Monday, November 20, 2017

Review: Battle Chef Brigade


While I obviously enjoy a ton of much more intense genres in my gaming I’ll admit to a weakness for the simple joys of quality Match-3 play. What has been thrilling over the years is to see that base gameplay used in new and creative ways with the likes of the Puzzle Quest titles and more recently the superb Ironcast. Battle Chef Brigade has now managed to again raise the bar for what a Match-3 can do, blending it with light action, a solid RPG storyline, and ample opportunities for strategy as well.


In the game you’ll take the role of Mina, “The Iron Stomach”, as she decides to run away from home and pursue her dreams of becoming a member of the Brigade, a group of elite hunter/chefs who slay monsters and create culinary masterpieces from them. What starts as a seemingly straight-forward story of her journey to becoming an elite chef very nicely takes some turns along the way though, and even when you’ve earned your place in the Brigade you’ll only be ⅔ of the way through the story. Even better, it is the elements of the overall story that keep adding dimensions to the gameplay to make this so much more than just a Match-3 title, with layers of strategy that make it memorable and challenging.

What the main story does is to constantly walk you through each element of the game step by step so what could otherwise seem overwhelming makes sense. You’ll learn how to use a variety of pans and equipment that can help you cook certain dishes faster, deal with flawed ingredients, or cut out undesirable elements. The strategic component of the game then comes in with the fact that you can only use 3 pieces of said equipment when you get to a cooking challenge and that means you’ll need to find the balance of equipment that works for you and you won’t be able to have everything you could want to make life simpler. This makes the already-great story an excellent vehicle for additionally giving you a number of choices along the way, helping you understand and refine all aspects of your game from hunting to preparing food, and introducing you to a cast of some quirky characters like the owner of the inn who continues to mistake you for an orc boy for some reason.


The focus of all of that preparation and training is to put you on the path to success when you hit the cooking challenges and they’re pretty much all I’d hoped for when the game was announced. In matches that are obviously inspired by the Iron Chef format you will face off against another competitor looking to impress the judges, all with their own personal preferences in tastes, with your mastery of cooking while incorporating the match’s secret ingredient. Early on this will tend to be a fruit or vegetable (though some you’ll need to look for carefully) but the further into the game you get the more challenging things will get as you need to get ingredients like Hydra or Dragon. This is where the action-oriented elements of the game come into play and it can be challenging, though again you’ll have your pick of many options in how you enhance yourself in these modes. Will you load up on different attacks or stat boosters, or can you afford to make room for improving the size of your bag for collecting ingredients so you don’t need to run back to stock your pantry as often? Getting taken down by these beasts thankfully just results in you dropping your ingredients and losing time but you’ll need a strategy for taking out some of these tougher beasts and will likely want and need to show some patience to be successful as well. I should note that there are additional modes outside of the main quest that will help you continue playing with Challenges for matching and marksmanship as well as a Daily Challenge that will pit you against an opponent while giving you a different random set of equipment every day (all with leaderboards). So even when you complete the pretty beefy main story (or simply need a break from it) there’s still a reason to come back and get your cook on for quite some time.

While I had high hopes for Battle Chef Brigade what stands out for me is how much they’ve exceeded my expectations on pretty well every level. I came in hoping for something in a true indie spirit that was fresh, quirky, and utterly unique. What I got was a lengthy and well-made story complete with some great characters, challenging and varied gameplay, and a strategic component that forces you to make some tough decisions in how you want to approach your battles. If you either have any affinity at all for great Match-3 play or have an open mind to trying something completely odd but that works very very well in execution I have few reservations with recommending it.


Score: 9.5

Pros:
  • Masterfully blends elements of Match-3, action, and strategy
  • A great story full of some odd and entertaining characters that sets up the challenging elements of Match-3 play
  • The Daily Challenge serves as a great reason to continue to fire it up to compete for scores on the leaderboard
  • Shows many signs of a developer not content to ride a great idea to success but instead that is instead swinging for the fences

Cons:
  • Some of the Challenge modes aren’t likely to be played very much


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