The role of the family chef has fallen on me. I’m a pretty good cook, if I do say so myself. I dream of creating more adventurous cuisine but family members with allergies hinder that pursuit. Mina Han, the heroine of a kickstarted indie title Battle Chef Brigade Deluxe, is pretty much in the same boat. She’d like nothing more than to cut loose in the kitchen but the mundane routines of the family restaurant hold that thought. Battle chefs are highly regarded in the kingdom of Victusia. Not only they hunt down and kill monsters to protect the land, they make delicious dishes out of them. Mina fancies becoming a battle chef herself, and after gathering enough courage (and stealing some of the flour money), she runs away to participate in the tournament where the new brigadiers are chosen from. And so begins a journey that is a mix of adventure, action and most of all, match-three based cooking, all baked together to make one delicious video game.
Battle Chef Brigade Deluxe plays out pretty much like the famous TV cook-off, Iron Chef. The tournament sees Mina challenging other cooks in the kitchen arena, where the host (always dressed impeccably differently for each occasion) presents the main ingredient for each cook-off. The contestants have to make courses according to the tastes of up to three judges. When the challenge begins, first Mina must hurry out of the arena to kill monsters and fill up her satchel with the catch in a side-scrolling beat’ em up. Back in the arena, the ingredients are poured into pots and pans, where they are stirred to bring out their best tastes. You can dash out any time to do more hunting and fill up the satchel again. There’s a time limit for the cook-off and after a few spells of vigorous hunting and cooking, the dishes are served for judges to taste and rate them. Mina must challenge seven competitors and win them to make it into the play-offs. There, the challenge is amped up with top chefs of the brigade to cook out. That’s it in the nutshell, but there’s a lot more depth to the game, both in and out of the arena.
The surprisingly long story, divided into six chapters, slowly breaks in the game mechanics. You will learn that each ingredient consists of taste gems divided between fire, water and earth elements. Taste gems must be promoted by matching three of the same elements in the pan – or if you have acquired a cookware attuned to the certain element, matching two of them will do. The gems can be promoted up to tier three that gives the most flavor out of them, which grants better scores from the judges. Different sauces turn taste gems into wanted elements and spices add extra gems to the mix, but the most imperative is that each prepared dish must contain the main ingredient of the evening. The rest of the ingredients can be anything else but, of course, targeted at each judge’s particular palate that they reveal before the cook-offs. The prepared gourmet meals are humorously presented and named after all the stuff you pour and mix into them, resulting in many exciting (and otherworldly) courses.
Different trinkets help in hunting, giving more health and mana (used in ranged and special attacks), expanding satchel space or upgrading basic attacks. There’s a good vibe going on throughout as beaten contestants will give Mina trinkets to remember them by. Improved cookware is gained as the story progresses, but you can also buy equipment and seasonings in the town. There are jobs to take on between cook-off challenges; hunting quests shows techniques to make most of the time spent on killing monsters; puzzles in the local inventor’s workshop tutors further match-three cooking chemistry while short order cooking teaches to make gem patterns in a limited time. Not only do jobs earn coins to buy stuff with, all skills will be useful in the cook-offs, especially later in the game with three judges evaluating the performance. When the evening breaks, it’s time for Mina to retire to her quarters in the local inn, write letters to home and catch some well-deserved shuteye (she’s good at that, sometimes missing roll calls in the morning!).
Just when you think the story has become routine, it throws something unexpected in the way to shake up things, motivating Mina and the player alike to relish their cooking skills. There’s more happening in the academy than the tournament, and Mina and her friends are determined to not only do their best in the kitchen arena but also unravel secrets that go against the fair play and could even threaten the balance of nature in Victusia. However, if you think that the story dictates too much of what you’re doing, Battle Chef Brigade Deluxe has a ton of arcade cooking to keep anyone’s frying pan hot. In the free play, you can either randomize or meticulously choose conditions from opponents and main ingredient to judges for a single competition, while daily cook-offs see you taking part in predetermined clashes. Survival mode has one life bar and no health regen to withstand constant hunting and cooking with. Platforming and hunting challenges test out your mobility and action skills. Each activity has online leaderboards that simply makes you gasp in awe with the scores; some people really have mad skills! That makes you not only quite humble but also determined to improve your own scores. In all arcade modes you can play as either Mina, her orc friend Trash or Ziggy, a laidback undead necromancer. There’s also local co-op over a split-screen, again with chosen or randomized conditions. It can be a lot of fun, if the players are of equal skill level.
Battle Chef Brigade Deluxe is the best Iron Chef simulator without actually being one. When the last minute of a cook-off is ticking away and your concoctions are all over the pans and pots, still to be rotated to their perfection, the panic kicks in. Just a moment ago everything was fine, but when the pressure to meet the judges’ rigorous palate mounts up, multitasking between different courses becomes a total chaos. Often, it literally is in the last second when you dash out your dishes to the judges’ table while trying to remember which food was meant for each. And then you sweat as the judges go over the meals, either smiting or praising your cooking skills. It's all the sweeter, then, when you're seasoned enough to feel like you're in control, knowing exactly what you're doing and have even time to finish off the dishes.
The game teaches you as you go, adding a lot of depth in the way. There’s a surprising amount of variety in the match-three gameplay (poisons and mutations bring their own challenge later on), and the revolving adventure is heartfelt without a burden of inapt sociopolitical commentary. Characteristic co-competitors and different stories and insights told through the story events add to the world-building, making Victusia a lively and convincing fantasy world. The lovely presentation accentuates the game’s kind purpose. Digitally hand-drawn, almost sketch-like environments and spirited cartoon characters bring their own flavor to the recipe, while solid voice acting gives extra spice to the already likable cast.
In many ways, Battle Chef Brigade Deluxe is a perfect video game. For starters, it looks like one instead of yet another movie wannabe. It teaches, entertains, challenges, stresses and eventually rewards you, like any true video game should. In times when big games are high on cinematic violence, indie titles like this should be cherished. And who knows? Maybe the game urges you take the frying pan out of the kitchen cabinet and try out some cooking yourself, even if you don’t fancy yourself exactly a master chef. I, for one, played with the thought what taste gems the ingredients I use in the kitchen would break into!
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.