I’m no chef, but I’m not a bad cook. Throwing together ingredients to see what I can conjure up is what I enjoy the most, and it’s exactly this which captured my interest in Epic Chef. This is the latest release from the talented Team17, where you play as Zest, an amateur chef setting out on his quest to become the ultimate culinary champion in Ambrosia.

Zest has spent his last pennies on a supposedly haunted, and dilapidated farmhouse and is immediately ridiculed by the locals for it. Being the new boy in town, he must work his land to grow food, build machinery to develop his operation and battle rival chefs to become the cream of the crop. 

As a result Epic Chef is a fusion of sim, turn-based strategy and adventure genres. Events are told mainly through character dialogue. There is a lot to read through, but despite the off the wall humour and hit and miss gags, the result, certainly for the first few hours, is that progress is slow. Thankfully, things do eventually open up but  there’s always a lot of nipping back and forth too, especially to head back home to sleep.

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Zest will have a main quest chain to complete in order to progress, but you can pick up side quests by interacting with the weird and wonderful townspeople. Epic Chef does a pretty good job of keeping the rather small hub area feeling fresh as the story progresses. You can track your quests via the log, which also places a waypoint and contains handy hints in case you get stuck.

Epic Chef has a day/night cycle which limits what you can do, and when. For example, some amenities in the town can only be accessed in the day, and the odd quest will ask you to head out into the night. However, at 2am you’re reminded to head to bed, which fast forwards the time to 6am. Zest must be hitting the Lucozade to function off so little sleep.

What results is a race to get as much done as possible, before running out of time and trekking back home. There’s no fast way to make the journey either. Despite unlocking a mount and a blimp taxi service, these don’t do enough to take the edge off the continuous yo-yoing back and forth. In the case of the blimps, you can only board at certain times, meaning you’ll need to use the nearby bench to push time forward by an hour each time until you see the green boarding light.

Back home, you will need to plough the land and sow seeds to grow potatoes, tomatoes and the like. Chopping down trees is key to building structures, which in turn allow you to create more sophisticated ingredients. You can also furnish your house, and later do the same with your restaurant, with several customisation options. This is where the sim element comes into play, and it’s fairly repetitive gathering all the materials and ingredients you need, but works well enough.

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A bit later down the line, you’ll also be able to go fishing, which is presented as a fun little mini game that offers access to a different set of ingredients. You will need to use (and craft) bait to catch a variety of sea creatures, with each lure having three probability categories in terms of what they will attract. Who doesn’t love a game of chance to find the rarest ingredients?

All of this activity is geared towards one key element of Epic Chef. Cooking. There are loads of dishes you can create, each consisting of three ingredients with the option to chuck in a sauce if you wish to. Whilst cooking you will need to stir and toss the contents of your frying pan to avoid spoiling ingredients and losing points. However, letting them fry for as long as possible before this will release your dish’s aroma.

Ingredients that are combined in certain ways will generate bonuses too (called synergy) depending on their specific order of combination. Each meal carries three elements: vigor, sophistication and spirit that generate points depending on how skillfully they are used. Certain situations will demand the need for dishes that display one of these elements above the others, so learning how to combine your ingredients is key.

This is also crucial when heading into the Iron Chef style battles which play out in their very entertaining format, often in front of a live audience. You and your opponent take turns to cook dishes, sometimes across several rounds, in front of a judge. They may have certain elements they are looking for in the dishes that will net you extra points. Unlocking aroma in your meals will control the order of who is judged first, which is sometimes crucial for picking up bonuses or avoiding deductions.

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Injecting the right amount of vigor, sophistication and spirit into your dishes is key to victory, as well as levelling up when you taste them for yourself. You can earn these stats in other ways too, such as interacting with the townspeople and taking some time out to relax, as well as completing quests. 

It’s a shame, then, that these cooking battles feel few and far between, despite being the most entertaining part of Epic Chef. They are genuinely funny (if a little mad) encounters that ooze character. Some, such as the boss battles, are pretty difficult too.

As with any game such as this, you are perfectly able to grind if you wish to level up by carrying out the repetitive tasks over and over again. I chose to avoid this, and ploughed along through Epic Chef rather happily, until the first boss battle. I was given a good spanking, and quickly realised I needed to level myself and my ingredients up to have any hope of winning. This also means that you can’t really escape the pedestrian pace of Epic Chef for long, no matter how hard you try. The gameplay is repetitive at its core.

Also, if you lose a boss battle you start back from your last save point (i.e. the last time you went to bed). This isn’t a problem in itself, as you get fair warning of this before heading into culinary combat. However, certainly before the first boss, there is a lot of dialogue to rattle through, and no way to skip the sequence. Instead, you need to bash A for a few minutes to reach the battle again. It’s not a huge issue, but doesn’t help the pacing issues in Epic Chef.

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Visually, you’ll be taken back to The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker when you first start up Epic Chef. The cel shaded visuals are pretty, but given that they look on a par with a game from nearly 20 years ago, they won’t blow you away. 

Epic Chef has the ingredients for a show stopping experience, but it requires a little more finesse. The repetitive, uneven nature of gameplay takes some of the shine off what is otherwise a charming little adventure.

Epic Chef is available as an Xbox download from the Xbox Store

I’m no chef, but I’m not a bad cook. Throwing together ingredients to see what I can conjure up is what I enjoy the most, and it’s exactly this which captured my interest in Epic Chef. This is the latest release from the talented Team17, where you play as Zest, an amateur chef setting out on his quest to become the ultimate culinary champion in Ambrosia. Zest has spent his last pennies on a supposedly haunted, and dilapidated farmhouse and is immediately ridiculed by the locals for it. Being the new boy in town, he must work his land to…

Pros:

  • Loads of dish combinations
  • Battles are fun
  • Quirky humour

Cons:

  • Repetitive gameplay
  • Frustrating save mechanic
  • Slow, uneven pacing

Info:

  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Team17
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch
  • Version reviewed - Xbox One Xbox Series X
  • Release date - 11 Nov 2021
  • Launch price from - £19.99
TXH Score

3.5/5

Pros:

  • Loads of dish combinations
  • Battles are fun
  • Quirky humour

Cons:

  • Repetitive gameplay
  • Frustrating save mechanic
  • Slow, uneven pacing

Info:

  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Team17
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch
  • Version reviewed - Xbox One Xbox Series X
  • Release date - 11 Nov 2021
  • Launch price from - £19.99

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