‘Epic Chef’ review: a delightful – if undercooked – visit to flavourtown

Looking for Ambrosia's greatest diners, drive-ins and dives

In the first moments of Epic Chef, your character – Zest – is roughly booted from the ship he’d secretly stashed himself on. For Zest, it’s a rough introduction to the city of Ambrosia, but for the player it’s pretty funny. Zest’s hard landing on the ratty port of Ambrosia serves an unceremonious prophecy on what to expect from your time with Epic Chef – some good laughs amidst a bumpy bundle.

Once you’ve navigated through the sleazy port authority, actually getting into the city of Ambrosia is a very exciting time. On every corner, there’s something going on that reminds me of the big-city melting pot I’ve been dropped into. From a cartoonish street brawl to a witch that’s (understandably) being blamed for a disastrous spell which has spilled into the plaza, it feels like everywhere I go there are signs that life in Ambrosia will have plenty to keep me busy.

The real reason that Zest has smuggled his way to Ambrosia actually lies slightly out of the city walls, in a dilapidated villa he’s picked up for cheap. Sure, it’s apparently haunted, but it also has magical soil that causes crops to flourish at breakneck pace. There’s no Stardew Valley-level of waiting days for your veggies to sprout – in Epic Chef, pretty much everything can be grown overnight.

That’s because, unlike other farming slice-of-life games, tending to your land in Epic Chef feels like more of a means-to-an-end than something to enjoy and take at your own pace. Instead of shipping off your produce into the usual coin-converting ether, you’ll actually – if the clue wasn’t in the name – use them to fuel Zest’s budding culinary career. The general gist is that you’ll nurture a steadily-growing pool of ingredients – vegetables, demon cow meat (you know, the usual) – and in turn create more and more complex dishes as time goes on. I really liked my produce having a bit more purpose, and enjoyed experimenting with all the absolutely freakish meal combinations available.

Epic Chef farming
Epic Chef. Credit:
Infinigon Games.

Cooking involves adding up to three ingredients in a pot, stirring it to release flavour while giving it the odd shake to prevent things burning. The key to crafting a yummier meal comes down to which ingredients you choose to use – they’ve all got their own synergies, and some foods will add more flavour (and thereby more score) based on what’s already in the pot. Choosing what order to add ingredients and identifying good combos is an art in itself, and draws a lot of parallels with card games like Hearthstone.

The act of actually cooking is pretty simplistic, though it’s satisfying enough to remain fun. Unfortunately, I feel like I’d have enjoyed it a bit more if there wasn’t a pretty irritating performance issues that caused my more-than-capable PC to start lagging at the mere sight of a pan.

Time spent stirring the pot is at the core of Epic Chef, which progresses as Zest uses his Villa’s growing resources to cook meals, either for himself or as part of a chef battle. Almost like Pokemon gyms, these challenges are utilised in Ambrosia to assert status or resolve disputes amongst the snobby culinary elite. It’s a great idea, but it’s also where I ran into my first big issue with Epic Chef.

Epic Chef. Credit: Infinigon Games.

One of the first major chef battles requires that you build up aroma – a mechanic that determines which meal the judge tries first – in order to win. While the act of building up your food’s aroma is fairly simple, it’s pretty poorly explained earlier in the game – in fact, it’s deliberately brushed over because it says you don’t need to worry about it for now. I ended up spending too long in the game losing this fight and slinking away to restock my ingredients, before eventually aroma clicked for me. Again – it’s a really simple mechanic, but I feel like parts of Epic Chef could do with a bit more clarification.

My only other criticism of the chef battles is that a lot of the animations between rounds can be fairly repetitive and lengthy, and there’s no way to skip them. It’s a minor gripe, sure, but if you’re as bad as chef as me, you’ll end up wishing for a way to nudge cutscenes along faster.

Epic Chef
Epic Chef. Credit: Infinigon Games.

I only really have one other big complaint with Epic Chef, and it’s more of an issue concerning wasted potential rather than something it has actively done wrong. I stepped into Ambrosia beyond excited to immerse myself in the hustle and bustle of the big city and meet some of the characters I was zipping past. Sadly, this didn’t really manifest. Quite a few of my initial meetings were full of charming characters and witty dialogue, but I was disappointed to find that not all of them were destined to develop any further in the game.

Lots of NPCs were relegated to little more than background scenery, cursed to forever hand out the same dull tasks. I know you want more seaweed, lonesome NPC by the beach, but don’t you want to hang out for a bit? Epic Chef could really benefit from giving the citizens of Ambrosia more time to shine, especially because the game’s real strength lies in some fabulous moments of dialogue.

From the very start of the game, I was impressed with Epic Chef‘s off-beat writing. The charming, softened-up graphics belies some knife-sharp humour as Zest antagonises, chats and negotiates with Ambrosia’s residents. From existential questions about what makes a southern gate southern to sternly telling off the ghost of a long-dead wizard, I relished every line of dialogue in Epic Chef and found it did much of the heavy-lifting to add flavour to the world.

Despite the criticism, there’s a lot to love with Epic Chef that means I’d still happily recommend it to anyone looking for their next virtual town to settle down in. Watching Zest scramble to stay on top of his piling problems remained amusing throughout, and I’m still not quite done with my delicious experimentation in regards to a certain ghostly potato. If you’re on the fence, and you’ve enjoyed similar games in the past, I’d say go for it – Epic Chef certainly feels like it can cater to that specific niche of palettes.

Epic Chef launches on November 11, and is available for PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Xbox One. We reviewed the title on PC

The Verdict

With reams of fantastic dialogue and a unique take on the slice-of-life genre, Epic Chef is a worthy recommendation for fans of Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley. That being said, the introductory elements of the game could do with a bit more detail, and I’d love to see Epic Chef shine over a bit more of a spotlight on Ambrosia’s background characters.

Pros

  • The city of Ambrosia is a colourful splash of colour that’s a joy to busybody around
  • The deceptively deep cooking is fun to experiment with
  • Some incredibly funny writing throughout the story

Cons

  • Could use some slightly more detailed tutorials
  • Doesn’t really make use of the city’s would-be supporting characters
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