Moviegoers turned up in droves over the weekend to watch the Power Rangers take on arch nemesis Rita Repulsa. But the battle extended well beyond the movie screens to mobile phones with the March 24 release of multiplayer fighting game Power Rangers: Legacy Wars.
By Sunday, the game had been downloaded more than 6 million times and hosted 20 million matchups between players, enough to make it the No. 1 free app in the U.S. on the Apple App Store for two straight days and the No. 2 Android app behind Nintendo’s Mario Run.
From game developer nWay, Lionsgate (which produced and distributed the Power Rangers movie) and Saban Brands (owner of the franchise), Legacy Wars presents an alternate story to the one playing out on movie screens, in which Rita Repulsa devises a plot to pit Rangers against one another in a franchise first. Players select teams of Rangers, based on characters that span the franchise’s 24-year history, to compete in real time against other players.
That combination of fandom-fueled nostalgia and innovative game play for a buzzy franchise revival has morphed Legacy Wars into a game that will give Lionsgate and Saban a foothold with fans long after Power Rangers leaves theaters.
“It’s a great foundation for us,” says Saban Brands CEO Janet Hsu. “That the film launched right around the same time really opened up the market to allow a much more expansive audience. The game is a celebration of Power Rangers, whether it’s the fan that has the nostalgia for the brand or the fan that is being introduced to the brand right now.”
Lionsgate, which made a push into mobile gaming with the 2014 hiring of former Nerdist CEO Peter Levin, has been mulling a Power Rangers game for the better part of two years. But it wasn’t until Levin discovered nWay, which has developed technology to allow for mobile-based multiplayer gaming, last year that the concept for Legacy Wars came together.
NWay CEO Taehoon Kim says Power Rangers lent itself to a multiplayer fighting game because it could pull from the dozens of characters, including iterations of the Power Rangers themselves, that have appeared over the course of the franchise’s two decades on television. It was nWay’s idea bring a new element to the game by having the Rangers fight each other, inspired by the popularity of fan-created YouTube videos that often imagine what would happen if the Rangers fought.
“I felt that it would be compelling for the fans to have a fighting game where they can choose to be a Ranger or a villain,” adds Kim. “It’s a dream come true for fans.” The Rita Repulsa backstory was used to make such a plot development more plausible.
While the power of the Power Rangers brand certainly has helped the game become an early hit, all involved credit the quality of the game and the seamless way it fits into the existing franchise universe with its success. It also got all-important bumps after Apple and Android both featured the game in their stores.
“You have to make a good game,” says Levin. “With the hundreds of hours that people end up playing games, I don’t care what brand you put on it. If the game isn’t good they aren’t going to spend those hundreds of hours.”
Eventually the film will leave theaters, but the game will continue to live on. There are already plans to add additional Rangers and villains (the game launched with about 50) to continue to keep players engaged. And while there is already talk about a sequel, Levin notes the game won’t rely on that roadmap. “The game has to stand on its own two legs,” he adds. “Clearly this weekend it was able to do so. Now we have to continue to innovate and update and listen to our consumer base.”