Power Rangers is one of those franchises that simply refuses to die. There's a good chance you were into it as a kid, whether that was back in the '90s heyday when everyone – and we mean everyone – was Rangers crazy or anytime throughout the last 25 years of Morphin' Time. And it's still going strong, with new series' of increasingly bizarre backstories, a continued overuse of the word 'Mega' and enough merchandising to make George Lucas green with money lust. So, of course, it makes perfect sense for a licence with this much history to re-dip its toes in the fighting game ocean in 2019.
This isn't even the first time we've had a Power Rangers fighting game either – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition takes that credit way back in the days of the Mega Drive/Genesis – but Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid marks the first time we've seen a proper attempt to meld multiple incarnations of the spandex-loving heroes with a modern fighting game setup on consoles. The results are mixed, but not in the way you might be imagining. Shockingly, Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid is a solid little fighter, both locally and online; it's just got some serious problems with base content and its approach to DLC.
Developer nWay has primarily been involved with mobile platforms thus far – having built a handful of fighting games, including 3D arena brawler ChronoBlade – but with Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid, this San Francisco-based studio has gone for a more traditional setup with each team of warriors battling on a single plane. Each match consists of three characters from Power Rangers canon – including memorable Rangers such as Tommy Oliver (the original Green Ranger) and Goldar (the grumpy winged ape from the first couple of series) – with each fighter possessing their own health bar. In order to beat your opponent, you'll need to defeat all three of their members to claim that elusive 'KO'.
You can swap between each member of your team at any time, as well as using each one for a Swap Strike-style assist can help continue a combo (if you're currently the aggressor) or break an ongoing beatdown (if you're being forced into defence manoeuvres). As a concept, these mechanics have been used for decades – most notably in the old X-Men games and the more enduring Marvel Vs Capcom series – so rather than rewriting the rulebook, nWay has simply taken note of what works and fitted it into the Power Rangers universe. Character health bars regenerate when benched, so there's a tactical side to tracking your health mid-combo and swapping out accordingly. You can even call in from a choice of three MegaZords (known as Ultras) for a special super attack.
At its core, Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid is a surprisingly robust fighter. nWay may have been responsible for the Power Rangers: Legacy Wars – a mobile-based fighter based on a vaguely similar concept that incorporated card-based attacks and Street Fighter cameos – but this is very much a console-focused title. Character animations are smooth and almost any move can be blocked or countered in some way with plenty of smooth transitions between each, creating a more even experience that'll appeal to casual fighting game players. We experienced very little input lag either, even when playing online in ranked matches, and the 60fps framerate holds solidly in both docked and handheld modes – even when all three of your team are on-screen.
So it plays decently, and runs impressively well, so why did we elude to a mixed reaction at the top of the review? Well, it all comes down to how Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid is being rolled out. There are two versions, a Standard Edition and a Collector's Edition, with a good £20 in price between the two. The Standard Version comes with nine playable characters, three Ultras and five arenas. And that's it. With 25 years of history, you get nine rangers and villains. Nine. It's more irritating when you realise three more characters are locked behind the Season One pass, with presumably more lined up for future seasons.
Where are the Rangers from the 2017 film reboot? Why not include a Ranger of each colour from across the Power Rangers universe? Why have such a lack of variety to your arenas when you have such a rich tapestry of locations to pick from? In age of Fortnite-style season pack release plans, this approach is hardly surprising, but it gives Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid a distinctly free-to-play feel when you're actually coughing up at least £18 to play the base version.
Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid isn't some cheap tie into a quarter-century-old franchise – at least not in sense of its core mechanics and gameplay. With a smooth 60fps in all formats on Switch, lots of modes to play through and support for ranked and casual bouts online, it's a decent fighter, even without the licence. However, an ugly yet suitably contemporary approach to content accessibility leaves this game feeling frustratingly spartan to anyone who doesn't invest in a rolling number of ongoing season passes. This seems to be the way all fighting games are going – just look at Dead or Alive 6's awful DLC setup – but it's not a welcome direction.