Out of the frying pan and into the fire! The great Onion King needs you to go back in time and master cooking skills so that you can save the future from a giant hungry Spaghetti Monster. Sarcasm? Nope, this is the actual premise of Overcooked!. Developed by Ghost Town Games, the game was released in August 2016. It is fast paced game that focuses on co-op play rather than single player campaign. No better place for a co-op focus than a kitchen where there are more tasks than one person can complete.
Crosstix and I recently played through Overcooked to see if we could stand the heat. Is the game overdone or a 5 star meal?
Harkening back to retro days, the core of Overcooked is its game play. Like any good meal, you have to start with good ingredients. Where other games in the modern area have story as the central ingredient, it is refreshing to get a game that wants to nail its gameplay first and foremost.
Each level has a different kitchen lay out that usually has an obstacle in the center. This could be a fault line that raises areas, a river with ice blocks floating, or a street with pedestrians walking through. The game was built for co-op, so these obstacle serves as motivating players to work with one another for speed and accuracy. Tasks in the kitchen also take different amounts of time. This mechanic pushes players to not sit in front of one task, like cooking burger meat. It is tempting to become overwhelmed and sit and watch meat cook, but doing so puts you behind in the onslaught of orders that pile up.
Each level you are given a type of food that you are to prepare as orders come in. In one level this might be a salad, or burgers in another. As the order comes up, players have to get out ingredients. Once you have the ingredient it usually needs chopping, then cooking. Set the completed meal on the delivery area and mission accomplished. Done? No! Dishes come back and need to be washed, and other orders pile up. By the end of each session it feels like a rush to get anything out that you can. Finish as many orders as you can before time runs out and you will get stars based on your performance.
The game scales its difficulty very appropriately. Each level brings a new challenge and twist on the established formula. To start off with you just avoid an obstacle and learn the basic stations. Slowly more ingredients are added. Finally, levels force even more splitting and block paths to key stations. This style helps the player learn how to navigate before adding multiple recipes and challenges in levels. Other challenges include moving platforms, conveyor belts, slippery floor, and even doors to open for the other player. Counter space also becomes limited so setting up for the entire level is not possible. One nice handy place to store food is on the floor, until the rats come in more advanced levels. Let’s just hope restaurants do not take this game as training!
One big frustration for me was the never ending orders that came in. At the end of each level, I never knew if I had done well or poorly because there were always around five orders left. What is lacking is a sense of accomplishment. In a few later levels we got three stars, but felt like we did horribly. I would have liked Overcooked to know exactly how many orders are possible and limit it to that instead of always showing more to be done. Then players would know how far they are from perfection and get a sense of completion or accomplishment. Sometimes gold stars just do not cut it.
The story for the game is essentially an add-on. After completing a “world” like in Mario, you have to talk to the Onion King. We tried our best to chop him up, but no dice. Each encounter with the Onion feels pointless. It is just a conversation to mark/unlock the next world. Time travel in the game makes no sense and is outlandish. The story appears to be designed as a mechanism to progress the levels and attempt a connection or give purpose to the game. The silliness of it seems to signify that the developers knew not to take the story too seriously.
The game culminates in a boss battle with the Peckish, or a giant spaghetti monster. Thematic games like Overcooked often change game play so drastically for bosses. Thankfully the developers avoid this pit fall by making the bosses mouth the food delivery area. The boss adds periodic flaming meatballs that fall on the level and set things on fire. The level is also the only one to have a set number of dishes that must be completed in a time frame. This felt like more of an accomplishment than previous levels.
There is one mode we did not attempt, verses. The competitive levels look like a great way to get replay value out of the game and challenge friends to a frantic battle.
Art should evoke emotion. Overcooked does a wonderful job of recreating the frantic stressful environment of a restaurant kitchen. The music is not over barring and adds perfectly to the desired atmosphere. Finally, the diversity in characters adds a level of customization even though none of the characters has different abilities.
Overcooked is a great modern example of excellent co-op gameplay. It recognizes what it is and what it is not. As a result, the game evokes the stress experienced working in a real chaotic restaurant. A clearer sense of accomplishment would help, but does not ultimately detract from the quality of the game. I give this dish four stars. Just make sure to invite a friend as this game is meant to be for groups. Bon appetite!