Things aren’t looking so great for the Onion Kingdom. Despite the best efforts from the Onion King himself, The Ever Peckish (a giant monster comprised of spaghetti and meatballs) is wreaking havoc upon the land, and the King’s top chefs can’t satisfy his unquenchable hunger. Of course, the only solution from there is to travel back in time, in the hopes that the chefs can brush up on their culinary abilities in order to take on the Ever Peckish when he inevitably returns.
It might not have needed it (though I personally adore it), but this silly premise sets the tone of Overcooked, the action-arcade game from developer Ghost Town Games. With a focus on co-operative play that emphasizes team communication, Overcooked marks another entry in the recent resurgence of ‘party’ games, which usually are designed with local, and not online, multiplayer in mind.
At its most basic level, Overcooked revolves around cooking and serving meals as quickly and efficiently as you can, with anywhere from one to four players taking up the role as chef. Once you jump into a level, orders begin piling in, and each order you’re given is broken up into simple pictures that outline exactly what ingredients are needed.
From there, you’re tasked with collecting all the necessary ingredients, preparing them (whether that include chopping, frying or cooking them as needed), plating all the ingredients together, then serving the prepared dish. Some levels also throw other tasks into the mix, such as washing dirty dishes in order to re-use them for serving.
The basic mechanics are easy enough to learn, and the simple control scheme helps to ensure a low barrier of entry, even for those who rarely play games. Aside from using the analog stick to move your chef around, only two button are needed in to prepare food, though more advanced players might take advantage of the dash button in order to cut down on prep time.
Still, as simple as the minute-to-minute mechanics are, Overcooked consistently manages to find ways to add depth and nuance. Each level has a strict time limit, and high scores and rankings are doled out based on how many dishes you’ve served. Bonus points (in the form of tips) are awarded for quick meal delivery, though you can be docked points if you take too long.
Having played through most of the game cooperatively with my girlfriend, it became quite apparent that strategy and communication reign supreme here. Jumping into levels blindly allowed us to barely scrape by with one or two stars, but in order to obtain three star rankings, we usually had to replay levels with specific strategies in mind. Assigning tasks to certain players helps to streamline the entire process, though communicating and openly talking is just as important, as you’ll inevitably run into a few road bumps that will require switching up strategies on the fly. As mentioned earlier, you can play with up to four players, and the game will scale the scores and rankings depending on how many people there are.
Playing with four players definitely provides its own set of challenges, and Overcooked is relentless when it comes to switching up how levels and recipes are configured. Recipes, for example, often change between each stage, with some requiring more prep time (by which I mean chopping and slicing), while others place an emphasis on heating or frying specific ingredients. Of course, frying up a burger or heating up a pot of soup has a time limit, and you can easily burn your recipe if you aren’t paying enough attention.
The layout of the levels themselves is also constantly evolving. One stage might have you cooking on a pirate ship, with the layout of the kitchen shifting periodically as the tide sways the ship from side to side. A few levels take place across multiple trucks, with trucks alternating between splitting up from each other and joining up in close proximity. These levels require a lot of planning and coordination, as you and your team have to ensure you don’t all end up on one truck when they inevitably drift apart, else you’ll be stranded without specific kitchen appliances.
As a party game, Overcooked shines when you’re having fun, laughing (and occasionally screaming frantically) with a few friends in tow. You do have the option to play through the game solo, but the single-player mode never lived up to the high standard set by the game’s multiplayer. When playing alone, you take control of two chefs by switching back and forth between them with a button press. It’s serviceable and works perfectly fine, but playing alone removes much of the frantic and chaotic pace that makes the game as enjoyable as it is. While it’s a nice option to have when other players aren’t readily available, it’s by no means an acceptable alternative.
As a pick-up-and-play party game, Overcooked is some of the most fun I’ve had with my friends and family in a long while. Its simple controls and easy to understand mechanics make it appealing to casual and seasoned gamers alike, resulting in something that’s perfect for both short spurts or lengthier gaming sessions. Just make sure you have someone else to play with.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with for review.
While it's not nearly as enjoyable as a solo outing, Overcooked is one of the best party games we've played in years. Just make sure you bring some friends or family along for the ride.