I've watched enough anime in my time to see familiar tropes and ideas in Battle Chef Brigade. Main character Mina is a talented chef enrolled in the Battle Chef Academy, where students compete in elaborate competitions presided over by showy judges. That's a trace of Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma. Every student is battle-ready, because they have to kill monsters to get the best meat available, recalling Toriko.
Yes, Battle Chef Brigade recalls familiar anime, but the resulting game is still something unique.
Out on the PAX East showfloor, the first thing I noticed was the absolutely gorgeous hand-drawn art. The characters are all 2D and hand-animated, with cutscenes and conversations switching between drawn frames. The work of artist Eric Huang is an absolute boon for the game, in terms of drawing in those who appreciate his smooth, assured artwork.
That's a visual wrapper on a game thats rather unique. After a short tutorial, the demo drops you in the middle of the game's hub town. Here you can talk to the cast of characters and purchase cooking supplies for future battles. The highlight is Louie & Luis, the two-headed monster that acts as the shopkeeper. Eventually, your objective is to challenge a fellow student to a cooking competition, between the sly Kirin or the brusque Thrash.
In Battle Chef Brigade, the timed cooking competition takes place in core coliseum, with open walls to the wilderness. In your cooking space, you have your pantry and your cooking table. While you're actually cooking, you'll bounce between these two spots: grabbing cooking materials from your pantry and throwing them into your pot on the cooking table. The table itself has room for up to four cooking spots, but in the demo, you only have a single pot to work with.
The only item in your pantry in the beginning is your pot, so you'll need to find your own meat. The coliseum opens out into the wilderness, where Mina has to kill what she wants to cook. Here, Battle Chef Brigade plays like a side-scrolling fighter, reminding me of Treasure's Guardian Heroes. Mina can pull off regular attacks, magical attacks, and dodges at the press of a button, with input directions determining the move used. Up and the regular attack button does an uppercut, while down and the same button in the air does a stomp move. Your magical attack consists are thrown knives, unless you press forward, at which point Mina can throw out a mean, localized tornado.
You'll need to use all your techniques to hunt the local flora and fauna. Bull-like creatures, tiny evil plants, food-stealing birds, and even a dragon! Each creature drops random food items related to what they are: killing the dragon can net you Dragon Chops or Dragon Flank, for example. Mina's Satchel, where she holds her food, is limited, so you have to jump back from the wilderness to the battle arena rather frequently. Entering the cooking area moves the food in your satchel into the pantry.
Here's where the cooking takes over, playing out in small puzzle game. Each food item is represented by a 2x2 diagram, with up to four gems of different colors: red, blue, and green. When you drop food into the pot, you can choose where to drop it and in which order. Once it's in the pot, you can Stir, which rotates a 2x2 block of the playing field. Match three gems together in a line and they form into one level 2 sphere. Three level-2 gems in a line become a level-3 sphere. The level of the gems in your dish and the combo speed determines how good your dish is.
What makes Battle Chef Brigade work is the great game loop of cooking and hunting within the time limit. Imagine a game of Puyo Puyo where you have to go out and find your upcoming puzzle pieces. Need more red gems? Focus your hunting on one type of creature, because remember, your satchel is very limited in space. There's a lot to juggle and very little time to juggle it, but it works. A dash of action and a pinch of puzzle is a great recipe, it seems.
The developer eventually wants to expand the cooking system with judge taste preferences and cooking ingredients that will mess up your puzzle time, like bone, which can't be moved. Right now, Battle Chef Brigade is really early - even the current cooking system isn't what the developer originally envisioned - but what I've seen so far is promising. Now it's just a matter of expanding on what I saw at PAX East with more excellent systems, matches, and characters.
I look forward to seeing if Trinket Studios turns out to be a team of five-star chefs.