It's hard to believe the Power Rangers franchise is 20 years old. What started as a way to make an American show out of the Japanese Super Sentai series has become something of an institution in children's programming. The games haven't reached such acclaim, and while there were a few decent entries, the majority has been poor or only enjoyable for die-hard fans. Unfortunately, the latest title, Power Rangers: Megaforce, is a low point in the franchise's video game outings.
The plot follows the show, albeit loosely to give it an episodic feel. In each episode, the evil overlord Vrak is kidnapping humans to drain them of the energy he needs to conquer the Earth. In each attempt, he calls upon a special monster to get the job done, and the Power Rangers have to save the day by beating up on the minions to rescue the humans, defeating the monster, and defeating the newly resurrected giant monster again using their Megazord. There's no overarching plot, and the pacing is so similar to the TV series that anyone who's watched an episode can instantly figure out what's going on.
For the most part, the game follows the basic mechanics of a brawler. After choosing a ranger, you move from left to right, beating up as many minions as you can. You try to reach the end of the level, where, in most cases, you face a boss. In addition to basic attacks and light platforming elements, you have a projectile attack and the ability to call on special moves using the power of collected cards. When you get far enough into the game, you have a special attack from your super megaforce powers. The routine remains the same through a majority of the episodes, except for the final fight, which pits you against the giant version of the monster in a one-on-one battle.
The changes and additions to the formula are rather minimal. Throughout the game, you're given miniquests to complete before the next area is available. You'll need to survive an enemy onslaught for a minute or collect a number of tokens or defeat a number of enemies. Although you select a ranger at the beginning of a stage, you can switch rangers at any time in case one is running low on health. Finally, at the end of each level, you're given a quiz on ranger-related facts or how you felt about each level.
Right off the bat, the game seems to have a tough time with genre basics. It populates the screen with lots of enemies, but the only thing they know how to do is swarm you and stand there while you beat them up. Sometimes, they'll bother attacking if they have a weapon, but generally, they act like immobile cannon fodder once they reach you. They can't even follow you if you reach an elevation different from theirs. The bosses might attack more often than the minions, but they suffer from the same AI issues. There are also random times when a fellow ranger simply flies in and clears the screen of enemies, making things even less difficult. The addition of quests wouldn't be so bad if it didn't interrupt gameplay so much, and since the quests can be completed without much difficulty, their addition feels like unnecessary padding. As a result, the short game feels a bit longer, but the lack of difficulty, even when you crank up the difficulty level to hard, makes this a time-waster in a negative way.
The issues with the mechanics don't end with the basics, either. The quizzes given at the end of a level provide no benefits. No matter how you answer, your rangers stay the same, and scores aren't affected. Coins also do nothing because there's no place to spend them. They're simply available as something to pick up for the sake of having something to pick up.
There are other annoying issues with Megaforce. Though you have five different rangers, only the pink one does anything different with her ability to jump higher. Everyone else only differs in their weapons, but most of that is aesthetic since no one deals more damage than anyone else. Even though you must select a ranger for the fight, the game forces you to play as a specific ranger for a specific quest, making the choice moot. You have a wide range of special moves at your disposal, but since they're all accompanied by unskippable cut scenes, you're better off using regular moves to take care of foes. This mantra also goes for the big megazord fights, where projectile attacks are too slow to initiate, forcing you to use only quick melee attacks if you want the battles to feel fluid. Finally, there are plenty of load screens, and they're in unexpected areas. From cut scenes to menu screens to gameplay results, everything has a load screen, making you wonder if any optimization was done at all.
To supplement the game, there are a few gimmicks available that use the 3DS cameras. At the beginning of the game, you can take a picture of yourself that makes you feel like the ranger you're fighting with. Like most of the game mechanics, it feels useless since this is the only time you see the image, and the low resolution only ruins the illusion when a heavily pixelated image of yourself is covered by better-looking polygons.
By far the most interesting gimmick is the use of cards from the Power Rangers: Megaforce trading card game. You can scan the physical cards to unlock special items, including stat boosts, for your rangers. To familiarize you with the concept, the game even includes an exclusive card. The problem is the scanning system, which didn't work. No matter what lighting conditions were used and which angle, the included card wasn't recognized. The scanning system works with images of other cards being posted online, so the real problem is the card simply wasn't meant to be scanned. It would've been nice to see some sort of notification about the scan producing no unlockables, but packing a useless card with a game that has a card-scanning feature is simply mean.
Aside from the stat boosts to the rangers, the unlocked items don't feel like they're worth the effort. There are only two things you can open: photo frames and classic scenes. Photo frames let you use the system's camera to take a picture of yourself with extra scenery pasted over it. Some of the pictures are nice for fans, but since you can only view them in the game and can't save them for outside viewing, the feature is quickly forgotten. Classic scenes also fall into the same category because they're presented as possible clips, with a movie film border around each image. When you discover they're just still shots, your interest in collecting the cards quickly fades away.
Graphically, Megaforce struggles. The graphics aren't all that special, with a fidelity that's barely above original DS standards. The modeling for the characters is fine, but the animations waver greatly between acceptable and lacking, and the transition between some moves simply isn't there. The backgrounds are decent enough, but there are frame rate issues when more than four people are on-screen and when you're in the jungle environments. Cut scenes also end up being more disappointing, even though it uses the same static figure system you'd see in Japanese visual novels or RPGs. The developers use only one image of each character in these scenes and use manga-style emoticons to convey their feelings. The end result feels rather lazy. For those who prefer playing in 3-D, prepare for disappointment. Only certain cut scenes and the Megazord fights are presented in 3-D, and everything else presented in 2-D.
The audio starts off as being passable but quickly devolves. The effects are fine, but they only seem to come from your character. Any action initiated by enemies is accompanied with silence, making it feel unfinished. The music is fine and isn't too memorable, but the pieces are short enough that you'll quickly notice them looping. By far the most disappointing and irritating aspect of the sound is the voices. The game has the acting talent from the show reprise their roles, so even if it sounds corny, at least it's authentic. However, the voice samples play constantly when you're in a mission, and they repeat the same lines over and over. The constant voices and repetition get to the point where they annoy anyone and everyone within earshot, and that's just during the first level. If there's a game that's made to promote silence when playing, this is it.
Power Rangers: Megaforce is a bad game. The brawling is bland thanks to a lack of variety between rangers, and the game is so easy that it makes it tough for you to lose at any point. Despite the campaign's short play time, it feels longer due to unnecessary load screens and pointless subquests. The presentation is terrible, with subpar graphics that have trouble rendering on-screen and an annoying soundtrack that never ends. The gimmicks, like the use of the camera for a portrait and the card reading system, feel sloppy, especially since they give you a card that isn't compatible with the game. There are plenty of other brawlers on the system, and any one of them makes a better purchase than this title — no matter how cheap it gets and no matter how big of a Power Rangers fan you are.
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