Cooking has never been so fashionable. “Clean eating” is everywhere. Masterchef is on at least four channels simultaneously 24/7. Instagram is a hive of heavily filtered pictures of artisanal quinoa in hand crafted bowls. With Overcooked!, have we finally reached peak cooking?
First off, Overcooked! is a gigantic steaming pot of fun. The premise is deceptively simple; you and up to three other chefs (local co-op, something that seems to be sadly lacking in most games nowadays) are staffing a kitchen and have to produce meals to order. So far, so simple. If you’ve ever played Diner Dash or any of its many sequels on iOS you’ll have some idea of the premise, although Overcooked! takes this to far greater heights.
The reason you need to progress through the various kitchens is so that you acquire the skills to defeat a final boss that followers of Pastafarian Sparrowism will find ethically difficult to kill. That’s right, it’s essentially the Flying Spaghetti Monster. With a giant meatball for a head. This beast has a fearsome and crippling hunger, and only by fully satiating it with tasty treats can you defeat him and save the world. You meet him in the very first level, and, after he defeats you (because you only know how to make a salad, and no one is ever going to be satisfied with a salad, despite what stock images of women eating salad might indicate) you embark upon your time travelling culinary adventure.
You are guided through these various gastronomic trials by the Onion King. An anthropomorphic onion, complete with crown and Tom Selleck moustache. Obviously. Initially, you need to make soup; collect three portions of vegetables, chop them, add to a pan and then serve once cooked – easy, right? What if there are people wandering through your kitchen, or you have to cross an ice floe to get from ingredient to chopping board, or there’s lava, or you are in space? As you progress, you learn new recipes (such as burgers, burritos, pizza; all the finer things in life), which involve different steps and cooking times, while the stages get progressively more surreal.
The difficulty quickly ramps up, and you are against the clock, so you need to juggle various tasks and dishes with maximum efficiency to succeed. If you leave a pan cooking for too long it catches fire; and that fire spreads quickly, and before you know it, you really are in Hell’s Kitchen.
The absolute key to success is cooperation and communication. Sure, it’s a fun game playing by yourself (you swap between chefs while playing solo) but Overcooked! really comes into its own when you have other humans to play with – is there anything more joyous than screaming “Service!” in your best Marco Pierre White voice at your nearest and dearest because you’ve completed some onion soup but only he can access the serving hatch? I think not.
The graphics are delightfully cartoonish, and I loved the diversity of the playable chefs (more are unlocked as you progress). There is a distinct puzzle element to each level, as you need to determine the most efficient way of cooking the orders as quickly as possible, and keen platforming skills are required for some of the levels. The sound design is quirky and fun, without being annoying.
The variety of the levels is great, and some are extremely taxing, but practice makes perfect. The short time (a couple of minutes) for each level makes it very addicting, and you’ll feel compelled to try and get all three stars in each (you need to have a certain number of stars to unlock further levels, and so just getting one star is not an option). There are 30 levels in all in the Campaign Mode, making 90 stars in total; at present I have 89 and it is killing me. Some of those ice levels are harder than Gordon Ramsay thinks he is.
In addition to the co-operative Campaign Mode there is also a more adversarial Versus Mode – this pits you against your sofa bound chums to see who can successfully optimise their tasks to get the most food out of their kitchen in a set time. Again, this is most enjoyable, although I can’t decide which mode will result in more arguments between players.
This is a really well executed, cooperative game with fun at its heart. Get your mates to come round, bung a few pizzas in the oven and enjoy; too many cooks definitely do not spoil the broth here. Just don’t set the house on fire because you are too busy virtual cooking.