Platform: PlayStation 4
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Mega Battle Review
It's boring time
As a child of the 90s, I remember how my weekday afternoons had a tradition of tuning in to Fox at 4 after getting home from elementary school to watch Power Rangers. A bizarre fusion of Japanese action footage and sitcom-esque American scenes that bookended its Godzilla-like fights, from the original Mighty Morphin series up to sequel series Power Rangers in Space, my childhood self couldn’t get enough of it.
Generations of kids seem to have retained that obsession long after I moved on, as the franchise has never ceased production since its premiere over 20 years ago, and while revisiting the series on Netflix as an adult has made its ridiculousness and poor writing all the more apparent to me, nostalgic fondness for some of its ideas still remains, especially as a Hollywood reboot is just around the corner.
It’s for this reason that I suspect Bandai Namco and developer Bamtang have chosen now to capitalize on the nostalgia 90s kids have for the heroes, because Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Mega Battle, if the title doesn’t make it clear, ignores the decades of follow-up incarnations and focuses exclusively on revisiting the original series that became a kiddie phenomenon, in the form of an old-school 2D brawler allowing up to four players to don the suit of their favorite ranger.
If this sounds interesting to you, then you need to temper those expectations. The cold hard reality is that Mega Battle is a bland, repetitive, and often flawed experience that also commits the sin of failing to capture much of its source material’s personality. Whether you’re looking for a competent brawler or a genuine love letter to the Rangers, you’re likely to find the game underwhelming.
The barebones plot has the same setup as the show’s original pilot, as alien sorceress Rita Repulsa attempts to take over Earth with her army of monsters, resulting in the wise Zordon entrusting five capable teens with the power, weapons, and color-coded armor necessary to save the day. The team can expect to take on hordes of Putty and Tenga drones on foot, and face gigantic monsters by piloting the robotic Megazord.
While a few more reveals throughout the campaign, such as the introductions of Lord Zedd and the Green Ranger, may bring a smile to fans’ faces, the actual writing certainly won’t. Power Rangers thrived on over the top elements for its action and unabashedly goofy moments for its characters, but this story and its text-only dialog lacks a personality of any kind. The actual plot ends up boiling down to the team traveling to disable several towers set up by the villains, which is as rote as you can get in games. The fact that voice clips from the source material are occasionally used makes me think it would have been clever to try properly recreating some of the more iconic episodes or story arcs, but what’s here instead lacks any sense of effort or inspiration.
This approach unfortunately can also be used to describe the actual gameplay. It almost completely hearkens back to the 16-bit days of repetitive brawlers, but lacks a lot of the polish and charm the better titles of that time still have. The campaign isn’t good at throwing new enemies or concepts at the player fast enough to sway an overbearing sense of monotony, and you’ll grow tired of taking on the same enemy drones with the same attack patterns within the first half hour.
To make matters worse, when you do encounter later additions, they can often be more aggravating than intriguing (the minotaur-like enemies introduced about a third of the way in come off as quite cheap). You are provided with a good variety of basic attacks to utilize for this type of game - a conventional punch, an uppercut to enable juggle combos, and both strong and projectile attacks that drain rechargeable meters - and even an experience system that allows you to enhance and unlock additional skills at stations run by sidekick robot Alpha 5.
Some decent foundations like those end up meaning little when the overall execution still feels sloppy and shallow. Controlling your Ranger, from how attack combos flow to how responsive the traditional press-walk-twice-to-dash convention is, rarely feels smooth or fluid. One might hope that a recreation of the iconic Megazord battles would offer a good change of pace, but they end up being a mix of shallow turret shooting segments and button prompts instead of a full-fledged one on one fights against various giant monsters.
One issue I didn’t expect to encounter in this day and age is how artificially frustrating progression can be. You only get 1 life, and when that happens, you have to restart a level from the beginning, with no checkpoints or extra lives to be found. And given that levels can average over 15 minutes each, it only adds to the frustrating slog that this game is. It almost seems as though the campaign was designed to rely on grinding for upgrade points to extend its length.
The ability to have up to four players laying a simultaneous smackdown has merit, especially for a game of this type, but in a frustrating surprise, online play is completely absent from Mega Battle, though I was able to play through some levels with a local friend who also has fond memories of the show. Outside of some intermittently available team attacks we encountered (and a few more available through the skill tree), and the fact that increasing your numbers can make some of the more frustrating elements easier, it still does little to improve the overall experience, as the other core problems remain.
Some decent window dressing could have made dealing with all these annoyances more bearable, but the game looks and sounds very uninspired. The cartoony character designs are serviceable, but animated in a very basic style, and environments look similarly bland. It also seems like a missed opportunity to try and have the forgettable soundtrack not be based on or incorporate that reliance on oh-so-90s guitars that was a trademark of the source material. Even on the rare occasions where the iconic theme song kicks in during cutscenes, it’s a cover instead of the genuine original.
It’s frustrating that there are a few decent ideas at Mega Battle’s core, because most of the other elements are either uninspired, archaic, or shallow. I have little doubt that the game’s low quality is due to Bandai Namco wanting it out before the new movie hits theaters, which has usually been the most common reason for licensed games’ low quality throughout gaming history.
For those looking to relive their nostalgia, you’re better off replaying the handful of decent Power Rangers brawlers from the 16-bit days or just Netflixing the actual TV series. After enjoying games like Transformers: Devastation, I don’t doubt at all that in the right hands and with the right amount of time and effort, a genuinely good Power Rangers action game could be made. Mega Battle is not that game.