Battle Chef Brigade (BCB), created by Chicago developer, Trinket Studios, is a sort of difficult game to explain. It's part text-based visual novel, part combo based side scroller, and part match-3 puzzle, all rolled together in a fantasy Iron Chef packaging. And already, when I say that, I'm not sure that it makes sense. But BCB's many parts come together to create a harmonious, meaningful gaming experience on the Nintendo Switch or PC.
Battle Chef Brigade revolves around, Mina Han, the brash, main character archetype, and youngest daughter of a family which runs a Chinese restaurant in rural Victusia with a bad case of wanderlust. This leads her to run away from home to compete to become a brigadier with the Battle Chef Brigade, an organization of military chefs which protect the land of Victusia from monsters, while also feeding its denizens.
Her every day, and the gameplay of BCB consists of following Mina as she works towards this goal. The competition consists of fighting against other hopeful chefs in cook-offs. These timed cook-offs consist of two parts. One part in killing animals and harvesting various fruits and vegetables, and one part carrying them back to the kitchen to prepare a dish for 1-3 judges.
The cooking in Battle Chef Brigade consists of a light match-3 game where players must match red (fire), green (earth), and, blue (water) orbs in order to create stronger flavor profiles. There’s one catch, every judge has different tastes that the chef must cater to. This could mean making a dish that tastes like straight fire, to a dish which balances all three flavors exactly. The taste of the dish is determined by points which the player can rack up by matching these taste crystals up to a level 3 crystal. At first this system seems quite simple but, as the game goes on new elements are presented and players are given access to a number of items from pans which allow players to match 2 crystals instead of three, to items which give their dish a bonus if they meet certain criteria. And there begins to be spaces where strategic analysis is necessary to win. Oh and, all of this takes place in a limited amount of time based on the amount of judges.
These new systems are introduced cleverly, while Mina is staying in the capital, she has the option of working “part-time jobs” as a cook in a restaurant, helping a cat-hoarding professor perfect his recipe for ambrosia or hunting. These side missions not only give gold but, also give greater explanationw into some of the systems which are introduced, as well as give players a place to practice before their matches.
I realized BCB was successful in imitating the frenzy of an Iron Chef style cooking competition, when, in one match, as I hurried to get the dishes in front of the judges in the last 10 seconds of the match, I started screaming to myself, “GET THE DISHES PLATED!” I noticed my heart beating fast and I was on the edge of my seat trying to remember if I had remembered to add squiggle to every dish. I was amazed that a match-3 game had gotten me that pumped.
Battle Chef Brigade oozes style. From the hand drawn style of art, to the vibrant color pallet, and the remarkable look of the food, Battle Chef Brigade works hard at getting the player to really feel invested in the world. They even have a Mark Dacascos character MCing most of the cook-offs to up the ante. The music, the cheering crowds, and the judges waiting in the center of the stadium, add a sense of urgency to every move you make. When I look at BCB the first thing I think about is Hayao Miazaki’s work, especially the food.
But all of this is not to say Battle Chef Brigade doesn’t have things worth criticizing. One thing to note is the story. The Story of BCB is nothing extraordinary but it isn’t bad. It reminds me very much of Miyazaki’s lighter children’s movies which is to say, highly enjoyable, with a lesson to be learned but, nothing revolutionary. But, to me, it didn’t matter because, the story was enough to get the job done. And as I say this, I feel it important to mention that I love the entire cast of BCB. I found myself attached to them in a similar way to the way I became attached to the Nightwings of Pyre earlier this year. I love them, want to protect them, and see them grow up strong. And I empathized with them so much that the simplicity of the story no longer mattered to me. Secondly, Battle Chef Brigade is short, nearly 10 hours, without much replay value.
Finally gameplaywise, I encountered a couple of game breaking bugs while playing in an otherwise very polished game, on the Switch. Secondly, though you are given access to a great deal of different items you could, in theory, tailor to whatever situation you are going to be in, you are forced to go into every battle blind. Once you realize what your judge’s tastes are, you are not allowed to alter your loadout unless, you happen to lose. This takes the point of having specialized equipment as it’s completely possible to paint yourself into a corner by specializing your loadout to suit a certain situation and then being offered the one situation you didn’t anticipate. This is probably the most irritating issue the game has though, in normal mode, unless I really messed up bad, it was very difficult to lose.
Despite its flaws, Battle Chef Brigade proves once again, sometimes shorter games can provide a meaningful gaming experience beyond many of the longer games on the market. It isn’t difficult for me to recommend this game. So, get your knifes, make sure you eat before you play, and get on your way to becoming a brigadier.