After sinking a few hours into it, I’m still not exactly sure how to classify Battle Chef Brigade.
It’s a match-3 puzzle game; it’s a cooking simulator; it’s a side-scrolling action/role-playing game. In truth, it almost defines its own genre. Whatever else it may be, Battle Chef Brigade is a pure delight, combining inventive gameplay, a distinctive art style, and a relentlessly positive tone – which we could all probably use a bit more of in the gaming space.
Battle Chef Brigade ($20; Nintendo Switch, PC) follows the adventures of Mina Han: an ambitious young chef who feels she’s gone as far as she can go in her parents’ low-key restaurant. She travels to the capital city, where she takes throws her fluffy white hat into the ring at Kitchen Colosseum. If she can defeat seven other chefs in a high-stakes culinary battle, she’ll prove worth to the whole kingdom of Victusia; if she fails three times, she’ll be sent home in disgrace. Along the way, she’ll meet (and compete against) orcs, elves, and two-headed ogres.
In other words: Think Iron Chef meets Lord of the Rings, presented as an anime serial.
Before you slay your first monster or cook your first dish, you’ll probably fall in love with the hand-drawn anime art. Every character is colorful and expressive, from the enthusiastic Mina (who is always either overeager or exhausted), to the calm-and-collected Thrash (a tattooed orc with a wry smile), to the majestic Kirin (the tournament’s overseer, immaculately dressed and supremely confident). The backgrounds have an unfinished watercolor/storybook quality to them, which helps reinforce the game’s fantastical feel.
The game’s smooth animation also makes sure it looks good in action. Before you set about cooking a dish, you’ll usually have to hunt down your ingredients. Mina can punch, jump and throw magical daggers with the alacrity of a Belmont, all while managing health and mana bars. (The Castlevania influences are not subtle, but they never feel intrusive.) Combat is simple, but you can customize Mina’s abilities with equipment, and taking on progressively tougher enemies feels satisfying.
It’s when you return to the kitchen that things really (yes, I do have to say it) heat up. In order to cook dishes, you’ll have to match colored gems: blue, green, red and sometimes white ones, which can combine into a versatile “wild card.” Each gem represents a different element, and each judge prefers a certain flavor profile. You may get more points by serving up a Fire-heavy dish, or by making one that’s balanced between Earth and Water.
Because you have limited space in the grid, cooking dishes is not as easy as it may sound, especially since most plot-centric missions give you a time limit to both hunt your prey and turn it into a culinary masterpiece. You can also equip various pots and pans, which favor certain flavor profiles. For a game that looks as light and breezy as Battle Chef Brigade, it can be a surprisingly deep rabbit hole, if you let it.
No matter how difficult the game gets, though, you’re more likely to feel charmed than frustrated. The game’s tone strikes an irresistible balance between positivity and challenge. Mina’s rivals are all thrilled to have her there, and eager to compete against her. Her family and friends want her to achieve her dreams. Even the competition’s judges have nice things to say about dishes, regardless of how much they criticize the final product. If you enjoy the happy, supportive nature of reality shows like The Great British Bake-Off and Penn & Teller: Fool Us, Battle Chef Brigade is right up your alley.
The only thing that really holds the game back, from a technical perspective, is its subpar voice acting. Erica Mendez (Little Witch Academia) as Mina is an exception, infusing her lines with genuine passion and humor, whether she’s challenging a competitor to a cookoff, or bemoaning the fact that she seems to oversleep through every important tutorial. The rest of the cast, however, doesn’t seem as excited to be there. Lines sound lackadaisical at best, unenthusiastic in general and lifeless at worst. No performance is bad enough to bring down the package as a whole, but I can’t help but feel that the characters would be just as endearing if they stayed silent.
Battle Chef Brigade isn’t for everyone. It’s not an adventure with world-changing consequences; it’s not a suspenseful drama with intense character relationships; it’s not breathtaking in the polish of its gameplay. What it is, however, is an extremely pleasant and creative take on three genres that don’t usually play nicely together. If this fall’s roster of dark, dour adventures has you feeling down, let Battle Chef Brigade whip up a little comfort food to put a smile back on your face.