by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Recipe for success
The frantic cooking game is an always fun, often brilliant genre which seems to be underused. Combine this genre with some local multiplayer, couch co-op action, and you have got a recipe for success. Overcooked is from Ghost Town Games and indie label Team17, and is a fun little cooking game when played on your own, but with friends it turns into a whole different beast.
Which is fitting, because the Beast has risen and put the entire Onion Kingdom in danger. He requires feeding, and although chefs are on hand to try and battle him, they are not up to the task. The Onion King sends you back in time to learn the ropes, and you will travel through the 90s and 2000s, picking up new recipes and skills before finally facing off against the spaghetti and meatball overlord of darkness. While this is a ridiculous premise, it’s a fitting one for a game which is as wacky as it is charming.
At face value, it may look like an ordinary cooking game. You control characters from a top down perspective, moving them around the kitchen to perform various tasks. You pick up your ingredients, you prepare them, you cook them, and you deliver them. The faster you deliver the food, the higher tip you get. If your order times out, you will lose money. The more orders you complete within the time limit, the higher star rating you will get, and you will unlock new levels and progress through the timeline a little bit. So far, so vanilla. But it doesn’t take long for the game to go places you wouldn’t normally expect, which really spices things up.
Spicing things up
An early example of crazy level design is the pirate ship. Cooking on a moving sea vessel must be hard enough as it is, but when the cooking surfaces aren’t exactly tied down properly, it just gets silly. One moment your chopping board might be right next to the ingredients and the cooking pot, the next it might have slipped down starboard so you will have to run all the way around to get at them. Things get even crazier from there, rats will start stealing your food while you are preparing it, you will be cooking on slippery ice, or on the precipice of scorching lava, in total darkness, or even in space.
Some of these levels are a lot of fun, as you have to figure out the puzzle of the environment as well as making sure you complete orders on time. Others aren’t so great, and while the slightly loose controls can make for hilarity in enclosed levels, when you are having to avoid falling into icy water or hot lava it can become incredibly frustrating. If you have got a full plate of food and fall to your demise, not only are you knocked out of the game for five seconds, whatever you had is lost to the abyss as well. Other levels have moving parts which you can’t access at certain points, and watching a burning frying pan float off out of reach while you’re stuck doing nothing isn’t enjoyable. Thankfully, these levels are few and far between.
There are always at least two chefs on screen, even if you are playing on your own. Hitting a button will swap between them, and in this way you are able to get things done quicker. You might want to leave one chef chopping while the other gathers the rest of the ingredients. You might even want to have them both chopping the same thing at the same time to get it done faster. Often, levels will be split in two, and the chefs will have to pass food across the counters, or even along conveyer belts, so swapping becomes even more important.
Too Many Cooks
But it is in the local multiplayer where Overcooked really shines. Here, up to four players can work co-operatively, and chaos is never far around the corner. It’s very much a case of too many cooks spoil the pizza, especially on the tighter levels where there are only a few ways you can run. Pressing a button will give your chef a little boost of speed, but that will also knock your friends out of the way if you run into them. The room will be a cacophony of noise as you each shout instructions to each other that no one actually listens to, but you will have a great time regardless.
Multiplayer is definitely the way to play, and with a friend or two you will be blasting through levels in no time. However, Overcooked does require you earn a certain number of stars before progressing to the next level, and as the game goes on this becomes less and less forgiving. To reach the later levels you will have to get three stars on a high percentage of the existing stages, which will often mean going back and trying them again. This is frustrating when you want to see what the game is going to throw at you next, but you have to go and revisit and older level. Finishing the entire game will take around 6-8 hours, depending on how successful you are, meaning the game definitely never outstays its welcome.
Get your friends together
Overcooked is a real treat of a game, which also lends itself to extra DLC further down the line, as there are plenty of unexplored environments and recipes to master. It’s incredibly simple to learn, as there are only two or three buttons you need to press, but it’s going to take a lot of coordination to make it to the end. If you have got a few friends and a weekend to kill, Overcooked is one of the best experiences you will have this year.
Simple, yet fiendish gameplay. Cooperative play is a joy. Completing a level grants a great feeling of satisfaction.
A handful of frustrating levels, strict requirements for progression.