I didn't think Battle Chef Brigade would be fun. A game about cooking? Meh. But I was wrong. I was so very wrong.
Battle Chef Brigade is an upcoming PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch game that blends side-scrolling beat-em-up combat with Legend of Korra-inspired visuals and a match-three puzzle game. And while each of those individual elements are perfectly tasty on their own individual merits, it's the way they come together that makes the game fresh.
You play as Mina, a new recruit in the organization known as the Battle Chef Brigade. Members of this elite and highly-regarded institution combine martial arts prowess with culinary creativity to protect and feed the people living in a world that could perhaps best be described as Iron Chef by way of Dungeons and Dragons. Instead of delving into dungeons for loot and glory, adventurers like Mina battle mythical animals to use their meat in mouth-watering meals.
The BCB universe is full of strange and wondrous monsters, each of them equally edible. These beasts and the local flora also have unique flavor profiles, represented by three elemental gems: red for fire, blue for water, green for earth. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before you can cook the meat, you have to acquire it.
To prove her mettle, Mina undertakes a series of cooking challenges. For these challenges, you'll begin in the kitchen, where you're told the theme ingredient and given a tip by the judge who will be scoring you. For example, in the PAX East demo, the theme ingredient was bull meat, and I was told I would be scored based on how well I utilized fire elements.
Thus you are directed to head out into the wilderness. From there, how you tackle the challenge is up to you, and the game encourages the type of improvisation you might see on a Food Network game show. Obviously I wanted to hunt down a bull for the main ingredient, but I also found myself attacking vicious plant creatures and taking their "meat" as well. You know, to add a little spice.
I realize that this sounds like a Facebook time-killer game, but Battle Chef Brigade is engaging and fun. The combat is deep and satisfying, with special moves, dash dodging, and spells. It's just plain cool to see Mina flipping around the battlefield, uppercutting cyclops birds and stomping on piranha plants.
Each challenge is timed, so you have to be smart and strategic about how you want to split your focus. I decided to risk venturing further away from the kitchen in the hopes that it would lead to greater reward - and it did, thanks to a challenging fight with a dragon.
Once I had defeated that particular monster, its meat helped put some serious fire into my dish, and I felt rewarded for taking the risk. When I arrived back at the kitchen, my ingredients' elemental properties came into play.
When you're ready to actually cook a meal, Battle Chef Brigade switches to a match-three puzzle game. As you add pieces of whatever you choose into your pot, up to four elements will drop into a grid, each arrangement corresponding to that ingredient. So when I added a particular fruit to my pot, it contained one fire element and two water elements. Each additional one of those fruits I added would contribute the same.
You can place and rotate the ingredients before you drop them in as well as after they're already cooking. Once you've matched three elements in a row horizontally or vertically, they combine to form one higher-level elemental orb, which means more points and points from the judges. This leads to a fair bit of strategizing as you prioritize which ingredients you want to add next, but also a touch of on-the-fly adjustment as you figure out how to best combine your flavors.
I admit, I'm not much of a puzzle solver. I tend to try brute force over more sophisticated methods; the type of person who would crack a 3-digit code by trying 1-1-1, 1-1-2, and so on. But BCB made me feel clever.
The puzzle mechanic is surprisingly evocative of the feeling you get while cooking a new meal - specifically, that little thrill of the "ah ha!" moment where you realize this would be perfect with some oregano tossed in. As time ticks down you find new ways to squeeze in that last ounce of flavor that you know will impress the judge, and the game makes you feel brilliant for it.
At the end of my time with Battle Chef Brigade, I took time to savor all the flavors of wish fulfillment it gave me. I got a taste of awe-inspiring fantasy action heroics, a dash of the excitement that comes from messing around in the kitchen, and a pat on the back for figuring out how to arrange and solve a match-three puzzle. I left feeling like the best damn chef in the land, and hungry for more.