Battle Chef Brigade is a great game, but our 3 out of 5 review score seems to imply that it’s only mediocre. The combat is competent at the best of times, the plot is predictable, and the characters are all two-dimensional stereotypes. However, the rest of the game, such as its fantastic puzzle elements, great voice acting and dialog, and beautiful art style are enough to overcome those shortcomings. The one major flaw they can’t overcome are the controls.
The controls in Battle Chef Brigade, at least on the PC version, have evolved beyond poop, gone past dookie, and sprinted past crap, ending up straight on Shit Avenue. You can read the review with the link above, or watch the video below, but the best way to understand the sticky controls is by playing it yourself. It’s only then that you come to appreciate just how important a functional control scheme is to video games.
An Alienating Experience
Playing Battle Chef Brigade is an alienating experience. With any good video game, you always melt into the experience. You become immersed in the game and its world, ever eager to see what comes next. But for games with a bad control scheme, the only thing you’re ever thinking about is how to wrap your hands around a controller, or how you’re going to press that key on the other side of your keyboard. You never get the chance to immerse yourself in the game because you’re constantly being reminded that you are playing a game.
Nothing takes you out of an experience more than having to look down at your controller or keyboard, second guessing every button press. Yet that’s what it’s like playing Battle Chef Brigade on PC, you’re constantly thinking about the controls ahead of everything else. “Was it arrow keys to move the cursor in the puzzle section, or WASD?” “Is it Space Bar to jump or the up arrow?” “Is A attack and F the special ability, or was it Q and G?”
A Casualty of Ambition
Battle Chef Brigade is an ambitious game, switching between exploring a town and talking to NPC’s like a visual novel, side-scrolling hack ‘n’ slash combat, and a complex match-3 puzzle game. Walking around and talking to NPC’s is fine, there’s not much you can screw up there. But because you can swap between combat and the puzzle sections at will, without going in and out of menus, the controls need to be flexible.
The solution utilized by developer Trinket Studios doesn’t feel like the right one. Battle Chef Brigade uses two entirely different control schemes for its combat and puzzle sections. There’s a lot you need to jungle, at least in the puzzle sections. You need to go in and out of your pantry to get ingredients, moving between different cooking stations that all perform different tasks, turning certain sections in order to match elements, accessing your inventory, turning on and off ovens and stoves, picking up and putting down dishes, there’s a lot going on. So not only is there a different control scheme between combat and puzzles, but there are different controls within the puzzle section itself, and trying to keep track of what’s happening in game with what’s happening in your own hands is a nightmare.
Granted, it’s hard to come up with another solution. How else could the player possibly switch between combat and puzzle solving on the fly, without needed to go through menus first? Simply pressing a single button to enter or exit puzzle mode? Having the same controls, more or less, for each? Maybe, but one way Trinket Studio definitely screwed up is with a total lack of mouse support.
All Hands On Keyboard
It’s easy to call this game a bad PC port for its handling of the mouse alone. You can operate menus, sort of. (Ironically, the controls menu needs to be scrolled, but there’s no way to do that with the mouse as the scroll wheel does nothing, and neither does trying to move down the list.) You have to use the arrow keys to navigate that particular menu. A lot of headaches come from the fact that you have to do everything on the keyboard.
It’d be great if you could map attack to left click and special moves to left during combat, then use the mouse to select groups of elements in the puzzle section and rotate with left and right click. Instead, for whatever reason, Trinket forces everything on the keyboard, making the game feel tight and claustrophobic.
Appreciation at Last
It’s a shame then that I came away from my time with Battle Chef Brigade thinking not about how good or great the game is, but how important it is for a game to have good controls. It’s not something you typically think about much when playing a game, nor should it be, as long as those controls are good.
In that sense, a game’s control scheme is a lot like a referee in a sports game. You don’t even notice they’re there until they screw up, and when they do screw up, it’s usually pretty bad. I would have liked to have given Battle Chef Brigade a 4, unfortunately my fingers were totally confused by the time I wrote the review, and forgot where the 4 key was. You have nobody but yourself to blame, Trinket Studios.