Battle Chef Brigade
Steam PC / Mac and Nintendo Switch
Nov 20th, 2017
A copy of Battle Chef Brigade was provided in exchange for an honest review.
When I was a kid, I used to watch Gordon Ramsay scream bloody murder on Hell’s Kitchen with complete moon eyes, like I was the literal embodiment of the heart-eyes emoji. I’ve got a not-so-secret complex for chefs-turned-TV-personalities. Two of the top five qualities I look for in a man are that he never burns his risotto and that he’s always down to watch another hour of Food Network. Top Chef, MasterChef, Extreme Chef—if you can name a cooking competition TV show, I’ve probably binge-watched all thirty-six seasons of it (I’m looking at you, Chopped).
Of course, watching the best of the best throw down doesn’t mean that I’m any good in the kitchen. I like to eat food more than I like to cook food. I’m not even sure what the difference between parsley and cilantro is, but people tell me it’s significant.
The video game industry thrives on using pop culture as inspiration, so it was only a matter of time before someone stepped forward to make a game inspired by the crème de la crème of cooking shows: Iron Chef. The (often overlooked) storyline of Iron Chef is that Chairman Kaga fell in love with food, built Kitchen Stadium in his castle, and invited chefs from around the kingdom to compete for his entertainment. Plot or no plot, the Iron Chef franchise is a culinary television masterpiece; since it first came to TV in 1993, it’s aired 309 episodes, hosted hundreds of chefs, and spawned close to a dozen spin-off shows. It’s cooking in a game show format—what’s not to love?
The team at Trinket Studios has harvested a kickass concept from Iron Chef, mixed in some delectable puzzle/fighting elements, and boiled it all down to one succulent gameplay experience that promises to please even the most particular of gamer palates: Battle Chef Brigade!
Battle Chef Brigade is another game that spawned from the recent uprising of crowd-funded content. Its Kickstarter launched in September of 2014 and immediately drew attention for its familiar culinary concept, hand-drawn characters and monsters, and its description as “equal parts old-school brawler and combo puzzler, served with a side of light RPG progression”. In the span of a month it raised just over $100,000 with pledges from 3,316 backers, and by August of 2016 it was successfully picked up by Adult Swim Games.
You start the game as Mina, a young woman whose parents own a restaurant in a small town in the kingdom of Victusia. Mina’s job is to make patrons happy by collecting ingredients from monsters she finds in the backyard, then serving those ingredients up as local cuisine. Mina’s real dream, though, is to strike out on her own and join the Battle Chef Brigade, a group of ferocious warriors turned dedicated gourmets.
Mina’s backyard provides the perfect format for players to really get a grip on the gameplay mechanics. Battle Chef Brigade is one part 2D brawler, one part match-three puzzle game, and one part timer-fueled panic attack—in a good way, of course!
Mina is one of two playable characters, the other one being Thrash, Mina’s orc friend whose story is unlocked after playing through Mina’s part of the storyline. Mina and Thrash have distinctly different fighting styles. Mina’s magical abilities are based on a combination of throwing knives and wind magic. Thrash, on the other hand, can eat unwanted ingredients to fill up a meter and then enter a food-fueled berserker mode.
Every monster you slay drops ingredients that you can pick up and put in your satchel. When your satchel is full, you can bring the ingredients back to the kitchen and store them in the pantry until you’re ready to start cooking.
Once you’ve got a good collection of ingredients to choose from, you can toss a handful of them into your pot and start a-cookin’. Every ingredient is made up of a combination of elements (fire, water, and earth, represented by color-coded gems). The goal is to stir those ingredients until three similarly colored gems come together, which causes them to fuse and level up into a more powerful flavor gem. The more level three gems in a dish the more delicious it becomes and the more accolades the judges will give you.
Of course, cooking can never be that simple. Like the television series it draws from, every showdown in Battle Chef Brigade has a theme ingredient that must be included in the dish you create. Forget to include an ingredient from the monster that the master of ceremonies has chosen for the match and you’ll suffer a penalty.
On top of that, you’ve got to take into consideration the judge that you’re cooking for. At the start of every match, the judge makes it clear which elements they’ll be looking for in the dish that you present to them. Catering to the judge’s tastes by having the most level three gems of their preferred element(s) will net you a bonus that can push a dish from good to great and give you the edge you need to take down your competitor.
If the fighting techniques, ingredient choices, and flavor combinations aren’t hard enough for you to keep straight, just wait—as you get farther into the game you go from cooking for one judge to cooking for three, which means prioritizing your time to make three different dishes cooked to suit three different sets of taste buds.
Midway through Mina’s arc, the game’s storyline introduces a mechanic that ups the difficulty of Mina’s match-ups even further. The sudden outbreak of a peculiar plague among the monster population adds new pieces to the puzzle: poisonous tumors in the monster meat and flavor gems that disintegrate the more you manipulate them. Serving a judge a meal infested with dangerous ingredients leaves you open to major penalties. Taking the time to remove poisonous materials and compensate for gems that fall apart during the cooking process makes preparing the perfect dish much more time-consuming.
Combining all of these gameplay elements together makes for a very busy kitchen. Add in the ominous presence of a timer looming in the corner of the screen, and suddenly even the most composed gamer is prone to periods of panic.
Luckily, the game does supply hopeful Brigadiers with a way to quell some of the chaos that comes with cooking in Kitchen Coliseum. Mina and Thrash both have three sections of equipable items that can give them an advantage when competing against other chefs. Chefs can take three combat items, three extra ingredients or cookbooks, and three pieces of cookware into Kitchen Coliseum with them. The multitude of item options available make designing a loadout a big part of preparing for a match. You don’t get to know the secret ingredient or the judges’ favorite flavors before you set your loadout, so picking your equipment is all about weighing the pros and cons of each combination and being careful not to choose cookware that limits which gems you can blend together.
Along with facing down other characters in Kitchen Coliseum, Battle Chef Brigade is also set up with three different mini games that can net players some extra cash to spend at the shop (gotta get those shiny new pots and pans!) while practicing some of the important strategies that players need to know in order to be successful against challengers. You can help Belchior develop a flavor-enhancing potion by solving stirring puzzles, polish up your fighting abilities by hunting down monsters for Thorn, or take some of the stress off of Pontida’s shoulders by speed cooking in the kitchen of her local restaurant.
From the main cast to the mini game minions, Battle Chef Brigade’s characters are nothing but richly designed. While Chairman Kamin is clearly the epitome of sublime style and Thorn the lovelorn orc huntress will forever have my heart, there were quite a few others that I could easily place in the “characters I want to date” category (Simon, Kirin, Leonid, Sargon, Vivian… the list goes ever on!). Of course, you can’t talk about slick character design without mentioning the game’s most mysterious (not to mention dead?) chef: Ziggy, a necromancer with an enigmatic background and an adorable jelly ghost sidekick that hovers over his shoulder.
Ziggy’s inclusion in the final product of Battle Chef Brigade does raise questions, though. The Battle Chef Brigade Kickstarter originally promised three playable characters (Mina, Thrash, and Kirin), plus backers pushed past the $92,000 threshold to earn themselves Ziggy as a playable character, as well. However, the game released with only Mina and Thrash as playable characters, which raises an important question for players to ask in an age where crowd-funded games are becoming more and more commonplace: just how beholden to the backers are a game’s creators, anyway?
But despite not fulfilling 100% of its promises, I don’t think Battle Chef Brigade failed to live up to the expectations it set for itself. The gameplay is fabulous, the characters are colorful, and the story is cute and inspirational, if not particularly deep. Trinket Studios’ final product is a veritable smorgasbord of everything that I love in a game.
I’d even go so far as to call Battle Chef Brigade a three-Michelin-star experience.