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Battle Chef Brigade review

Battle Chef Brigade
For full disclosure, as my name of the game IS in the credits of this game: This is a game I backed on kickstarter. Not that I publicly display my real name on this site, disclosure is still important even if it’s for something as “minor” as backing on KS since my name is attached to it.

The kickstarter for this started at just the right timing, which was when people got really excited about another cooking-based thing, that being Shokugeki no Soma (or Food Wars for people who use english animu titles), which is a badass anime series about cooking contests and people liking food too much. So the idea of a game about cooking contests managed to do at least reach its goal on KS. But this seemed to have a bit more than just cooking, with it also featuring fighting elements. It definitely looked like a cool mix

So is this good? Read on and see!

Developer: Trinket Studio
Publisher: Adult Swim (in Japan the publisher is Cartoon Network)
Date of Release: November 11th 2017
Platform: PC, Switch, coming later to PS4 (Switch version reviewed)
Genre: Match 3 puzzle beat ’em up

Rated E10+ for Everyone over 10

Presentation

This game is very pretty. As far as I can tell it’s all hand-drawn, it has a cool anime-ish style that’s quite striking. The character designs are pretty cool, and detailed enough to be easily recognizable. The backgrounds tend to look great. The monster designs are cool takes on classic things. The food looks pretty decent for dishes made of weird monster parts, though I’d say to not expect it to look nearly as delicious as the food in Food Wars. It features a very simple animation style, as most things on screen don’t move much at all (with some exceptions). Outside of the main gameplay, characters don’t move much, just occasionally switching to different poses or idle animations. Even in gameplay, despite the smoothness of combat, the actual attack animations are really simple, with most attacks only having a few actual frames of animation, but those frames are enhanced by lots of motion lines and stuff, so it looks dynamic and smooth. If I had one actual complaint with the graphics, it would be that some of the background elements feel kinda… unfinished? Like they started a sketch but didn’t detail or color them. It’s not often though, most of the game looks great.

On the sound side… I can’t really remember any of the music off the top of my head but it wasn’t annoying so I assume it was good. Me not noting anything bad about music is usually a positive. The biggest part of the sound design is the voice acting. There’s a surprising amount, most of the dialogue is actually voiced (I wasn’t really expecting that since my philosophy with KS is “back and forget”), and most of it ranges from very good to acceptable. None of it struck me as bad. Very nice.

In a world where monsters came out of random portals and are ravaging the land and killing people, a few people found the solution to the problem: hunt the monsters and cook/eat them, forming the Battle Chef Brigade (people who are strong enough to fight the monsters, and talented enough to make food out of them). You play as Mina Han, a girl who feels stuck in her job helping her parents out with cooking in their small town restaurant, dreaming to join the Battle Chef Brigade. She ends up running away from home to participate in the selection tournaments in hopes of doing just that. The tournament is set up so that you must win a certain number of cooking matches, but enough losses leads to you being disqualified. Mina’s journey is filed with interactions with many interesting characters, hardships, and weird mystical crap. It turns out being a pretty solid story overall, definitely good enough to keep me going. The ending was kinda meh though. Everything was resolved, but the last part of the story leading up to the ending feels a bit rushed.

Gameplay

This game is a combination of 2 completely separate gameplay styles. There’s 2D platforming combat gameplay, where you kill monsters and gather their parts as ingredients, and there’s match 3 puzzle gameplay for cooking said ingredients. Each tournament match is where these 2 gameplay styles meet.

Matches
I’ll properly explain the combat and cooking later, but first, the matches. In a tournament match you have a table with 3 pans (or other objects depending on your preference) you can use to cook food, a pantry where your ingredients go, and, to your left, a door that leads outside of the coliseum, where you get to fight monsters to collect ingredients (there’s several maps where this will happen. You have a limited amount of slots to carry ingredients, though that can be upgraded (more on that later). At the start of each match you are given a few pieces of information, specifically what kind of flavor gems the judge or judges like in their food, and what monster is required for you to get ingredients from (with a few matches requiring plant ingredients). So long as you have at least one piece of the required monster or plant in the dish that will be judged, you won’t get negative points for the dish (basically cuts your score in half not to have something that’s required).

Once done cooking a plate, you take the plate and place it in front of the judge of your choice. So if there’s 2 or 3 judges, that means you need to cook one plate each. Don’t do it on time and you get a penalty. Points are judged by the number of flavor points they have, which you get more of by promoting gems during cooking (more on that later). Some items you can equip allow you to get bonus points for various tasks like quickly getting a point threshold quickly, using lots of sauce, using a lot of the same ingredient or using ingredients from everything in the map. You get deducted points for being too slow to serve a plate (there’s a time limit for the whole match), for leaving poison in, or for not using correct ingredients (and maybe something else I’m forgetting). You’re not supposed to lose story-wise, so if you do you just get a rematch. This is important, for something I’ll mention later.

Combat
Combat is fairly simple but really nice. You get an attack button and a magic button. Pressing a direction at the same time as an attack can do different attack, same thing for the magic spells. Attacks in the air work the same. You can link pretty much any of the attacks together pretty easily, and comboing enemies is really satisfying. Killing monsters leads to what seems like a random ingredient from them to drop, each ingredient giving different flavor gems. Once you filled your slots with ingredients you can go back to your kitchen to drop them off, then go back out or start cooking.

Cooking
Cooking is pretty simple. In front of a pan you can access the pantry, where you can select your ingredient (you can add more ingredients as you cook, not a problem). The ingredient will show what flavor gems it provides (as well as poison and bones). Once you have ingredients in you should turn on the first under the pans to cook the ingredients, and this will enable you to stir the flavor gems. This goes into a sort a match 3 thing in a 4×4 grid. Your cursor fills 4 squares in the grid forming a 2×2 square. Gems come in 3 elements; earth, fire and water. The gems in your cursor will rotate clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on which button you press. Putting 3 of the same gems of the same level in a line combines them and makes them into a gem of the same element of a higher level. 3 level 2 gems of the same elements produces the best gem, a level 3 (no combinations available for these). If you have poison you can combine 3 of them to clear them out. You can also combine 3 bones together to get a rainbow gem which is basically a wildcard that can do any match. Some gems have cracks on them, if you rotate those they crack more, and after enough cracks they downgrade to an uncracked gem of the lower level (or disappear completely if they’re level 1), but combining them gives a gem without cracks. If you move poison around it can burst, cracking ingredients around it. Also there’s sauce you can find (or ingredients that act as sauce) which will change the color of the gems it’s placed on. There’s still a bit more to cooking though.

Equipment and preparation
What SHOULD be an important part to the cooking matches is preparations. You know, at least knowing what kind of ingredients the judges will prefer. Well, the game doesn’t quite do that. So when going into a match you should probably balance what you’ll bring. By that I mean a few things. Mina can have a loadout, which means 3 categories which will have 3 different items equipped. Combat items, which can increase health, mana, slots for ingredients and special effects on certain attacks. I prefer to focus on slots for ingredients myself.

The second category is what I’ll call cooking items. Some are ingredients you can use that either provide flavor gems right at the start of a match, there’s ambrosia which is some kind of sauce (don’t remember what it does) or expertise books, which may provide you with bonus points on your plates if you reach certain conditions.

Finally the last category is pans. You can have 3 at once, which is nice for cooking several things at once, and each pan is a bit different. The base one does matches of 3 gems. Some only need 2 but will only promote a specific color. One needs 4 level 1 gems but will instantly promote to level 3. One needs 3 but adds combos, which add up if you do multiple matches quickly and leave pellets in the board which levels up whatever gems are in those spaces. One is a slow cooker that automatically upgrades gems one by one, which is really good if you’re in a really long match, you can basically max out your points on one of the meals in that case. There’s a few others I didn’t find useful. My favorite pan loadout in the end-game is the combo pan, the slow cooker and the cutting board (which enables you to destroy gems, poison and bones, to make place for stuff you need).

If you lose a match, you do get to change your loadout, at which point you can specialize to your needs (since the judges won’t change). So making a balanced loadout at first is nice, but if you need to focus on one or 2 types of gems you can make things easier for yourself in the rematch.

Other stuff
Outside of the tournament matches you can skip to the next day (after your match), buy stuff, and do minigames for money. There’s hunting which is just killing stuff, working at the restaurant which is cooking to get specific gem patterns (there’s lots to do with a time limit, the more you do the more cash you get), and puzzles which is trying to get a specific number of points from a specific gem pattern. All pretty fun stuff. Also one of the chapters lets you play as a different character than Mina (and I think there’s ways to play as 2 or 3 others). The different characters, at least judging from the one in the story, cook the same but don’t fight the same. Outside of the main story there’s challenges (not sure what they are, haven’t touched those) and a daily cook-off (which puts you in a daily leaderboard, setting you up on the same maps using the same loadout as everyone else that day, pretty fun).

Overall

Battle Chef Brigade is a really cool combination of gameplay styles that seem like they won’t work together but really do. The combat is fun and fluid, the cooking is interesting with some cool strategies you can develop as you play, it has a fun story and really nice hand-drawn graphics. I’m pretty positive about it.

Not that I don’t have a few very minor complaints. While both combat and cooking are fun, I’d like if both were slightly more fleshed out. The combat could definitely be improved with more moves and more enemies (or more interesting enemies), and the idea that you really customize your dish depending on what you put in it really isn’t explored, since all you really care about is getting the flavor gems and nothing else (you do make different dishes, but it’s pretty meaningless beyond what they look like). And I’d love a bit more depth to the scoring (and thus the cooking), because basically if you have a plate that has a pile of level 3 gems and at least one of the required ingredients you’re pretty much getting a winning score no matter what. I found all the matches in the main story too easy except the final one (which still only took me 2 tries), my first match with 2 judges I literally won with just one dish because I didn’t know I needed to make 2 (my second was a pile of uncooked ingredients). And finally I kinda wish there were multiplayer options, especially locally, and maybe some way to affect the opponent’s dishes but I don’t know what that could be (so it’s not really a negative).

That said, Battle Chef Brigade is a great idea executed well. If it sounds interesting to you I definitely recommend it.

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