Sat. Jan 28th, 2023
Overcooked review: Meet the new couch co-op champion

It’s not often that I sit down to play a video game with my significant other. Oh sure, we’ll play on Until sunrise together, take turns sending characters to their deaths, or turn into a crime-fighting detective duo to solve the mysteries of Her story. But there’s only so long you can sit and watch someone else play a game before it gets, well… boring.

Globally, simultaneous online multiplayer may have made playing games a more exciting experience for the lone bank competitor, but for the man or woman who wants to sit in the same room with someone and play a game, the options are a bit limited.

That’s why I’m so fond of it Overcooked. It’s the ultimate couch co-op experience, a game with a simple premise that’s easy to learn and play that brings out the best and worst in those who play it. Oh yes, you start off as best friends, gently encouraging each other while laughing off early mishaps. A fallen onion here, a mishandled plate there – who cares? But then the laundry piles up. Nobody chops lettuce. There’s a batch of fries in the fryer that someone had to look at and now they’ve caught fire. Tempers fray, panic sets in, expletives are hurled.

You don’t really know a person until they’ve screamed bloody murder at you for failing to add a slice of tomato to a virtual burger bun.

In the core, Overcooked is a simple assembly game. You are given a recipe, a list of orders and a time limit to complete them. You take the right ingredients from a container, chop them up, cook them and serve the finished dish on a plate to hungry guests. There are only two buttons to interact with: one to pick up items and another to chop things up. It’s a simple premise, but one that allows for a surprising amount of complexity.

For starters, up to four players can work together in a kitchen, allowing you to divide the work. But who does what? Do you put your best person to chop, or is such a menial task best left to the man who is barely able to mash buttons? Do you even assign individual tasks? Maybe it’s better to just let everyone roam free than try to create some sophisticated conveyor belt system to make onion soup (spoiler: if my girlfriend and I want to do something, it definitely isn’t).

Recipes start simple; for an onion soup, three chopped onions should be cooked in a pan before pouring into a bowl to serve. A tomato soup is much the same, replacing onions with tomatoes. But then you’re asked to make both at the same time, with the orders coming in randomly. Suddenly you have to control what gets cut first, tomatoes or onions, and what you put in the pot. In the heat of the moment, it’s all too easy to accidentally stick a chopped onion in the tomato pot, ruining the recipe, or forget to get a batch of soup off the stove before the kitchen timer runs out and it goes up in flames.

Manage those recipes – and get handy with the fire extinguisher conveniently placed on each level – and the difficulty ramps up even further. There are burgers that are made of tomato, lettuce, patty, and bun, or a combination of them, depending on the order. There are fish and chips that require deft timing with a deep fryer and overstuffed burritos composed of an extremely ambitious list of ingredients. Smart is that not only the recipes change, but also the environment in which you make them. A silly but happy short story sets the tone, featuring a giant spaghetti and meatball monster with an insatiable appetite that sends you back in time to the 1990s to travel the kitchens of the world and learn how to cook well.

Soon the simple open kitchen is replaced by a pirate ship that rocks back and forth, shoving ingredients and counters around and forcing your team to constantly switch roles. A burger making level split between two moving trucks on a highway is particularly tricky, especially when you and your cooking compatriots are all in the same truck while the other drives off with half cooked burgers on it. Hardest of all are the ice-based levels, where the slippery surface makes it all too easy to slide past countertops and skillets into oblivion.

Checking out Overcooked in action with none other than Double Fine’s Tim Schafer.

The premise always remains the same, but the sheer variety of levels and the details in their design means Overcooked rarely gets tiring. Even in later levels, where the difficulty had increased and getting a high score of three stars was extremely challenging, I always wanted to try the game again.

Well, unless I played alone. There is a single player mode, where you have to switch between two characters, but this feels sloppy and makes the game much more difficult. Overcooked anything but you have to play with other people to get those high scores. And even if that wasn’t the case, there’s something magical about the brief moments of silence and concentration that puncture the screams and panic. Play yourself, or even over the internet (Overcooked doesn’t support online multiplayer) just wouldn’t be the same.

Cleverly designed and brimming with charm – the cast of characters includes an anthropomorphic cardboard box and a paraplegic raccoon –Overcooked is a game I keep coming back to over the past few weeks, and one that joins players like Towerfall Ascension and Rayman Legends on my small but steadily growing list of great couch co-op games. Make sure your relationship is strong enough to withstand the inevitable consequences.

The good

  • Hilarious and thoroughly chaotic co-op action
  • Smart level design
  • Charming images
  • East to pick up and play

The bad

The ugly one

  • You need some friends to play this one. You have friends, right?

Verdict

Overcooked is clever co-op game design wrapped in some wonderfully charming visuals. If you’re throwing a party, this is the game to load.

By akfire1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.