Overcooked is a frantic co-op cooking game, presented by developer Ghost Town Games to be a “sit on the couch with friends” laugh-inducing dash to complete as many dishes as possible before time runs out. The game is available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but I’m reviewing the Steam version. While the game has many strong points, I don’t know many people that have a couch that is ideal for gathering around a computer, which is a bit problematic given the ideal scenario of playing this game with friends. This could be partially remedied by having online multiplayer, but sadly Overcooked does not have online multiplayer, which is a real missed opportunity. Overcooked can be played solo, and you might get 7 or 8 hours out of the story, but the real magic happens when playing with friends. For that reason, if you’re looking for a fun party game that is guaranteed to get people’s blood pumping and fill the room with laughter, Overcooked might be a good choice for you. This is assuming that your computer is located somewhere that would be ideal for people to gather around, and not tucked away in a bedroom. Otherwise, you might want to consider one of the console versions. Either way, if you’re thinking about getting Overcooked to play as a solo experience, you may find yourself wishing it were a bit more…er, cooked.
Overcooked is not a deeply complex game, but it isn’t supposed to be, so take the score above with a grain of salt. The mechanics consist of picking up food items, taking them to a chopping station and chopping them, dropping them in a pan or a pot, combining them with other ingredients, then putting them on a plate and serving them. That is the core of everything that you do. If you’re playing solo, you are given two characters that you can switch between at any time. This means that while one character is chopping, the other one can be gathering more ingredients or putting food on a plate. This is important, because you’re constantly battling against the clock, so you’ll need to be as efficient as possible. If you’re playing multiplayer, you can have up to 3 other people with you that each control their own character. Once you find your groove and everything is whirring like a well-oiled machine, and the plates are flying out of the kitchen, it can be quite an experience. A manic state of cautious joy sets in as you walk the razor thin edge between holding everything together, and pans going up in flames as you frantically scurry about the kitchen trying to chop lettuce before a customer walks out.
The real challenge is introduced through the different kitchens that you cook in. On one level, you might be on a ship that rocks back and forth, sending your workstations moving about and cutting off access to them. On another level, you could be in space, using pressure switches to coordinate opening doors for your fellow chefs. Or, you might find yourself on crumbling rock surrounded by lava as you try to dart back and forth to cook and serve food. Many of these levels are surprising and clever, and many are extremely difficult, but the core of what you do to create and serve food is always the same. Of course, there are various recipes that have slightly different requirements, but the concept is always very similar.
As you progress through the game, you earn stars based on how well you do. You’re able to earn a maximum of 3 stars from each level, and you use these stars to unlock subsequent levels. This creates some tense moments where you can retry levels repeatedly, trying to hit that third star, refining your technique each time. You’ll also unlock additional chefs that you can play as, and new versus arenas to battle your friends in. However, as you continue, if you miss stars along the way, you will eventually reach a point where you don’t have enough stars to start the next level. This can be frustrating, as you are then forced to go back and repeat the levels that were most difficult or frustrating for you. This is made worse by the fact that playing Overcooked solo can be extremely difficult at times. And, because you don’t have the option of online multiplayer, you may find yourself stuck or frustrated. It’s a tough situation to balance, because if the game were too easy it would be boring, and if it’s too hard it can be frustrating. The biggest problem I have with this situation is that because you can end up being blocked from progressing, rather than enjoying the silly and lighthearted nature of the game, you can find yourself forced to repeat a level that is maddening.
That being said, you could argue that blasting through the game and completing the relatively short story is sort of missing the point, especially doing it solo. After all, as I said earlier in this review, the game really shines when playing with friends. With the right group of people, it doesn’t matter if you’re winning or losing, you’re going to have a good time, and you’ll all be laughing and shouting as the final seconds count down.
In addition to the story, there is also a versus mode that allows you to play against your friends. With two players, you’ll each have two chefs that you can switch between, or if you have four players, you’ll be paired up in a 2v2 match. This can be a nice departure from the story mode if you’re looking for more competitive action. Essentially, you’ll be set up in a mirrored kitchen so that each team has the same opportunity to create and serve food. Get out more dishes than the other team to claim victory.
Overall Experience 8/10
Despite some of the criticisms above, Overcooked can be a great experience if you approach it in the right context and with the right expectations. It’s a charming game, endearing even, and can be quite funny at times too. It’s also a game where you can definitely find yourself in the “just one more level…” loop. Further, I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but if you can play this game with friends it will amplify your experience by a huge degree. Again, this review is for the Steam version, so if your computer is setup in such a way that you can get several friends around it, you’ll have a great time. One of the best features (and I would argue most clever, and possibly funniest) in Overcooked is the split-controller option. This allows you to split your console controller or keyboard (since the game supports both), so that two people can use the same device. That’s right – one person uses the left half of the controller or keyboard, and another person uses the right. This also means that you can play with four people using just one controller and one keyboard. This is an excellent example of a game implementing a control scheme that not only complements, but enhances the entire experience. It ties into the whole frantic and silly theme. A job well done.
The music in Overcooked is surprisingly fantastic. It’s high quality, it’s catchy, it’s atmospheric. It is really one of the best details of the game and deserves appropriate recognition. It does a great job of setting the tone when playing each level without being intrusive.
Most of Overcooked is a smooth experience, and responsive, but I have noticed a few instances of framerate drops – on a machine that is more than capable of maxing out much more intense games. Additionally, I would welcome a few minor visual tweaks that could help make it more obvious which square you’re picking something up from or setting something down on.
If you’re playing with multiple people, the number of coins you need in order to reach 1, 2, or 3 stars for a level goes up. The game also records the top number of coins you’ve earned on a given level. However, if you play with friends and earn a bunch of coins, and switch back to playing single player, it still shows your multiplayer record for number of coins. It is a minor gripe, but it would be nice if they separated these records.
Other than that, the artwork is clean, and as I mentioned earlier, the music is fantastic. The UI is pretty minimal, and works fairly well.
Overcooked on PC is a good game, that with a few changes could be a phenomenal game. The lack of online multiplayer is pretty huge, and the solo difficulty can be daunting at times. If you’re looking for a game that you can play with family and friends that doesn’t require a huge investment in time, and is fairly accessible to anyone (non-gamers included), Overcooked could be a great choice. If your family has a game night that typically consists of board games, this could be an interesting change of pace. As a solo experience, it can be fun, but it leaves something to be desired, and isn’t likely to hold your attention for very long due to its simple format.