I’ll be honest, reviewing a cooking game wasn’t very high up on my bucket list. But putting aside my culinary capabilities, Overcooked! turned out to be a game that is surprisingly fun and addictive. The premise is simple, either working as a team or competitively, you must gather, chop and assemble ingredients to form particular dishes and send them out to waiting patrons.
You might need to create a hamburger with lettuce, tomatoes, meat and obviously a bun; chop enough onions to make some soup; or maybe just deep fry some fish and chips and get them on a plate. It sounds mundane, but Overcooked! pushes your mental limits in terms of time keeping and multitasking.
For example everything needs to be cut up before you can start cooking, so getting your ingredients prepared in the right sequence is essential to meeting customers’ waiting times and to reap the best tips for quick service. Meanwhile, leaving things cooking for too long will result in you needing to rush off to find the fire extinguisher to put out fires which will soon spread through-out your kitchen.
It’s easy to misplace frying pans or a tomato in the ensuing chaos. Also, many of the levels require you to also do the dishes otherwise you’ll run out of plates to serve your meals on. To top things off, each level has environmental hazards to contend with too. Kitchens on a boat tilt with the waves, causing your kitchen to move and re-orientate itself every few minutes. Other maps take place on an iceberg so that you slide around uncontrollably, or your kitchen may have rats which come out and steal your food. One particularly ridiculous map has your kitchen split across three moving trucks, where falling off the edge results in a time penalty before you respawn again.
It sounds as mental as it is to play but Overcooked! is also accessible despite its frantic nature, thanks to some simple controls. One stick moves your player around the single-screen map, with one button assigned to chopping food (as long as you’re at a chopping board) and one other button interacts with an object (such as picking up food, placing it in a frypan, or serving it). The rest of the challenge is simply keeping track of everything and being as efficient as possible.
There are times when you’re a zen master in the kitchen, multitasking and getting orders out the door with smug proficiency. Other times you’re running around like a maniac because there’s a fat fire and your kitchen is alight. With co-op mode, your team can specialise in particular tasks, such as one person cooking while the other chops and serves, and the game supports up to four players locally. Competitive mode is great too, where teams of chefs engage in a cook-off to try and serve more dishes than the other against the clock.
However Overcooked! lacks a lot of the polish and detail that would make this game a lot more accessible. For instance, the game fails to communicate a lot of the controls to the user - such as boost, which is only discovered through trial and error. When playing competitive mode with two players, it’s even possible to switch between you and a second playable chef by tapping the right shoulder button. However I don’t recall ever being told this, and it was only through pure frustration that my mate and I experimented to see why there was another character on the screen standing around doing nothing.
Other little details show that this game is either a port, or has been rushed for release - such as the inability to skip past sequences of dialogue and sometimes it’s not clear you need to press a button to continue, so you’re sitting around wondering why nothing’s happening. Winning competitive games lacks any sort of win screen, and the icing on the cake is the maps have unoriginal titles like “Boat” and “Boat 2”.
Thankfully, while the menu screens lack polish, the in-game graphics are fine - with a cute rounded cartoon aesthetic which helps compliment the slapstick action taking place. There’s an interesting mix of characters and environments to keep the gameplay fresh, and the soundtrack is a delight. It doesn’t hold up so well as a single-player experience because of the repetitive nature if you have to do everything yourself, but it’s a great party game with some friends.