Traditionally, I’m not one for games within the cooking genre.
I mean, sure, I can appreciate what those games are usually going for but they’re not something that you’ll find me actively seeking out. Once in awhile, however, there comes a game that transcends the supposed confines of its genre; a game that can be appreciated in some form or another by nearly all types of gamers. Just like Psyonix’s Rocket League roped in non-sports fans just over a year ago, Overcooked is one such title that manages to elevate itself beyond what genre conventions would lead you to expect.
Conceptually, Cambridge-based developer Ghost Town Games’ maiden venture is a simple one: receive food orders, prepare the dishes, and serve them in a prompt manner. There’s nothing inherently difficult about its trappings per se but what comes from it is something truly worth experiencing for anyone pining for the bygone era of frenzied couch co-op action between two-to-four players.
As one would expect, the same sort of praise can be justly leveled at the game’s eclectic narrative too. In a bid to save the Onion Kingdom from the dastardly ‘Ever Peckish’ — a behemoth-sized spaghetti and meatball monster — you must travel back to the early 1990s to hone your various culinary skills before re-emerging to present day to quell the beast’s sizeable appetite and thus banish him from the realm. No big deal, right? Utilizing a trusty little food van to negotiate the game’s map, players must visit various areas, each posing a unique culinary conundrum. Once one of the levels has been selected, you’ll be thrust into locations such as a ship, a volcano, and even outer space.
In an effort to complement the moment-to-moment gameplay, Overcooked employs a plethora of iterative recipes that keep proceedings feeling fresh throughout the 28-level-strong campaign. Between pizzas, burgers, burritos, soup, plus fish and chips ( a personal favorite) there’s always a new task to grapple with. Additionally, each new recipe requires a different process to undertake: you’ll find yourself utilizing frying pans, pots, deep fat fryers, and boxes of various ingredients with the sole aim leveled towards satiating the patrons. As one would imagine, however, on-hand culinary tasks aren’t the only aspect to contend with in each of the game’s levels. As you progress, the environments in which you hone your skills in become far more dynamic and fit thematically with the surroundings afforded to each area.
For instance, later on in the campaign, you must practice your craft on an icy expanse, making traversal particularly difficult as you can oftentimes overshoot your intended target and fall to your demise. Couple that with the fact that your makeshift kitchen is segregated by cascading blocks of ice you must go between to make use of necessary items, and the overall gameplay begins to reveal itself as decidedly more frenetic than initially proposed. Another such instance where environmental factors come into play involves cooking between a pair of speeding flatbed trucks, both have a penchant for traveling at differing speeds. Once the trucks line up, you can hop between each to gather the necessary provisions before speeding back to get to the all-important cooking station.
It’s that management of time and resources that makes Overcooked such a resounding success in the multiplayer sphere. Before long, you’ll be barking out commands to your teammate(s) as the environments shift and twist, with the verbal retorts being full of expletives if things start to go awry. And that’s neglecting to mention that your whole work area can catch on fire, too — a task fit for the likes of Rosco McQueen evidently. It’s all incredibly engaging, and you’ll soon find yourself caught up in the moment before quickly reflecting on how hung up you just got over what’s ostensibly a zany tomato soup simulator. Just like the halcyon days of yonder, Overcooked elicits that decidedly warm nostalgic feeling of being perched on the precipice of a couch with a good friend, arguing over who deserved what and who was the better player overall. Simply put, it creates moments: little pockets of communal engagement and enthusiasm that are near-unrivalled in the couch co-op arena this generation.
But while it’s the gameplay that undoubtedly carries the weight of Overcooked’s charm, there is a definite argument to be made for the game being a little light on the content side of things. Beyond the admittedly well-paced campaign and versus mode that’s unlocked incrementally through the aforementioned main story mode, there’s little else to keep players engaged if the fun eventually subsides. All together, it would’ve been nice to see another mode that perhaps takes the game’s systems and expands upon them in a more diverse way. Moreover, while the presentation’s as amusing as the premise would likely suggest, it is a little sparse and flat in some areas. Then again, with the game’s price point tagged at $16.99/£12.99/€15.99, these maybe aren’t the most pertinent of complaints.
Make no mistake though, Overcooked is explicitly designed to be played with more than one player at all times. In truth, it’s a little bit harder to recommend if you’ve no friends around to play with as there’s no form of online multiplayer. Sure, you can play by yourself — and pull your own hair out trying to get three stars on all levels in the process — but it’s readily apparent what way you should be playing. Anything less is frankly a bit of a disservice, as the game cries out for combative couch co-op tussles.
All told, Overcooked is a thoughtfully crafted love letter to the sort of titles that many of us forged our gaming mettle with; a body of games that have needlessly fallen by the wayside with the advent of online multiplayer. If you’re looking for a quirky, fun indie title that’ll have you hurling instructions and insults towards your friends with equal frequency, then look no further. But for those who can’t handle the heat, it’s best to stay out of the kitchen.