interesting villains from across the entire franchise’s nearly 30 year history. It’s notable then that Battle for the Grid sort of doesn’t do that very much. Instead, its sights are squarely set on the nostalgia crowd as the majority of the fighters are from or based on the original Mighty Morphin run, with less than half of the characters available from the off hailing from anything else.

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As someone easily baited in by the Power Rangers nostalgia, I don’t especially mind the chance to see a bevy of characters from my youth, but it seems like a bit of a missed chance to delve into what I can only assume must be a rich tapestry of lore and varied protagonists. We live in an era of entertainment where stories that collide together a multitude of universes are more popular than ever, no longer largely relegated to the pages of comic books. Super Smash Bros. already popularised the multiversal fighter, so it does seem like a waste not to include more options for other fans of the Power Rangers franchise, unless I’ve judged it all wrong and Mighty Morphin is the only bit people care about.

The story at least has some nods to the concept of a smushed-together Power Rangers universe, given that’s basically what it’s about. The narrative is an adaptation of a comic called Shattered Grid, which was released as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations for the franchise, published only a year before this game’s release. I’m going to preface this with a brief apology for throwing a bunch of names and things at you in case you’re not a Power Ranger nerd, but don’t worry, neither am I and I managed to keep up. We’re introduced to a villain named Lord Drakkon, who rules over a pretty awful universe as its tyrannical emperor. He’s managed to ascend to power by stealing Power Coins, the sources of power from which each individual Power Ranger draws from. However, he wants to become a God, so he hatches a plan that involves him and his forces smashing through to the other Power Rangers universes and nicking all their Power Coins as well.

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Obviously, the heroes are having none of that. Once Drakkon breaks into the world of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, he finally encounter some resistance and the Power Rangers begin to band together a team of Rangers from across the multiverse to fight back and take him down. The story is straightforward enough to follow without any real trouble, even if you’re not that aware of Power Rangers concepts like Power Coins, but one issue that plagues it is that the plot isn’t terribly coherent. It’s presented in 3 acts, with each chapter featuring a short series of fights, but sometimes characters drop in and out of the story and the fights without any ceremony, and occasionally without any explanation at all of why they are there in the first place. You also often wind up switching sides between bouts with no rhyme or reason; one fight you can be in control of the good guys, and then the next fight you’ll be in control of Drakkon’s forces, but the story won’t be making any moves or acknowledgment to help you along. It all comes across as utterly arbitrary.

It’s also not helped by some phenomenally bad voice acting and dialogue. Perhaps it’s unfair to criticize a show like Power Rangers for having stilted delivery and rubbish lines but I’m going to anyway because it’s really inane stuff. The audio mixing is also super dodgy; a lot of the dialogue is mixed too low to hear clearly, especially when coupled with the largely mumbled speech, yet conversely when people get their dander up and shout it clips very badly. There are also no subtitles as far as I could find in the settings menu, so that’s a disappointing loss for accessibility in games.

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I’ve spent a fair few words now grumbling about Battle for the Grid, but if you look online the general trend for reviews of the game is overwhelmingly positive. Obviously there must be some reason people love this game, other than the Power Rangers theme, and that’s almost certainly the combat. It’s a very simple game to pick up, devoid of the complicated inputs of some other popular fighting games and instead it uses a much more accessible combination of light, medium, heavy, and special attacks each assigned to a face button. It reminds me a little of Soul Calibur or Injustice, if I was pushed to find as near a point of reference as I could, although Battle for the Grid is even less complex than that. Each character has a unique fighting style and weapon, from Jason Scott’s quick swordplay to Kimberly’s tricky bow-and-mine combinations, and despite the fact that some Rangers are similar in concept, there’s enough work done to make them feel different – see Tommy’s Green Ranger, who uses a quick style that alternates between knife strikes and kicks, and his villainous alter ego Lord Drakkon, who is more aggressive, with stabs and a powerful set of fiery magics.

The combat winds up frenetic, and because each character only has a limited movepool it makes it quite easy to pick a few and learn them. It’s also very fast-paced, which is helped along by the relative lack of embellishment around the special moves and supers; instead it’s all geared towards performing quick combos. The game uses a Marvel vs. Capcom style tag-team system in which you select a group of 3 combatants, and each member of your team can be called in to perform an assist attack. These assist calls regenerate rapidly so you can access them a fair bit in a given fight, and you can even switch to a character called in to assist by double-tapping their assist button. This can allow for some fantastic combo lines and can keep your opponents struggling to keep up if you get really good at a well-timed switch. Before a fight you also select one of the series’ Megazords to take to battle. As you take damage you build a gauge which can be spent to call in your Megazord, which will then join in your attacks for a limited time; often because they’re so massive it’s next-to-impossible to avoid them, so they can be a handy tool in a pinch, but it does also feel like a waste to relegate one of the more iconic features of the franchise to a set of assists.

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I can’t say I don’t have some problems though. For all the praise the combat gets, I also found it to be hugely frustrating, and unfortunately I felt like that quite often. It trends towards being floaty, with nearly all attacks feeling weightless; there’s a distinct lack of impact to your attacks, a sensation that isn’t helped by some lacklustre sound effects. The enemy AI is also utterly broken; even on lower difficulties, your foes can easily unleash huge combo strings that are entirely unbreakable; there’s no defending the sense of annoyance that comes with half your life bar evaporating because the AI decided you weren’t allowed to play for a while. I can’t help but feel that because the game lacks any kind of cancel moves or ways to play your way out of a combo juggle it ends up feeling almost amateurish; it certainly makes Battle for the Grid stand out next to its more polished competition.

Regrettably Battle for the Grid also features some intensely aggressive DLC practices. It’s not quite Injustice 2 – there’s no loot boxes and absurd microtransactions, thankfully – but it’s still a very clear example of the partitioning of games for profit. Now, I understand that this isn’t some AAA mega-title with horrible, predatory microtransactions; Battle for the Grid is a more mid-shelf item, and as such, sure perhaps we can expect a bit of DLC to help the developers get a bit more cash for their projects. I also don’t want to downplay the amount of work that goes into these additional characters – it’s clear that there’s a lot of love here for the Power Rangers franchise, and turning their chosen characters into unique and balanced fighters, and of course developers can try and get a bit more for that. However, that doesn’t stop some of the decisions made around Battle for the Grid being, frankly, shit ones.

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For a start, Battle for the Grid released in a deplorable state. Its original release featured only 9 characters, which is a cripplingly small roster for any fighter, let alone one that uses 3v3 teams. Free post-launch updates upped that number to 12, but that’s still a limited selection; if you want more you have to stump up for the season passes. These do add some exciting characters, including classic villains Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd, as well as a couple of choices from a greater range of Power Rangers shows, but it’s a bit galling to see more characters locked behind paid DLC than there are in the entire starting roster. It’s doubly frustrating when you realize that some of the Power Rangers you see and even play as in the story mode are only playable outside it if you pay extra; for example, the original Pink Ranger, Kimberly, appears in her Mighty Morphin costume in the story, but isn’t selectable in other single player modes unless you buy it separately.

Speaking of the story mode, that’s another feature that wasn’t originally in the game. I know some people maintain that fighting games don’t need campaigns, but I personally utterly reject that. I don’t think all fighters need a comprehensive story, but some kind of narrative payoff is important, even if it’s just a light touch during an arcade ladder or something. Battle for the Grid launched without any of that, and just a barebones arcade mode on offer for players wanting to play offline and on their own. Thankfully another free post-launch update added the story mode in and because of them it’s likely that anyone buying the game now might not ever know it was once so devoid of content.

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I’m left with mixed emotions. I do dearly want to love Battle for the Grid, I think in no small part because I really respect its commitment to the theme. I’m also keenly aware that it’s an accessible fighter in a genre that can all too easily be obtuse or tricky to get to grips with. But having said that, I can’t ignore the glaring faults on display here. It’s hard to recommend a game that contains less than half its content in the main release, and nor is it an especially satisfying game for the single-player fighting game enthusiast. What’s there is fun, no doubt, but it’s down to the individual person if they think they’re getting a fair deal for the price; I’m not entirely sure you are.

4/7 – GOOD.

Sure, maybe something doesn’t quite work but at least it has heart, or a spark of excitement that makes it worthwhile despite the faults. Definitely worth a go if you can at least find it on sale.

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