If you’ve ever worked in a kitchen, you know that stress is a key factor in your life. From the moment you start preparing for your days covers, to the moment at about 2am where you desperately need alcohol to numb the mental pain, catering is a testing career. I’ve worked as a chef albeit one that deep fried everything and let me tell you, even with the creative genius of putting three chicken nuggets in to a hot dog roll, making around 80 covers per hour with drinks orders and chips is hell.
Overcooked is a fun 4 player local co-op game from Team 17 that not only replicates this stress but does so in an entertaining way, but don’t fret because it’s equally as enjoyable and stressful in solo play. You and your team must complete the trials set to you by the Onion King throughout history so that when the time is right, you can take on the beast of a meatball with insatiable hunger before he ends the world.
You control two chefs, which you switch between at any time. Your job is to pick up ingredients, chop them on a chopping board before cooking them in to a various array of meals like soups, salads, burgers and more before putting them on a plate and serving them up to the pass. Whilst you switch between your chefs, you can make sure they continue chopping, but everything else must be manually controlled, or else your chefs will stare at a pot of soup as it bursts in to flames.
In your training many orders will come in for different meals which increase in preparation difficulty, all in kitchens that present different obstacles and environments from a “normal” kitchen, a space station, a frozen glacier, even in a lorry. Your set up is made of a pot, pan, fryer or pizza oven, a chopping board and at times a sink. You are given the requisite ingredients for the meals in the level and as the timer runs down, you have to satisfy as many orders as you can.
Of course this can become incredibly difficult as multiple orders stack up and the chopping of vegetables takes time. As well as managing the meals you already have cooking less you set your kitchen on fire, and washing up dishes so you can actually serve your food. As the levels progress, you’ll get larger environmental problems to negotiate. A kitchen split in half by a conveyor belt, frozen waters, lava pools, switching rooms, swaying pirate ships, every single type of environment has something that will prove rather tricky to earn the maximum score.
Each level is judged on a star basis, with the maximum being three stars per level, and further levels are unlocked with your cumulative stars. As you progress through the ever increasing environmental difficulty and the complexity of your orders, your planning on how to combat the elements, prepare your ingredients, wash your plates and complete orders becomes crucial, at least in a single player experience. To earn three stars at times can be incredibly difficult and whilst it makes sense to do things one at a time, sometimes the mass chopping of vegetables for getting out all the orders at a later time is preferable. Unless the rats steal the food… Those pesky rats.
The only issue here is that the single player becomes a bit of a star grind which, whilst frustrating and relieving once achieved, can become an utter slog. Level familiarity starts feeling repetitive. Recipe concoctions feel a bit too obviously obtuse and, even though it breeds interesting tactics, you do feel that there is only a singular way to actually complete the level to its three star maximum. But in truth it isn’t a single player experience, not by design. It’s co-op play where the magic happens.
Playing together is a different thing all together. The stress of completing a level isn’t by precise control but by not getting in to a full blown argument with the person or persons playing with you. The game compensates for the extra people by speeding up the chopping time but it doesn’t make any allowances for people getting in each others way, or if someone just gets you a load of onions to wind you up. It creates hilarious chaos, the kind we often see on TV shows and laugh at or become shocked over. It’s a non-competitive game that becomes a power struggle within seconds. This can be further enhanced by the clever shared controller scheme.
Instead of four people having a single controller, you can share one. Each person needs two button, those being an action button and a movement control. Split the controller in half and you gave a trigger button for action and the analogue stick for control for two people. It’s an ingenious and very tactile way to create the stress in the kitchen and the gentle pull of someone trying to take the controller for themselves only heightens that entertainment.
This is why Overcooked is a wonderful experience. From its fairly silly premise to its simple execution and wonderfully cartoonish art style that’s combined with the easy to understand levels, it is an enjoyable puzzle game that is enhanced massively by its accessibility and use of people to create its drama. That and the enjoyable soundtrack that speeds up as the clock count downs. Better get that onion chopped.