A nice helping of co-op gameplay, served with a side of laughs
Traditional couch multiplayer games have become a bit dated in our current year but, as I have stated before, are honestly in no danger of disappearing altogether. Sure, going over to a friend’s house to play Mario Kart or Mortal Kombat aren’t necessarily as commonplace as they used to be, but game developers haven’t given up on the concept of being within close proximity to your friends as you play video games with them just yet – and if you ask me, that’s a very good thing. Today we’ll be taking a look at Overcooked, a highly-complex JRPG with FPS and city-building simulation elements that challenges players to save the world as they constantly make important decisions that deeply impact character development and ultimately guide them toward one of 72 completely unique endings. …Did you fall for it? Oh, man, you so did! Overcooked is totally a couch multiplayer, and none of those other things! I bet that you never would have guessed that! Okay, okay, no need to feel badly about how undeniably foolproof my prank was – I’ll stop. Let’s just go see what Overcooked has on the menu, alright?
So, now that I think about it, there actually was one kernel of truth in my fake setup for Overcooked; you are actually saving the world. No, wait, don’t leave, I’m being serious this time! Overcooked begins with your characters learning the ropes of the game in the middle of an Armageddon known as “the Peckening”, facing off against none other than a giant spaghetti monster in an attempt to defeat it by feeding it delicious food. Apparently all you knew how to make was a basic salad though which, while great for the tutorial, just didn’t cut it when it came to defeating the last boss of the game. Just before you become the monster’s next meal (an ironic death indeed), however, you were whisked away to the early 1990s by a talking onion and his pet dog in order to grant you time while you develop your cooking skills which probably should have already been developed in the first place. None of the story actually makes sense, but with a game like this it really doesn’t need to – it’s really just there to make you chuckle, and I’d say that they accomplished that mission. The real meat and potatoes of the game is the gameplay.
Overcooked‘s gameplay could best be described as a mash-up between an oldschool arcade title and a prolonged Mario Party mini game. The goal of each level is very simple and straightforward – cook meals as the orders come in and deliver them in order to rack up the highest score possible. It’s simple! …Well, in theory anyway. In reality things get hectic pretty quickly, and that’s all thanks to Overcooked‘s wacky level designs. No need to worry though, they’re supposed to be wacky. Though touting a cooking theme, Overcooked is actually more about good multitasking, and quick and careful management of time and resources while putting up with whatever crazy gimmick each level throws at you. The first few levels may have you cooking in well-organized areas that are easy to maneuver in, but before long you’ll be serving it up on pirate ships, glaciers, and, somehow, all the way down in the underworld (exactly how bad was my cooking, again?), learning the ins and outs of each level as you go along.
Most of the levels and level gimmicks did a good job of adding legitimate challenge. With Overcooked being a shorter game, upping the difficulty curve while simultaneously avoiding becoming too demanding on a player too early on in the game can be tricky. Fortunately, that problem was largely avoided and I was satisfied for the most part with how the challenges were set up. A few of the levels were a bit extreme (I’m looking at you, glacier levels) and led me to wonder just how exactly I was supposed to go about getting a full three-star ranking in every stage but, more often than not, I found myself fully clearing each difficult level after an extra try or two thanks to patience and teamwork. Oh, and speaking of teamwork…
The entirety of Overcooked can be played either by yourself or with up to three other friends, and requires a lot of teamwork either way (although I guess if you’re playing by yourself it’s less “teamwork” and more “coordination”). The single-player mode allows one player to control two chefs in each level. While only one chef can be controlled at a time, players have the ability to freely switch between the two whenever they’d like. Players can also have one of their chefs perform an action – such as cutting up food – and switch to their second chef while the first continues performing their given task, which allows for a bit more flexibility. Playing through Overcooked by yourself is possible, but they game isn’t nearly as fun. With the way it’s set up, and the emphasis on teamwork, playing Overcooked solo ends up feeling less like a single-player experience, and more like you’re playing a two-player game by yourself. But hey, the genre isn’t called a “couch single-player”. It’s called a couch multiplayer, and, surely enough, the multiplayer modes are really where this game shines.
Nothing really changes when playing Overcooked‘s campaign mode multiplayer. The levels, the dishes, the challenges – they’re all the same. How is, then, that the game manages to be so much more fun when playing with other people? Well, I can take a guess. Overcooked is all about quickly and efficiently getting your orders out. Despite the fact that you can play the game single-player, there’s no getting around the fact that Overcooked is meant to be a multiplayer experience. Heck, single-player mode even gives you two characters to control. The adventure was never meant for one chef alone, and really this game wasn’t meant for one player either. The feeling of successful teamwork with your friends is really what does it. My experience with Overcooked‘s multiplayer started out a bit hectic, but after a while my friend and I became so enthralled with its zaniness that we ended up going through the entire game in one sitting – seriously. There was something addicting about getting each level’s gimmicks down so well that we were able to three-star (almost) every level. There were a few levels here and there that seemed to demand a 3 or 4-player experience in order to obtain the highest possible score (which is a bit unfair in my opinion), but other than that there really isn’t much of anything at all to complain about. What started out as me bribing my friend with pizza so he would play a game with me because I needed to review it turned into a legitimate co-op video game adventure filled with laughter, excited yelling, and a whole lot of fun that left me sleep-deprived the next day because of how late I had stayed up playing the game – just like in the good old days.
Overcooked also comes with a multiplayer versus mode (no single-player here, sorry!) where you and your friends can go head-to-head to see how your cooking skills measure up. Versus essentially works the same as the game’s campaign mode, with you and your friends completing orders as quickly as possible, but keeps score for each individual player or team. Not surprisingly, the player or team with the highest score wins. Versus was set up well, and I enjoyed it, but honestly I was so into the game’s campaign mode (I’m a sucker for co-op) that I didn’t spend too much time with it. That doesn’t make it any less solid, though – I could definitely see myself coming back to versus again when I’m with a larger group of friends.
Overcooked‘s audio and visuals were both fine, but there wasn’t much to say about either. The visuals were bright and cartoony, and added a bit of whimsical flair that accompanied the game’s good-natured spirit quite well. The background music was relatively standard fare, with each piece fitting the level and/or theme appropriately. I did find the overworld map theme to be a bit curious – it sounded very sad. I felt like it should have been something more upbeat. Come on, we were going on an adventure across time and
space kitchens! It should be exciting!
To put things simply, Overcooked ended up delivering exactly what it promised to. There isn’t any long-winded story, nor are there any unnecessary details or gameplay elements. What Overcooked presents to players is a chance to sit down with one another and play a game that offers up gameplay that is simple, fast-paced, frantic, and, above all else, legitimately fun. Long live the couch multiplayer!
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Team 17 ; Developer: Ghost Town Games ; Players: 1 – 4 ; Released: August 3, 2016
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.