Despite what its name suggests, Epic Chef is about more than just cooking. Taking place in the city of Ambrosia, you take on the role of Zest (like lemon zest, right? Ha!), who is chucked head-first out of a ship as it comes to a stop at the city docks. After meeting a few of the local residents, he makes his way to a run-down — yet remarkably spacious — settlement that he managed to bag for a bargain. The only downside, of course, is that it happens to be haunted.
The quirky, yet rather bloated opening segment of the game is a good indication of how the rest of the experience will play out. After spending his first night at his new abode, Zest is tasked with growing his own produce, building machinery, and cooking delicious meals with his own home-grown ingredients. If this sounds familiar to other life sims like Stardew Valley, that’s because it is, albeit with watered down farming mechanics and a heavier focus on social interactions and quests.
Cooking is, of course, the main focus of the game. Once you’ve grown and harvested a selection of different produce, you can then pop your chef’s hat on (metaphorically, until you actually obtain one) and get to work at creating your own culinary masterpiece. Thankfully, doing so is surprisingly simple: you select your chosen ingredients and hurl them into a pan one at a time, using ‘B’ to stir with a spoon and ‘A’ to shake the pan; mustn’t let the ingredients burn, after all.The key to creating the best possible meal is ensuring you choose ingredients that create ‘synergy’ with each other (which is essentially a fancy way of ensuring your ingredients and flavours go together).
The game clearly indicates which ingredients go well together prior to throwing them into a pan, so although you can experiment with different types of meals, you’re almost encouraged to play it safe by choosing the most sensible options. This is because most of your meals will be cooked in head-to-head battles with the other chefs of Ambrosia in order to satisfy the palate of the judge. In each battle, the judge will indicate which ingredients they happen to enjoy the most, so in order to win the battle, you’re forced to use the right ones in order to score the most points.
Aside from cooking, most of your time will be spent at your home, chopping down trees, gathering resources, farming your produce, and generally kicking back to relax. The farming mechanics are taught early in the game and are relatively simple to grasp. Similar to Stardew Valley, you can assign your most used items to the shortcut bar at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to scroll through using the shoulder buttons to choose your desired item. The inventory screens are clear in their design, with a grid of items on the left, and their properties listed on the right.
Planting seeds and building structures is similarly pain-free. When you choose your hoe to dig plots, the land automatically displays a grid so you can easily pinpoint your desired spot. If you run out of space or go too close to the edge of the land, the plot holes will glow red. If you’re familiar with farming sims, all of this will feel instantly recognisable, and this — to a certain extent — is detrimental to the overall experience.
The core problem with Epic Chef is that it borrows almost all of its mechanics from other games, yet doesn’t execute them quite as well. Everything functions as it should, but the pacing of the game feels bloated; tasks are simple to perform, but they feel so slow. This is exacerbated by Zest’s seemingly care-free, breezy walking pace, which, when having to walk from one end of the map to the other, feels like a huge chore. You do get access to a rideable animal fairly early on, which definitely speeds things up, but not quite enough for our liking.
Similarly, although we initially enjoyed the quirky banter between the characters, some of the dialogue conversations are needlessly lengthy, purely for the sake of injecting some humour. The writing itself is great, but when you’re trying to complete tasks, listening to city guards or fellow chefs chatter on and on can become rather arduous.
Our final gripe comes with the game’s save system. When we’d initially booted up the game and played through the opening section, we accessed all the menus to figure out how to save. After not finding anything, we foolishly believed that it would be an automatic feature, which isn’t the case. The only way to save your game is by sleeping in your bed at your house. You can’t do this until at least 10pm according to the in-game clock, so you need to ensure that you set enough time aside to get through at least one full day before you’re able to save.
Epic Chef is heaped with charm and humour that will undoubtedly put a smile on your face as you start your life as Ambrosia’s hottest chef. Unfortunately, while the cooking and farming mechanics are simple enough to grasp, the bloated nature of the game makes every task feel more arduous than it needs to be. Add to this the needlessly lengthy dialogue and bizarre limitations around the save function, and Epic Chef feels like a game that can’t quite match up with the other life sims available on the Switch. It's not unenjoyable, just more Little Chef than MasterChef.