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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Casual
Developer: Ghost Town Games
Release Date: Aug. 3, 2016


PC Review - 'Overcooked'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 4, 2016 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Working as a team, you and your fellow chefs must prepare, cook and serve up a variety of tasty orders before the baying customers storm out in a huff.

It's sometimes tough to find a good cooperative game to play with family and friends. A lot of cooperative games have large skill gaps that can leave one player frustrated or annoyed when they're lagging behind. Overcooked is a delightful cooperative game because it encourages cooperative play, and the mechanics are simple and welcoming enough that players of all ages and skill levels can hop in and play a game. That's only a good thing if the gameplay is strong enough to back it up, and fortunately, Overcooked is a charming experience the whole way through.

In Overcooked, up to four players are thrown into a kitchen and must cook, with each player controlling their own character. The goal is to master cooking so you can feed an unstoppable monster before it devours everyone. You have ingredients that you must prepare and cook; each of these actions is done with a single button press. To prepare a hamburger patty, you grab a piece of meat, take it to a board to chop it up, and then stick it on a stove to cook. Every action is done automatically, but some require your chef to remain in one place. Once you've prepared a meal, you stick it on a plate and send it off to the customers.

It starts off simply. Making soup asks you to chop up a few sets of mushrooms or tomatoes, stick them in a pot, and let it stew. A hamburger requires you prepare lettuce, tomatoes, a beef patty, and bread. The upper-left hand corner of the screen shows your customer's orders, and you're tasked with completing them to the best of your ability. Some customers may have special requests, such as a tomato-free burger. Screw up their order or take too long, and the customer gets angry and leaves. Finish it quickly and properly, and they'll leave a tip that increases your score at the end of the stage. You also need to make sure someone is cleaning the plates, too. Having well-prepared food doesn't matter if you have nothing to serve it on.

Obviously, this means that it's vital to figure out the best division of work for your characters. If everyone is out of sync and doing their own thing, you'll waste a lot of effort. You need to figure out how to make the best use of your chefs, something further influenced by the number of people playing. With four chefs, you can reliably have one dedicated to cooking, one to grabbing supplies, and two to chopping and preparing those supplies. With only two chefs, you have to divide the labor more evenly and dance back and forth. It makes for some fast and frantic fun, especially when you're struggling to get one more hamburger cooked before the time runs out.

Things get more complex the further you get in Overcooked. You start by making simple recipes in reasonable kitchens, but every stage has its own gimmick. In one, you might be trapped in a kitchen that keeps getting split in half by an earthquake, thus temporarily raising half the stage into the air. In another nasty twist, mice might pop out and steal any food that you leave unattended for too long. In another level, you might dodge between two moving trucks with half your supplies on one side and half on the other. The overriding theme to each one is simply that it prevents you from falling into a pattern. If you get too comfortable with a single tactic, the game usually does something to pull out the rug from under you. You'll encounter everything from dangerous monsters to ice-covered floors and will have to figure out how to work around each. Fortunately, Overcooked has no serious punishment for failure. Falling into a pit or hole removes the player from the map for about five seconds, so you'll lose some time.

There are a couple of twists that I found to be tiresome, but the advantage of the game design is that you're never stuck with one gimmick for more than a few minutes. Unfortunately, this is also a double-edged sword because it also means that fun gameplay mechanics don't get nearly enough screen time — though you can replay levels for higher scores. The game grades you up to three stars on each stage, and you need a minimum number of stars to proceed in the game. Unless you're getting one star on every level, you likely won't have a serious issue with progressing.

The major trick in Overcooked is balancing your supplies. What are you cooking, how many of them do you need, and how much time does each take? When cooking hamburgers, there's no time loss in having bread on a plate beforehand. It takes a few seconds and saves you time later. Learning when to prepare supplies beforehand and when to make them on the go is key to getting three stars on some of the harder levels. The game doesn't treat the ground as dirty, so it's possible to toss ingredients on the shelf or floor to have them waiting for other players to take. It's a bit odd, but once you figure out that trick, the more hectic stages become a lot more playable.

Overcooked is a cooperative game. It has a functional single-player mode, but it isn't that enticing. Players take control over two characters and can swap back and forth at will. It works, but many of the gameplay mechanics don't feel right in single-player mode. Rather than having two or more people frantically trying to create the best possible production line, it tends to involve one character chopping while you do everything else with the other character. The more complex stages involve constant swapping, but even then, you're only swapping if your other character is cleaning, chopping or otherwise occupied.

The single-player mode doesn't showcase the game's strongest points and ends up emphasizing some of its weaknesses. Some of the gimmicks go from interesting to frustrating when you're not able to rely on two characters working in conjunction. A lot of the stage challenges are fine, but some feel tedious since they require so much swapping back and forth.

There's also a competitive versus mode that unlocks as you progress further into the game. It's a cute concept, but I'm not as fond of the competitive gameplay as the cooperative gameplay. The mechanics mesh so well with working in unison that it feels strange to try to beat the other guy. There's fun to be had here, if only in seeing how you can beat your friend's scores. It should be noted that Overcooked doesn't support online multiplayer, so make sure you have some local friends. It does support a funny but awkward two-players-on-one-pad mode if you're unable to scrounge up a second controller.

Visually, Overcooked is simple and quite cute. You have a variety of chefs to pick from, ranging from simple human beings to a raccoon in a wheelchair. There's no meaningful difference between the chefs, so you can choose the ones that visually appeal to you. The environments are distinctive, and it's easy to quickly identify everything important in a stage. My only complaint is that in some stages, the icons that mark the ingredient cabinets are sometimes obscured, which can waste some precious seconds fumbling for the correct one, but it's a minor flaw. The music is fitting but fairly by the numbers, though I enjoy the way each stage song speeds up in slightly different ways as the timer drops. The system requirements are nice and low, so it should run on any reasonable PC without much difficulty.

Overcooked is delightful and appropriate for players of all ages. The core mechanics are solid, the cooperative gameplay is enjoyable, and it's a great game from start to finish. Perhaps the only real complaint one can level against it is that the single-player gameplay isn't as enjoyable as the multiplayer. It's simple enough that even people who don't usually play games can pick them up in a heartbeat, making it a great title for families to play together. Overcooked is a charming experience and a fantastic purchase for anyone looking for cooperative local games on the PC.

Score: 8.5/10

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