For years, the consensus on couch co-op is that it’s pretty much dead. It faded away with the rise of online multiplayer and like Gollum it skulks in the shadows, peering over rocks with it’s piercing and bitter gaze. In recent years few games have supported it and even fewer have encouraged it.
Then we get Overcooked, by Ghost Town Games. A game that revolves around (and thrives on) the idea that people need to be playing in the same room, on the same screen. Sure, there’s been games over the years that offer great local multiplayer experiences but none have quite done it like Overcooked.
For the uninitiated, Overcooked is a bright and colourful cooking game where everyone has to work together (and I mean really work together) to make it through the frantic four-minute levels. Your team must chop ingredients, cook them, place them on a plate and serve them up as quickly and efficiently as you can. All dishes are prepared in a similar way and the controls are simple enough that even non-gamers can learn how to play within minutes.
The game starts in the thick of it, fiery meatballs are raining from the sky and the Spaghetti Monster has risen from the depths of culinary hell. The Onion King calls on you to save everyone by feeding the monster as much as you possibly can. But nothing can be done to satisfy its hunger, our group is too dysfunctional, we don’t know what the hell is going on. I’m grabbing too many ingredients, Kirsty has only been cutting up lettuce, Jasmine is trying to feed the lettuce to the Spaghetti monster and Paul is spinning around squirting the fire extinguisher. It takes us some time to figure out what we need to do but inevitably we fail. Before we’re consumed by the spicy beef titan the Onion King opens up a portal and we make our escape. The intense music and screaming fade and we reappear within the safe confines of the Onion King’s hut. Also, the year is 1995, I mean – sure. His Excellency informs us that we have to spend the next twenty years training up to become master chefs, by the time the Spaghetti monster attacks we should be ready, right? The verdict is out on that one I’m afraid.
Now. The genius part about Overcooked is how it does everything in it’s power to tear the bonds of friendship apart. There’s always one too many tasks to do and any slight mistake or lapse in concentration causes major setbacks. But it’s not the games’ fault, it was our fault. Well actually I did everything right, it was actually Kirsty’s fault.
…it’s some of the most intense fun I’ve had in ages. Everyone is screaming, panicking and laughing all at once
The odds are always stacked against you. The cheeky level design means that there are hurdles to completing every task and a dysfunctional group will quickly fall apart. Some kitchens are badly planned with awkward walkways and choke points. One particular burger making level has a passage only one person wide, perfect to cause traffic jams and frantic screaming. That’s enough to make your blood pressure rise but things get worse. You could be on a rocking pirate ship with counters that will slide back and forth changing the layout of the kitchen. The restaurant might be haunted and these bastard ghosts will randomly lift up tables making them unreachable. You could also be flying down the highway in three food trucks that move back and forth, I can only describe it as Great British Bake off meets Mad Max. Things will burn, chaos will ensue and everyone will hate each other.
Every level finishes with a pep talk about what went wrong, who’s responsible for failure, a reminder of our roles and a new game plan. It’s hilarious. Overcooked breaks down relationships revealing the true pecking order and as it turns out – I’m the arsehole of the group. But I didn’t want to be the arsehole, that role was given to me when I was made the head chef. I was responsible for shouting out orders, preparing and serving food. Where are the tomatoes!? The customer wants a burger with everything! Everything! Why don’t we have any patties on the go!? Put that fire extinguisher down! Tomatoes!
That may sound like an awful way to spend time with friends but it’s some of the most intense fun I’ve had in ages. Everyone is screaming, panicking and laughing all at once. Of course, you could get carried away and ruin the odd friendship but if they can’t hack it then you need to find someone who can!
Overcooked supports one to four players across two game modes and while that seems limited you’ll find the variety comes from the levels and how many players there are. There’s the campaign which has you selecting scenarios by driving a small van around a board game styled map (everyone can control the van by the way. Nightmare!) and you’ll be earning stars to unlock new levels. Then there’s versus mode that splits up the group to see who can complete the most orders. While four player versus mode is certainly enjoyable the campaign is where it’s at, there’s a real sense of accomplishment when your team has three-starred a level you previously thought impossible. All of the nasty things you said to each other melt away because it’s over now, the storm has passed, you made it, together.
There are a few minor issues with the game that could be addressed, however. Some levels have you floating on an island surrounded by lava or ice cold water, and the only way to get to the other side is to dart across on a passing platform. It looks like you should have made it but somehow you’ve slipped through a gap taking the fish and chips with you.
Aside from the wheelchair bound racoon it’s also kind of hard to tell each other apart. With an almost top-down perspective, the chef’s hats block your view of the characters which results in confusion at times. The game is fair for the most part but it can feel frustrating when little things like this get in the way.
Single player isn’t much fun either, well, it’s a different kind of fun. It has you controlling two characters at once being able to leave one chef chopping ingredients while you see to other tasks. It offers a challenge and the gameplay loop is still fun, but it loses the magic of local co-op. The lack of online play could also leave you wanting when you’re unable to have company over. This makes the game something you’d pick up on the occasion if the intended experience of two to four players is what you’re after.
That being said Overcooked is one the best co-op games in recent years. Very little gets in the way of this charming, unique and clever experience, and it’ll keep my friends and I entertained for a long time. If they can stand the sight of me.