Review: Overcooked!

Game: Overcooked!
Made by: Ghost Town Games, Ltd.
Published by: Team17 Digital Ltd.
Available on: PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One

An exercise in high-stakes teamwork masquerading as an arcadey cooking game, Overcooked! is couch co-op in its most chaotic form.

CONTENT

Microtransactions: None
Tedium: None
Violence: None
Graphic Content: None

CONCEPT

After being declared unfit to defeat the gargantuan anthropomorphic spaghetti monster known as the Ever-Peckish, the Onion King sends you (and any friends you’ve brought along) back in time to the 1990s to hone your culinary craft.

From here, Overcooked! is pretty simple: use the recipes you learn and the ingredients and tools supplied in each kitchen to fulfill the orders that come in. The game’s early levels start easy enough, asking the player to combine chopped lettuce and tomato to make salad (a process which involves grabbing the ingredients, chopping them, putting them on a plate and delivering them to the serving window), and then to combine three chopped ingredients to make a soup. From there, though, the game starts to slowly become more complicated. More advanced recipes involve cooking and managing more ingredients, and the game’s middle and later levels involve kitchen environments with shifting work stations, conveyor belts, and a variety of hazards, including hungry rats, moving vehicles, and lakes of lava.

Overcooked! can be played as a single-player game (with the player controlling two characters), but the experience is clearly built for a team of two to four players. Part of Overcooked!’s chaotic nature comes from the disorder and miscommunication players may experience, but developing an orderly and communicative team is what, in the end, makes the game possible and fun. Each victory in Overcooked! is a triumph of interpersonal communication, and a round of successfully-planned teamwork (or, more likely, one where catastrophe is reasonably mitigated) feels like a real accomplishment. All of this doesn’t necessarily fit on the box, but it’s included every time players load up the game. Where pictures show a cartoony game with a culinary theme, Overcooked! is more faithfully described as a rewarding exercise in high-stakes teamwork and cooperation.

Image: Steam

FEATURES

Fast-paced Gameplay: Each stage of Overcooked! is governed primarily by timers; one general level timer in the lower right corner, and individual timers on each dish. Failing to produce and deliver a dish before its timer runs out results in a failed dish (and a loss of points), and the level timer determines when the stage is complete, solidifying the score. The player’s goal is to get as many complete dishes out as possible before the level timer runs out, but also to keep an eye on the individual dish timers to be sure not to lose any points along the way. This necessity to move quick, combined with the likelihood of making a mistake or two, paves the way for a fast-paced, sometimes chaotic experience.

2-4 Player Couch Co-op: While the game allows for a single player experience, Overcooked! is definitely built with co-op gameplay in mind. Jump in with a friend (or three) and work together (or fall apart) to master the arena of culinary accomplishment.

Focus on Teamwork: While Overcooked! is clearly a cooperative game, that title doesn’t quite elucidate just how necessary successful cooperation is. While many co-op games function as vectors for communication between effective lone wolves, Overcooked! makes clear the playstyle it demands in its early levels: work together (or get out of the kitchen).

Simple Controls: The controls in Overcooked! are so simple that players with access to only one controller can choose to divide it into halves, with one player using each half to control their character. This makes for an awkward, but effective experience when using Xbox or Playstation controllers, but means that the game is naturally suited to use of the Switch’s detachable joycons. Mastery of an analog stick and three of the controller’s action buttons (A, B, & X on Xbox) is all that’s required to play through all of the game’s levels.

Image: Steam

WHAT I LIKED

Each level of Overcooked! presents a new and unique challenge, and each of these challenges develop into a legitimately entertaining experience. The game’s co-op feels well-designed, with every stage of the game feeling conquerable as long as players are willing to adapt their strategy. Overcooked! is a relatively brief experience, and while it’s not one that challenges the face of gaming or redefines its genre, it’s an arguably perfect example of what truly cooperative gaming can be.

CONCERNS

Difficulty: It’s important to clarify that Overcooked is by no means a particularly difficult game, but players expecting a more relaxing, arcadey experience may be surprised by how quickly the game’s difficulty ramps up. The game’s main campaign only has around 29 levels, and with each lasting only a couple of minutes on average, their level of challenge can accelerate fairly quickly. Each level generally introduces a mechanic or challenge unexperienced in any previous stage, and it’s normal for a level to take two or three tries to fully develop a successful strategy. Again, with this warning in mind, it should be noted once more that the game isn’t particularly challenging, and that non-gamers won’t necessary struggle to play as long as they know what they’re getting into.

Chaos: Overcooked!’s chaotic gameplay is either a selling point or a point of caution. Going into a level without a specific plan is likely to lead to disorder and a few kitchen fires. To be fair, though, going into a level with a specific plan is also pretty likely to lead to disorder and kitchen fires. To play and enjoy Overcooked! is to realize that even the best-laid plans are going to break down here and there, and being ready to compensate for minor failures. Chaos is the charm of Overcooked!, but if order and upheld expectations are more your speed, this may not be the game for you.

Brevity: Overcooked! isn’t a long game. My girlfriend and I completed its main campaign in about six hours, and that’s including time spent replaying levels (to either beat them the first time or to earn more stars). Playing through the game’s free holiday levels and earning three stars on all stages will probably add another hour or two to its playtime, and its lone DLC, The Lost Morsel adds six more stages, for another potential hour of content. If you’re going in to Overcooked! expecting anything more than 5-10 hours of content, you may end up disappointed.

Local Co-op Only: For a game so heavily reliant on cooperative play, the choice to make Overcooked! local co-op exclusive means that players whose gaming friends are further away may want to skip this title. Worth noting is that the game’s sequel, Overcooked 2, allows for both local and online co-op.

Image: Steam

WHO’S IT FOR?

If you’re searching for a simple local co-op game that emphasizes the importance of real cooperation and rewards a well-managed team, Overcooked! is worth looking into.

If you’re not a fan of games that require communicative teamwork, or if you don’t have anyone nearby to play with, this may not be the title for you.

STATISTICS

From Steamspy unless otherwise noted.

Average Playtime*: 4.5 hours
Average Cost per Hour**: $3.78

Median Playtime*: 2.75 hours
Median Cost per Hour**: $6.17

* Playtime rounded to the nearest quarter-hour
**Costs calculated using a price of $16.99

 

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