With titles like Move or Die, Duck Game, Chambara and more coming out on a seemingly regular basis these days, the days of local multiplayer gaming are really making a comeback. More and more developers are aiming to see you and your friends gather around the couch with some snacks for a lengthy play session, and as with all other trends like this, it really takes a unique game to stand out among the crowd. Enter Ghost Town Games and Team 17 with Overcooked, an insane adventure in cooking made best for a crowd of companions. But can it really cut the mustard, or is it not even fit for a doggy bag (and yes, apologies in advance for any notable amount of puns in this review)?
Set in the culinary land of Onion Town, Overcooked begins with an assault on the city by a giant spaghetti monster that can only be calmed with a massive feast, which you are unprepared to cook up. The solution? Have you travel back in time to 1993 and then spend the next two decades or so learning how to become the best chef possible in order to serve up something that satisfies the beast, which involves a journey through cities, the arctic, pirate ships, Hell, et cetera. Yes, truly that was the most sensible approach. But hey, a cute sense of humor is always appreciated.
The first thing that comes to mind when playing Overcooked is a game such as Cook, Serve, Delicious! where the goal is to properly prepare and assemble all sorts of ingredients into a variety of different dishes, and serve them to the customers in time. The difference, though, is that Overcooked takes the form of a top down action game, where you and one or up to three more chefs have to work together and manually grab each ingredient from its source, bring it to a cutting board or cooking station, put it all on a plate (correctly), and bring it to the delivery area, all while avoiding/maneuvering around various obstacles and making sure everything moves smoothly. fail, and you may find a fire breaking out, or a load of unwashed dishes that have yet to be cleaned. It’s a setup that’s nicely chaotic, fast-paced (with most rounds only taking a few minutes at most), and controls quite well, even if trying to place an item on the correct spot gets tricky during more hectic times.
But even when things are on the verge of breaking out into a five alarm inferno, Overcooked still manages to look quite appealing. The chipper, cartoonish art style is simple and works perfectly, and the music is nice and bouncy, with sound effects of sizzling and chopping always guiding helping you stay alert to what’s going on. It definitely all has a casual feel in mind, but fits the light-hearted tone quite superbly. And the various smooth movements in each level, from moving trucks to shifting tables, are executed well.
Indeed, the level design is quite possibly the part about Overcooked that stands out the most. Each stage revolves around entirely new gimmicks and recipes, like having to skate around a glacier with fish and chips, delivering items and ingredients for burgers between different areas on conveyor belts, and having to deal with making pizza in a haunted house where poltergeists move the equipment around, resulting in areas getting blocked off if not prepared. Everything is set up in such a way where you and a friend (or friends) really have to work together in harmony to create a delectable dish in time, attempting to work out a rhythm as you adjust on the fly to how things will play out. So with its easy-to-learn gameplay, charming atmosphere, and appetizing arena, Overcooked truly does have all of the ingredients for a multiplayer classic, simple yet potentially addictive.
Unfortunately, Overcooked also boasts that it works as single-player game as well, and that’s where things start to get burnt.
There are two ways to control Overcooked by yourself: Either switch between your two chefs with the push of a button, which disrupts the flow of what should be a duo working together in tandem, active and alert at all times, or attempt to control both characters at once with the analog sticks and shoulder buttons, which just feels incredibly awkward to work with. It commits the multiplayer game’s sin of half-assing the one-player portion, alas. That’s not to say the game doesn’t still have its enjoyable moments when playing alone, but it feels like saying that Overcooked is a single-player game is akin to saying that something like table tennis is a single-player game as well. Sure, with enough skill and speed, you can pull it off, and you can wrangle some fun out of being able to do so, but it just doesn’t feel like the true experience.
Perhaps this could have been remedied if the game had online mutliplayer as well, or even if you were able to play against some bots in the versus mode, but no luck. And it doesn’t help in that in order to unlock levels to duel in, you have to play through the game’s campaign mode. Oh, it contains several examples of the stellar level design previously mentioned, there’s no denying that. Unfortunately, the way you actually progress through these levels leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth. Things are set up like a mobile game, with your score in each level netting you either one, two, or three stars. Each new level is unlocked by having a certain amount of total stars. Don’t have enough? Then prepare to truly make like a burger chef and get ready to grind, especially if going solo, where getting three stars in certain levels feels near-impossible. I get the desire to appeal to the casual crowd, but this kind of structure is something that needs to die off.
What it boils down to is that if you have two or more controllers and the appropriate amount of friends to play with, then you should check out Overcooked, but if you’re looking to dine alone, then you had best move on. If it were multiplayer-only, it actually might have fared better, but the sloppy single-player design cannot go ignored. And even without that, a flawed campaign hinders an otherwise good-looking game with some nice gameplay at its core. If you have the patience, you may want to at least give it a taste, but otherwise, send Overcooked back to the kitchen for being underdone.