Delicious, just a tad undercooked.
There are some combinations which just shouldn’t work. You’d think that cooking, Tetris Attack match-three and anime beat ’em up would be pretty high on that list. Yet somehow, Battle Chef Brigade manages to pair these ingredients into something satisfying. I only wish it’d have had a little longer in the oven.
Much of Battle Chef Brigade is centred on Mina, a plucky aspiring chef. Whilst working in the kitchen of her family’s humble cafe she dreams of joining the titular Battle Chef Brigade, a prestigious organisation of world-class cooks. When the annual proving tournament rolls around, she runs away from home to chase her dreams.
Arriving in the city, Mina meets a staggeringly diverse motley crew of characters. From Thrash, an orcish big friendly giant; to Thorn, a cool and menacing warrior who sits proudly amongst her trophies of slain beasts; to the Yorkshire-accented, short-sighted innkeep who regularly mistakes you for a boy – it’s a charming and fascinating roster which you’ll grow to love over the course of the game.
As its name suggests, battles are the real meat on Battle Chef Brigade’s bones. These consist of a 1v1 cook-off evaluated by guest judges, who set theme ingredients and elements for each match.
With a strict time limit, your challenge is to hunt monsters for suitable ingredients and cook them together with match-three mechanics to gain as high a score for your dish as possible whilst meeting the criteria. Sound weird? It is. But you can’t fault its originality.
It also works surprisingly well, with enough depth to back it up. Customisable fighting and cooking equipment loadouts give plenty of strategic opportunities, and the varied selection of arenas, monsters, and match themes keep you on your toes. Sometimes you’ll be frantically juggling three dishes at once, each with different elemental requirements.
If battles are the main course, bonus stages make up the hors d’oeuvres. These are Puzzle, a mode where every move counts as you aim to reach a target score with a dish; Hunt, combat challenges in which you learn and practice your fighting skills; and Restaurant, a race to match dish elements into specific patterns. These flesh out the main story with extra side plots and character development.
Even with these bonus stages, however, Battle Chef Brigade struggles to captivate after the novelty wears off. It takes time to get your head around the unique mechanics, but once you get into the groove there are only minor efforts to mix things up throughout its seven chapters.
With only so many potential combinations of elements and few new gameplay mechanics introduced after a certain point, battles don’t adequately evolve or differentiate themselves. Likewise, bonus stages can be initially challenging but fail to present much difficulty once you have a few under your belt.
Exacerbating this is the disappointing lack of variety in the presentation. Whilst characters are generously voice-acted and the world is stylish and colourful, a limited range of animations and locations leaves encounters feeling stale by the halfway point.
Battle Chef Brigade should be celebrated for the risks it takes to try something new, and the relative success it delivers. Loveable characters and a heart-warming story enrich the experience with some real soul. Its only flaw is the overly familiar taste left in your mouth by the time you reach its conclusion.