Overcooked is a delightful masterclass in multiplayer game design. The recipe is short: the player, with up to three friends, runs a kitchen. Orders are received, ingredients are prepped, cooked, and finally, served. What elevates the experience beyond its straightforward premise is Ghost Town Games’ ability to iterate from kitchen to kitchen, subverting players’ expectations throughout. Overcooked is the kind of game that gets friends talking, and not long after, yelling – a hallmark of all great multiplayer.
Each level in Overcooked is composed of a grid-based board that features a number of important stations. Each station serves an essential purpose, ranging from ingredient cupboards to cutting boards to stove tops to dish washing sinks and so on. When a level begins each of these stations needs to be identified, and then a route (hopefully an efficient one) is planned. Initially, kitchens are designed in a simplistic, even logical manner, allowing the chain of ingredient, prep, cook, plate, deliver to be completed easily. As the campaign wears on, each and every kitchen becomes increasingly complex and often deadly.
Overcooked keeps players on their toes with a wide variety of environments, hazards and other inconveniences. Kitchens range from truly inexplicable (moving trucks on a highway!), to downright dangerous (open magma pit), and all the way to the merely mundane and gross (serious rat infestation). Each kitchen requires players to reexamine their approach. If the rats continually steal food, maybe it’s unwise to leave food unattended; if the kitchen is surrounded by deadly lava, maybe a no running policy is needed; if the kitchen is divided into three and each section is traveling 60mph independently, well, maybe throwing food on the floor of an adjacent semi is a necessary step to ensure that food is where it needs to be when it needs to be there – you’ll see what I mean.
“Overcooked’s level design necessitates coordination”The beauty of Overcooked is how the level design necessitates coordination. Players must work together if they want to succeed. It’s interesting to watch groups of friends play together, seeing how certain players gravitate toward certain tasks. I left calling out orders to my friends because I don’t generally like to speak in groups – also, I tend to mumble. But I was happy to wash dishes and line clean plates with buns for burgers, or tortillas for burritos. Some players work best with a dedicated role and others work best when they’re left to identify the tasks that need immediate doing, like pulling burning pots off stoves seconds before the kitchen catches on fire.
Although Overcooked has an actual story, involving the handsome (and dare I say regal) Onion King, it’s the kind of game that generates stories on the fly. There’s the time your friend dropped off the last order with seconds to spare or the time you accidentally put the fire extinguisher on a conveyer belt to clear counter space, only to watch half your kitchen ignited. It’s the moments like these that make Overcooked all the more memorable.
“Without friends Overcooked is an interesting, yet unsatisfying exercise”Without friends, specifically local ones, Overcooked is an interesting, albeit not exactly satisfying, exercise. A single player can choose to control two chefs simultaneously via one chef per one side of the controller (think Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons) or via a more traditional chef swapping setup. For true masochists there is an undeniable allure to the split controller arrangement, as it requires a ridiculous amount of patience and hand-eye coordination. However, for most players, both layouts fail to show Overcooked at its best, and that’s fine, because singleplayer isn’t what it was made for.
Overcooked was made for friends and, maybe even potential enemies. It is multiplayer gaming done just right. Ghost Town Games’ debut exhibits refreshing confidence in their design. Local multiplayer hasn’t tasted this good in a long time: grab a partner, or three, and get cooking.