Battle Chef Brigade is something of an oddity. Part cooking game, part action RPG, it's hard to explain without sounding like you're a bit off. Unless, of course, you're a fan of anime, in which case you'll feel at home. Even if you aren't, however, there's plenty to love.
Battle Chef Brigade answers a question many RPG fans have asked over the years, "Why don't they eat the monsters?" In this world, not only are monsters served up for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but those that hunt, cook and serve them are revered as heroes by the populace.
You play as Mina Han, a talented warrior and chef in a sleepy village who runs away from home to join the brigade. Your first days are spent being taught the ins and outs of hunting and cooking. The tutorial is masterfully done, explaining what would normally be a tricky concept in a way that feels natural.
As we mentioned before, there are two core elements to the game: hunting and cooking. Hunting begins the minute you set foot outside the kitchen and Mina is quick and deadly, wielding two daggers. Her skillset starts out with a few basic moves, but quickly expands as you progress through the story. Before long you'll be using magic and chaining attacks together without your feet touching the ground.
Back in the kitchen, Battle Chef Brigade becomes a puzzle game. Each item in your pantry is reduced to a number of flavour gems. These gems need to be rotated into lines or stacks of three to evolve. The goal is to get the most powerful flavour gems you can into your dish, thus increasing its overall score. The higher the score, the more the person tasting the dish will enjoy it. There are three types of flavour gem initially: fire, earth and water.
Once you've cleared the tutorial you'll be thrust into battle against other chefs, making cooking more complex. From this point forward, the game becomes quite a lot like Iron Chef, the popular TV show. The chairman of the brigade will choose a theme ingredient, which can be a piece of fruit, a vegetable or a monster. In addition to needing to cook with the ingredients chosen by the chairman, you'll also need to consider the preferences of the judge of the competition and select ingredients accordingly. Giving a judge a high-level dish that doesn't suit their palate will knock off major points and give your opponent the win.
Everything in Battle Chef Brigade is drawn by hand, and it's gorgeous; the whole game has a pencil-sketch feel to it. Animation feels like a bit of a throwback to the SNES era, as characters have a small number of reactions that are used frequently throughout cutscenes and in battle. Environments are also static, with no movement to them whatsoever. We were never bothered by this, but more fluid animation certainly would not have hurt.
From chapter two (of six) onward, you'll begin to unlock items for use in your loadout, which is critically important. You start off with some items that increase your health and mana, but can purchase additional supplies at the shop to make your life a bit easier, both on the battlefield and in the kitchen. Some items will make it easier to combine certain flavour gems, while others will allow you to remove things you don't want from your recipes. Of course, each item comes with a cost, and there are odd jobs you can do, such as working at a restaurant or hunting specific quarry. Each of these jobs comes with a reward all its own as well. Some are just coin, but occasionally you can learn a new technique that can help you.
As you progress through the story the difficulty will ratchet up. Some challenges will see you working with poisonous ingredients, requiring you to exercise caution when rotating flavour gems lest you poison all the food, while others will have you prepare two or even three dishes for judges in a hurry. Every match has a time limit which varies based on the number of dishes you're expected to produce. The story took us somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15 hours to complete, but once you get the hang of the game it's easy to go much faster than that.
Aside from the main story there's also a daily cooking challenge which lets you choose between the main protagonist - Mina - and another character you meet early on in the story. You're given a randomized set of equipment and can score your dish against your friends in the leaderboards. This is our favourite mode to play on the Switch as it lends itself well to portable play. This is the only way you'll interact with other players in Battle Chef Brigade, but it's fun to boast to your friends.
Battle Chef Brigade is the first game of its kind, a rarity in this day and age. Everything about it is fresh and original, from its story to the handrawn graphics, to the brilliant voice acting. The combination of fast-paced action, RPG-style gear collecting and puzzle elements wrapped into a game about cooking is something that sounds absurd but works incredibly well.
Like a well-made dish, each element of Battle Chef Brigade's gameplay is perfectly prepared. You could separate out each of the three main components of this game and have the foundation for something intriguing on its own, but it's the combination of them that forms something truly memorable. Whether you think you'd like this or not, we recommend at least giving it a look. Battle Chef Brigade is a must-play for all Switch owners.