It’s not often that a game makes me sit up and say “What the heck am I looking at?” in a positive way, but when I saw Battle Chef Brigade at PAX East, I had to give it a closer look. I could give you a description, but I thought it would be best described by the Tom Eastman, President of Trinket Studios, the company that made it:
Imagine a fantasy cooking competition where chefs hunt monsters for ingredients before making scrumptious dishes for the judges. Then sprinkle on some RPG progression, lots of deep characters, and wrap it all up with hand-drawn anime-style art, and you've got Battle Chef Brigade!
You’d not only be forgiven, but enthusiastically agreed with if you surmised that the folks at Trinket were big fans of Iron Chef (especially the original, Japanese version). They’re also fans of Chopped, Master Chef and the Great British Baking Show. The idea was to take what makes cooking competitions interesting and, as Emeril would say, kick it up a notch. Hence, a game where you literally fight monsters to get exotic ingredients and make unique, signature dishes in the shortest time possible. The player hunts in a side-scrolling brawler, and cooks those ingredients via a considerably deep match-three puzzle game.
With so many disparate elements to blend together, the whole team had its work cut out for them. “We did a huge amount of prototyping to try to capture the improvisational feel of cooking on a TV show within a time limit.” Once they got rolling, though, everything came together. The hardest part, Tom said, was teaching the player to play the different parts of the game without getting lost.
Now, as if blending side-scrolling melee combat and a match-three puzzle game into a coherent game weren’t a big enough challenge, the gluttons for punishment at Trinket Studios added several different characters, all with their own fighting moves and specialty dishes. “Luckily,” Tom said, “there's a lot of unexplored territory in the cooking genre! Thinking about different cuisines and blending them with fantasy classes was an effective way to produce the seeds for new characters.”
Most challenging, says Tom, were the art requirements. “Each new move goes through a pipeline of up to 5 people (key poses, prototyping, animation, clean-up, coloring).” That’s a lot of people, especially when you consider that Trinket Studios is a three-person company. Fortunately, an army of contractors and artists were able to help out.
The other thing that struck me about Battle Chef Brigade was the art style. As a fan of all those Funimation TV series back in the 1980s (Masters of the Universe, BraveStarr, etc), I wholeheartedly approve of the direction they took. And, according to Tom, it’s all the result of one person’s efforts:
Battle Chef Brigade's anime art style came ... entirely from our art director, Eric Huang. He wanted to test his hand at a genuine anime style, taking inspiration from many great shows. Blending fantasy, food, and anime was fairly easy and came naturally since chef's whites are already militaristic, and Japan has a very strong food culture.
The aesthetic that Eric picked works, and I think it will help the game stand out. In a world awash in pixel-art indie platformers and Unity-powered survival games, that classic cel-animation style is bound to turn heads. It certainly turned mine.
You may be familiar with some of Trinket Studio’s previous work. They’re the team behind Color Sheep and Orion’s Forge, both of which are mobile games. The team was interested in tackling a bigger project, Tom said, and since they’d worked in large studios before, the jump was only natural. But do do a big project, you need big money, and so Trinket pinned its hopes on Kickstarter.
Their goal was $38,000 to bring the game to PC, Mac and Linux. They raised over $100,000. Whenever I see someone run a successful Kickstarter, I have to ask how they found the experience. I’ll let Tom tell you in his own words:
Running a Kickstarter campaign is very stressful. Despite doing months of research and preparation, it's still really scary to put up a concept and hope that it resonates. We're extremely grateful to all of our backers and can't wait to serve them some piping-hot BCB!
Tom spent two months working on the Kickstarter campaign before they even launched it, with the help of Eric to do the promotional art. That left the last third of the team, Ben Perez, working on the game all alone for a while. But the hard work paid off. Last year they signed with Adult Swim games, a publisher I’ve come to personally associate with interesting, but hard-to-describe games. Adult Swim took the lead in talks with Nintendo to make Battle Chef Brigade a Switch game.
You read that right, folks. A Switch game.
Battle Chef Brigade doesn’t have a firm release date yet, but the demo I played felt ready for prime-time from a mechanical standpoint. As Tom points out, Trinket Studios is “doing everything in our power to get it out of the oven soon!”
Battle Chef Brigade is coming soon to Steam and the Nintendo Switch. I look forward to seeing what they’ve cooked up.