Battle Chef Brigade is an odd mixture, but one that works very well. Combining an Iron Chef-style premise with action platforming combat and gem-matching, the game somehow manages to blend all of its aspects together in an exciting way. Available both on PC and Nintendo Switch, Battle Chef Brigade isn't packed to the brim with content, but it is a highly entertaining title that is well worth the listed price.
The game is set in Victusia, a region that was overrun a hundred years ago by monsters who decimated crops and animals alike. Monster flesh had long been considered cursed, but as famine swept the country, the king and a renowned chef founded the Battle Chef Brigade. A legion of soldier-chefs, the Battle Chef Brigade contained the threat and showed the populace that monsters could be eaten safely, its Battle Chefs since working as both protectors and providers. The brigade's recruitment is done through an annual tournament, where prospective Battle Chefs duel it out, attempting to impress the judges by using their complete array of skills to procure and prepare the ingredients. The majority of the game follows 21-year-old Mina Han, who works at her family's restaurant but harbours ambitions of joining the nation's prestigious brigade, though Mina's fellow aspiring Battle Chef Thrash takes the role of viewpoint character for a time.
The story is generally lighthearted, but provides some good twists to prevent things from getting stale. Mina is a fun protagonist, and the rest of the cast help keep things moving and engaging, aided by some entertaining voice acting. Its visual style matches well with the tone and provides a fun mixture of meals that nicely utilise the designs of the main ingredients, even if they aren't all equally appetising, such as the Scowl Feet Dim Sum and Dragon Heart Dumplings. The plot is certainly not the deepest around, but the writing and characters entertain and hold a good amount of attention throughout.
Duels are timed contests where the two competitors must hunt down the ingredients before they can be added to the plate. Each kitchen is connected to an area where monsters and plants can be found and defeated with a straightforward combat system that does the job without adding much complexity. When a monster is defeated, it drops one or more ingredients, which has associated set of elemental gems — water, earth, or fire. These ingredients, and hence the gems of that ingredient, are then placed into various cooking equipment where players will manipulate the gems from the ingredients by stirring (rotating any two-by-two block within each dish's four-by-four area). Elemental gems can be cracked, breaking after a number of stirs, and there are other complications as well. Some ingredients will contain bones, which are not useful on their own, but if three are matched then they can become a wildcard gem that matches to anything. Others will contain poison gems, which can damage surrounding gems when stirred.
Pans are the main tools that players will use to cook their dishes. The basic pans cause every line of three gems to be matched converting them into one single gem of the next tier, though other pans will only require two but only work on a single element. Other tools include ovens, which can slowly manipulate gems and are useful for when players need to hunt more ingredients, as well as a cutting board that lets players remove specific unhelpful gems. Competitors have to cook one dish for each judge. Each judge has a personal preference in flavour, which can be a mixture of the three elements, that will provide a bonus if there are enough tier-three gems. On the other side, penalties will be assessed if the dish contains poison and if the themed ingredient of the battle isn't used. Part of the strategy comes from what players choose for their loadout; only three cooking tools, three extra ingredients or bonuses, and three hunting skills or items can be equipped prior to a duel. It's annoying that players must choose their loadout prior to learning what the judges' flavour preferences are, which can make the first attempt at a particular battle frustrating if the loadout doesn't cater well to them.
It's pleasantly surprising how well all the systems work together, and the time-limit ensures that players can't spend too long thinking about how to perfectly use their ingredients. There's always a frantic last couple of minutes spent trying to hunt some ingredients that may be enough to give the dishes their final important extra points, and it makes each contest very exciting. It would be nicer if there were a few more distinct dishes to create — they simply appear to be primarily based on the most-used ingredient and competitors can often end up creating multiple variations of the same dish — and maybe a way for players to try and create specific recipes, but this may be a bit greedy, as the current selection is adequate for the amount of content.
Battle Chef Brigade isn't a very long game: its six story chapters can be finished within twelve hours, including time spent in some mini-games that can help players learn certain tricks for each battle and earn money to buy new tools and skills. It certainly provides more than value for money in those hours, but some extra content for players after the story is finished would be nice. The daily cook-off leaderboard and a couple of mini-games won't be enough to keep players engaged long. Multiplayer would be a perfect fit in a game like this and could provide some great community events, so it's sad that it's not available. It's worth noting that the normal difficulty offers a good challenge that adapts quite nicely to how players are doing, making battles easier if players need to keep retrying them.
Cooking contests have been a staple of TV for plenty of years now, and food-based features have been part of many games over the years, but Battle Chef Brigade provides a fun and very welcome take on the subject. The contest formula works nicely, excellently blending two otherwise quite distinct styles of game with an entertaining setting and characters. The game is more than worth the time it spends with players and has plenty of room to be built upon in future, especially if multiplayer can be added.