Battle Chef Brigade
You don’t always need the most exotic ingredients to prepare a good meal. The competitive cookoffs in Battle Chef Brigade blend an unremarkable platform brawler with a straightforward match-three puzzler, while an episodic narrative binds it all together. Yet the simplicity of the raw components belies a dish of piquant flavour, these individual elements cohering into something that, while admittedly slight in form, collectively produce a satisfying dish.
It’s beautifully presented, too, with its hand-drawn characters and watercolour backdrops lending the serenely whimsical world of Victusia a distinctly Miyazaki-esque feel. In fact, the whole game is suffused with a Ghibli-like warmth: not all the rivalries between protagonist Mina and her fellow chefs are friendly, but it captures the unique camaraderie that can emerge from good-natured competition. In other words, it’s closer to The Great British Bake-Off than Chopped – and even a conspiracy plot that’s bubbling away in the background has the kind of low-stakes feel of a lightweight Sunday-teatime drama. You might be dealing with elves, orcs and necromancers, but each of the chefs feels relatably human; their designs may be lightly sketched, but their characterisation is anything but.
It does, however, mean that dialogue and plot can take over for long spells. At times, the cooking battles between those hoping to earn a place in the eponymous brigade can feel more like a side plate than the main course. Each of these is set against the clock, as you’re invited to produce dishes to satisfy a judging panel. Your score is dependent on the quality of your ingredients, and how closely you adhere to their demands.
Most judges will ask for a recipe with a predominant elemental flavour, though some will ask you to balance two of them – and there’s a special ingredient that it’s imperative you include in each serving. It isn’t enough simply to complete the dishes: you’ll need to plate up and present them to the panel before time runs out.
The foraging part is simple enough. Dash out of the kitchen and you’ll find plenty of local flora and fauna to harvest: everything from carnivorous plants to vicious little fuzzballs that barrel out of their nests, and even ponderous but powerful dragons. There’s a subtle sense of a wider monster ecosystem, though this basically amounts to birds flying off with monster parts to gulp them down and excrete eggs – which in turn can be struck to make a sauce. You’ve got a set of knives with which to attack beasts from close range, though you can also spend your limited supply of mana points lobbing them from a safer distance, or producing whirlwinds to buffet airborne pests. With your satchel stuffed, you’ll return to your pantry for the second part of the process.
Appropriately, cooking is an enjoyable and moderately stressful process. Each ingredient is represented by an arrangement of coloured orbs that you drop into a 4x4 puzzle grid. Using up to three pans, you must combine them, ‘stirring’ the pot by rotating square blocks of four. Match three like-coloured orbs and they’ll create a more potent fusion, boosting the score of the recipe. Three of those will, in turn, produce a high-quality ingredient that will remain in the dish. As valuable as these are, they also take up room in your pan, and space quickly becomes a concern – not least when you’ve got pieces of bone to complicate matters (though these, too, can be arranged to form a wildcard orb that can make matches with any colour). Poisoned monster parts are more of a problem, steadily reducing the quality of adjacent orbs, though they can also be used to make room: getting rid of an unwanted earthy residue, say, when your panel’s after a dish with a kick.
In the meantime, you can complete side missions. Puzzle stages challenge you to make a recipe from provided ingredients to earn a set number of points. On hunts you can practise your stomps, uppercuts and backstabs until you’ve slain the requisite number of beasts. But the busy restaurant quests are the best, inviting you to fulfil several orders arriving in rapid succession, with customers requesting specific orb patterns in their dishes. They’re easily passed, in truth, but the challenge lies in completing as many as you can to earn better tips. These and other cash rewards can be spent in shops to give you a fighting chance in upcoming rounds. Bonus ingredients give you a head start, while special pans let you produce matches from pairs rather than threes, albeit only for a single element type, forcing you to keep switching pans.
Despite the abstract presentation of the ingredients and the process, there are moments where it feels awfully like the real thing. Certainly, if you’ve ever had to cater for guests, you’ll recognise the panic in juggling several dishes at once, seemingly never quite having enough room. In a broader sense, it’s about finding the right balance between quality and consistency: do you go all out on one show-stopper and hope the bonuses will cover the weaknesses of your second, or aim for two solid but unspectacular dishes? On the relatively easygoing Normal difficulty you’ll be able to get away with a few minor mistakes, but on Hard mode your time management needs to be much more efficient. At least you never have to worry about anything boiling over or burning, but then we’ve never had to slaughter a wyvern before serving up a roast.
Outside the competition there’s not quite enough to sink your teeth into, and after a while you might well find yourself thumbing the skip button during dialogue sections to get back to the action. It’s insubstantial but sweet, then; Trinket Studio’s game may not linger long on the palate, but while it lasts, this delicate confection leaves a pleasant taste indeed.
The busy restaurant quests are best, inviting you to fulfil several orders arriving in rapid succession