Genre mixing is often a bit of a disaster. Developers love to take two different ideas and mash them together in an attempt to make the next peanut butter cup, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Almost everyone I know ADORES the first half of Brutal Legend: the second half, not so much. Going from rockstar adventure to some kind of tower defense setup was disappointing, to say the least. But, when you can mesh the ideas together cohesively – to make them a part of each other and blend into one, singular idea – then you get a dish that can’t be replicated or trifled with anywhere.
Battle Chef Brigade is the fascinating tale of a world where monsters had overrun the populous to the point of human starvation. Thankfully, one king and one chef realized they could combine combat and culinary arts to solve both problems with one stone, and thus the age of “hunting monsters and eating them began.” Now, the noble profession in the Battle Chef Brigade welcomes new recruits each year, testing them through a series of rigorous and grueling duels in order to find out who can cut the mustard (pun sort of intended). You, in the role of Mina (at least in the main story mode), must give up the comfortable but monotonous life inside your parents restaurant and set off on your own to see if you can join the hallowed ranks of the Battle Chef Brigade.
Before any of the other tasty toppings that come on this plate, let’s take a look at your core protein: the gameplay. Battle Chef Brigade is equal parts beat em up, match three and time management stress simulator. For everything else, the cooking is your main target, and it can be one of the most exciting and hectic experiences you’ve ever had in a game. A judge (or judges) will give you the criteria they expect, which hinges on any number of elements, from what “type” of meal they want (earth, water, wind or fire) to a specific ingredient they expect you to cook with (read: what monster). If you have multiple judges, that means multiple meals: don’t plan to cook one thing and appease two people, it ends in sadness and a massive point deduction. Once the word go is dropped, you have to sprint out of the kitchen, find your mark (or marks) and dispatch them ASAP in the hopes they drop the ingredients that you most hope for. If a judge really wants you to cook with dragon but wants an earthy taste, you got your work cut out for you, as most of dragon meat is primarily (surprise) fire based.
Combat for Battle Chef Brigade is a mix of close hand melee and a small variety of magical attacks. The magic you use is also elemental, so chefs may be at a certain advantage if their magic matches the weakness of the monster they plan on cooking with. Thankfully, I never noticed a discrepancy that was wide enough that I felt my pairing was unfair: hand-to-hand combat served me well in most cases. The monsters range from tiny, weak things to massive beasts that will knock you out, and this penalizes you by a.) wasting time and b.) making you drop whatever ingredients you’d already collected. I love the fact that you can only carry six at a time, but you can (theoretically) fit any number of things into a dish as long as you can make it fit. I also love that I not only need to hunt my own food, I need to beat the living snot out of it until I can rip out it’s heart for cooking.
The match three works in a surprisingly solid way, opting for a rotating system of clockwise and counterclockwise pivots in lieu of one-to-one exchange. The effect creates two levels of strategy, which only gets more complex with the greater number of monsters/ingredients that you encounter. On the one hand, you need to make sure that you’re successfully getting good matches, which brings up the quality of the dish and also the flavor focus that the judges asked for. On the other, it creates an ever more full dish, slowly maxing out the vessel that is your meal until you literally cannot fit in another morsel. This sometimes got me into trouble, especially with things like uncookable fragments, or exploding pieces that change the color of your meal/destroy some of those level 3 gems you meticulously crafted. And the whole time, my JoyCons were rumbling in the most PLEASANT use of HD so far. Seriously, to feel the pot simmering in my hands while I’m getting things prepared was freaking awesome. Let’s keep using HD Rumble as long as we can set it to something besides “jarring pulse when you hit a wall” like so many games do.
Outside of the main game mechanics, there’s a really cool story that gradually unlocks as you follow Mina through her advancement in the trial and her ultimate success and beyond. There’s a lot of spoken dialogue, and the voices they got to play everyone is pretty damn spot on. Artistically, I was deeply impressed by the art style as well. There’s clearly a great influence from Japan, but this doesn’t play like a tribute or homage to games from the East, but something entirely independent and fully fleshed out, like Battle Chef Brigade happened in spite of the number of games that emulate anime style. Everything is colorful without being saturated, and the moments that need an extra splash (the cooking sequences) are improved and amped to pitch perfect hues. Naturally, everything looked better on the big screen, but Trinket Studios took the time and effort to make sure the game was still gorgeous to behold in handheld mode. Players will not be disappointed by any drops in quality or performance when cooking on the road.
Lastly, be sure to enjoy some of the different online challenges, but be warned: much like the “random mission” button in ACORN Tactics, jumping into the online will potentially thrust you into degrees of cooking that you may not be ready for. The basics never change, but all of the upgrade equipment – different cooking pans, speciality defense items – these are things that roll out gradually and should be experimented with. Dropping into a randomized duel with little experience under your belt is a sure fire recipe for a loss. The entirety of the game plays out in fewer than twelve hours, so take some time and enjoy the main story before you jump and try to become Nintendo’s Next Top Chef.
Battle Chef Brigade is an absolute delight, there’s no two ways about it. I was completely taken in by the world and the concepts, and the solid execution and cohesion between the game modes just sealed the deal. My only regret was never seeing the Kickstarter campaign: I would have loved one of those aprons, and may need to scour eBay to see if anyone wants to part with theirs. In the meantime, if you’re any variety of fan of action RPGs, high-stakes matching or just well crafting gaming in general, grab your sword and spatula; it’s cookin’ time.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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