Take big bite out of that pepper and get ready to do some slicing and dicing (and subsequently some frying). Battle Chef Brigade from Trinket Studios is equal parts Iron Chef, Candy Crush, and platforming action game, all wrapped up in a whimsical Studio Ghibli package. And while it may sound like a lot of things happening at once, the game manages to balance its different parts deftly for an enjoyable and pleasant experience that’s more than just a little addicting.
Kill Cook Kill Cook
The set-up behind Battle Chef Brigade is a cooking competition. You play as starling chef, Mina Han, on her quest to join the Battle Chef Brigade, an elite squad of martial food artisans. To become a Battle Chef, she must defeat a number of other contestants in cooking competitions, presided over by a super handsome version of Takeshi Kaga. Along the way, there are bandits, an evil plot, and other intrigues to spice things up.
The gameplay is split between hunting and cooking. At the start of each match, you’ll run out into the environment to collect as many resources as possible to build your meal. You’ll fight slimes, hairy horned things, dragons and a whole slew of other creatures. The fighting plays like a 2D hack-and-slash platformer where you beat up monsters with melee attacks or magic, summoning giant whirlwinds or mystical throwing knives. While it’s an enjoyable element that pairs well with the fast-paced nature of the cooking segments, there’s not much strategy to the fighting. If you’re not careful with your dodges, though, some of the bigger foes may kill you and cause you to restart the area, dropping all your goodies.
Once you’ve successfully collected enough monster parts, it’s time to start cooking. Each resource breaks down into an ingredient, which is represented by an elemental combination (a lizard tail will have 2 green orbs or a hunk of meat could be 2 fire orbs and 1 water orb). At this point the game shifts into a match-three puzzle game, requiring you to combine three like colors to form one powered up gem, which you can then pair with two more powered up gems to create a super gem. It’s pretty straightforward, and to keep it from getting boring the game introduces poison blocks, bones, and fragile gems that all provide various obstacles to work around. To assist you in cooking, there are several different cooking utensils that can give you an edge. Certain pans will combine red gems if you match 2 of them instead of 3, there are slow cookers which will slowly promote a gem to the next tier after simmering for long enough, and there’s a cutting board to help remove bones and poison, allowing you to fit more gems in to your concoction. Sauces and rainbow gems are also available to help convert colors and create matches where you normally couldn’t.
Laying Out The Tools
Each of these items requires a place in your loadout, which totals three slots that you can set before heading into battle. The items you take into the fight can be helpful, but if you place your money on something to help promote red gems and the match requires a high concentration of blue gems to win, for example, you’ll spend the next 10 minutes beating your head against the wall. Limiting the loadout to three items proved to be a constant annoyance. The game feels best when you’re matching combo after combo, but not being able to have a speed cooker for all three elements AND a cutting board forces you to slow down and think strategically, which is definitely less fun than it sounds in a timed match environment.
As you work your way through the story, there are a handful of side missions that allow you to extend the game and better flesh certain characters. You can speed match as a line cook, attempting to make specific gem formations instead of lining up 3 in a row, you can hunt beasts for the awesomely over-edgy beast master, Thorn, or you can match gems in a puzzle setting, attempting to clear while meeting a specific combination of gems. The mini-games are fun initially but after about halfway through, they start to become more of a chore than anything as there’s no real variance in objective or difficulty.
The story is enough to keep you going though. The whole game screams Studio Ghibli, from its stunning hand-drawn animations to the timbre of the voice actors, and the story is no different. Packed with weirdness and whimsy, it’s easy to fall in love with Mina, Thrash and the cast of characters as they work to solve a mystery about poisoned monster ingredients. It’s definitely the type of story where you care more about the characters than the cause of the sickness that you know will inevitably get resolved, but that’s enough to keep you smiling through the whole game. The pacing of the story could be better and the ending less hurried, but ultimately it’s a story I wouldn’t mind revisiting for a few hours at a time. You also get the chance to play as Thrash, a kindly orc family man, for a chapter. His story is weirdly wedged into the narrative but serves as a mini-episode of sorts to mix things up.
Once you’ve beaten the game, you can stick around for Daily Challenges and some one-off mini-games where you break plates or do an extended restaurant rush. The mini-games are pretty lackluster and work more against the game than for it, feeling like shallow substitutes for much meatier post-game content, and the Daily Challenges aren’t much better. Every day you can play a match against a different chef with new objectives, and winning will give you experience points that allow you to level up. The only issue is leveling up doesn’t have any other value than the actual point value it assigns you. You can’t unlock new moves or items, and you are forced to choose a loadout from a predetermined range of items. If you choose to replay the battle (the only real way to play a full game mode outside of going into the story again), you are faced with the same cook, win requirements and challenge.
The game could have benefitted immensely from some solid post-game content. Any sort of add-ons to pair with earned levels and make them worth earning, a randomized battle generator, or a light RPG system would have been great. Instead, you’re limited to a game that’s designed to be addicting yet manages to restrict itself to 15-20 minutes (at best) of daily post-game content. In this era, there’s always hope for post-launch add-ons, but it’s a surprising decision that gravely limits the replayability.
Battle Chef Brigade is a fun, lovable and unique game that blends seemingly unrelated genres into a cohesive whole. Its formula works well and the game features a strikingly lovable cast of characters who will stick with you long after you beat the game, but issues with pacing, loadout design, and post-game content hold it back from being truly spectacular. While it can’t be perfect though, it certainly is great and presents yet another ‘Must Play’ to add to any Switch library.