Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed), Switch, Xbox One, PC
Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid is a testament to how far mechanics and a recognizable IP can take a fighting game. Developed by veteran professional fighting gamers from the Marvel vs. Capcom circuit, Battle for the Grid is a three-on-three fighter that is at the same time deep and complex while being welcoming and accessible to the casual gamer. It could be considered the perfect fighting game, resting in the goldilocks zone that allows players of all skill levels to enjoy. It would be considered that… if nearly everything else about Battle for the Grid feels at best rushed and at worst unfinished.
The story of Battle for the Grid… well there isn’t any. The characters in the roster (with a few exceptions) largely come from the most recent run of the Power Rangers comic, but there’s no particular setting or reason for them to be fighting each other. The arcade mode offers about five lines of dialogue throughout the whole thing, and most of them were just combat calls similar to “you’ll never get away with this!” VS style games like this usually have no well-established reason for all these characters to be fighting each other, but to be honest Battle for the Grid barely even tries.
So you aren’t going to be spending a lot of time in arcade mode, but that’s fine. Fighting games live and die on their versus modes and Battle for the Grid’s is one of the best. The mechanics here are fantastic, on par with any of the big AAA fighting games making main-stage at EVO. If you are a fighting game purist and only ever play your fighters on the couch with friends with an arcade stick in your lap, then you’ll enjoy everything Battle for the Grid has to offer.
Mechanics you can’t help but love
Let’s go over the controls first. It’s a four button fighter with the main buttons being light attack, medium attack, heavy attack, and special attack. Light through heavy attacks work approximately the same way they work in Dragon Ball FighterZ. You can do crouching and jumping attacks with them as normal, but standing attacks cause them to go into an auto combo. Of course, any of these auto combos can be canceled into one of a higher strength, provided that they haven’t progressed to their ender yet.
The special button does, well, special moves. Yes, these are the moves that you would be doing quarter circle motions for in any other game. They follow the same basic rules of any other fighting game too, i.e. you can cancel them out of normals like usual. You activate your character’s different special moves by holding a direction before pressing the special button, similar to Smash Bros.
Everything else is done by button combinations. Press special and heavy together and you’ll do a super. Press special and light together and you’ll do an EX move. Press medium and heavy together and you’ll throw (and thank god it’s not forward+heavy like it is in the MVC franchise).
Of course, this is a tag team fighter, so there’s obviously going to be some tag mechanics as well. You have two assist buttons and pressing them will call in your respective teammate to assist. You can call assists basically at any time, so long as you aren’t getting hit, and you can even call both assists at once. After you call an assist, there is a short cooldown period. Everything is very standard here.
So how do you tag? Well, you don’t, or at least you don’t raw tag. For those of you who don’t know the lingo, raw tagging is tagging into a character without doing anything else, and in professional fighting games it is always a bad idea. So Battle for the Grid simply does not let you do it. Instead, you have to partner swap, similar to BBTAG, which is to say you have to assist and then press the assist button again to take control of that character. This, in a way, forces you to cover all of your tags and makes getting punished for them a lot less likely.
Battle for the Grid’s only truly unique mechanic is its Zords. Before each match you choose a Zord to represent your team. Once one of your teammates goes down, you can activate this Zord as a sort of comeback mechanic. It will launch a variety of attacks at your opponent from off screen, usually taking up the whole screen in the process. Its attacks are largely telegraphed via a “danger” warning flashing in the middle of the screen, so they are easy to block. However, this basically gets you free pressure.
And that’s basically it. It’s a fusion of all the best mechanics from all the best VS games with the Power Rangers IP. What’s not to love?
Well, a lot. The roster for the first part. Many people have been complaining that the roster is only nine characters large, but the effective roster of MVC2 was about that big and we are getting more characters via DLC, so I don’t care about that.
The characters themselves are also pretty good showing many different archetypes. Kimberly plays the zoning game quite well, Tommy is pure rush-down, you’ll find something here to enjoy.
Unless you like grapplers. For some reason nWay decided to not put a single grappler in the roster. The Magna Defender is a slow bruiser, but doesn’t have any special throws. That’s a third of the fighting game triangle of archetypes that is just omitted.
Then there’s the question of which characters actually appear in the roster. Tommy and Jason are your pretty standard Ken and Ryu archetypes. Kimberly shows up in her awesome Ranger Hunter uniform. Lord Drakkon, the evil alternate universe Tommy, is just a great idea and a fantastic villain. From there, however, things start to get weird.
Kat is a cool character but she has real limited screen time in her own series. Gia Moran showed up in a recent fan film that crossed over Power Rangers and Street Fighter, but she was in her normal Megaforce costume, not her Super Megaforce costume in the game. Then there’s the Mastodon Sentry, the biggest wasted space on the roster. He’s simply a no-name grunt. There are any number of great black rangers to choose from and we chose this guy? Heck, there aren’t even any blue rangers in the game!
A game unfinished
I could ignore some questionable roster choices. Honestly, they are all fun enough to play. What I can’t ignore, is the rest of the game… or should I say lack of it.
I already talked about how the arcade mode has no story, but honestly that’s not all its lacking. There’s basically no boss characters. The final fights are just characters from the roster with more than one health bar. Fighting against them doesn’t feel fun. It’s just a slog.
The tutorial is a joke. It tells you basic things, like what the buttons do, but it doesn’t tell you really important techniques like EX moves, snapbacks, or even how to call your Zord. These are basic game functions! You can’t just omit them from your tutorial!
The training mode is also sadly lacking. It has the bare minimum of functions that make up a training mode. Record and playback options are limited, you don’t get to see hit-boxes or frame data, and overall it just feels clunky to use.
The presentation could be a lot better all around. There’s no voice acting and most characters don’t even have battle grunts. The hit sounds and effects are all very muted and don’t give you this satisfying confirmation that you’ve made contact with your opponent. There are only a few tracks to the soundtrack, and that gets very repetitive after a while. There aren’t even enough stages to avoid repeating through a single run through arcade mode.
And then there’s the online mode, which was the deal breaker for me. The netcode is OK. The matchmaking is OK. But playing the game online creates all sorts of bugs. It turns some high-low mix-ups into true unblockables. No, I’m not just getting upset that I got hit by a mix-up here. I tested this over and over again and sometimes low attacks just hit you, even if you are blocking and have been blocking the whole match. Online mode also breaks certain animations and causes all sorts of camera glitches. Most fighting games are played online these days and there’s no excuse for having an online mode this sloppy.
Investing in the future
I think the thing that bothered me the most about Battle for the Grid was the absurd focus on DLC. Fighting game DLC is just normal these days, you can’t expect a game to launch without it. But Battle for the Grid puts all of its DLC front and center.
Want even a single alternate costume for your fighters? Too bad, you gotta pay for it. Think the roster is too small? Too bad, our coolest characters are all going to be DLC in the future. Buy the season pass! Stages? DLC. Modes? DLC. Everything that could fix the game’s problems is DLC.
And that’s just not sitting well with me. I often say I’m perfectly fine with DLC as long as the game you originally sell me feels like a complete experience but Battle for the Grid does not. I’ve played a lot of indie fighters and Battle for the Grid offers less than most of them.
Yes, I can see this being an amazing fighting game in the future, when all the DLC gets released and the team has had more time to fix the bugs and errors. Heck, I’d settle for there being music in the credits sequence, or an actual ending for arcade mode!
The point is, there will be a time when Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid will be able to compete with other indie fighters and even AAA fighters, but now is not that time. Give it a few years and about $100 worth of DLC and we will get there. Until then, the only good thing about this game is its mechanics. While that might be the main thing people look for in a fighting game, it’s just not enough.