Do we have a name for the genre that Overcooked! has effectively created? The cooperative multitasker? It’s not exactly catchy but we’ll roll with it: KeyWe is the latest cooperative multitasker, but instead of opting for an obvious theme to port it into – like moving house (Moving Out) or a blacksmiths (Merek’s Market) – the makers of KeyWe have chosen an Antipodean post office. And you play kiwis. It’s so leftfield that it’s gone out of bounds. We love it.
KeyWe is a game that sounds a little wilfully odd and perhaps even boring on the page, but absolutely comes alive when you play it. You are a pair of kiwis, newly hired to the post office. You’re needed to oversee four different tasks, separated into four different games, so that people can get their mail.
There’s the Telegraph Desk, where you read a teleprompter and re-type the message by using something akin to a typewriter that’s been spread across a desk. Sounds simple, but you’re tiny, so you’re hopping onto letters to press them, and collaborating so that one of you presses the shift key for capitals. On later levels, this gets more difficult with coded messages, swapped keys and moving keyboards.
Then there is the Transcription Room, which is effectively writing a ransom note from fragments of words scattered around the room. Again, this gets amped up by asking you to ‘cut’ words yourself, while tornadoes and bugs shuffle the pieces.
The Shipping Floor gives you a paragraph or two about how a parcel should be sent, and from those details you need to determine the labels that get slapped on it. A bowling ball is ‘Heavy’; a box of cheese is ‘Perishable’. Then you’re sending it to the right location. Once again, proceedings are made more difficult with quicksand and multiple labels needed per gift.
Just one more, promise: the last one is Dropoff Depot, effectively a sorting office for parcels and letters. Move parcels and letters to their right locations, while ensuring that punters arriving in person get the letter that’s meant for them. This escalates thanks to parcel cannons, conveyor belts and more.
These four minigames repeat over four ‘seasons’: 48 different levels in total. You’re scored on the time it takes to complete them, with bronze, silver and gold trophies awarded, with tickets given accordingly. Those tickets can be spent on accessorising your kiwi, which is absolutely essential, simply because the two kiwis begin the game by looking too much like each other. You’ll need a colour change simply to differentiate.
We’ve effectively described the campaign, but there are Overtime Shifts, too. These are just as satisfying as the campaign levels, coming in different flavours. The least satisfying is a co-op game of Paperboy, with both of you tugging a cassowary in conflicting directions, while the most satisfying is a simulation of one of the most enjoyable things in the world: popping bubble wrap.
You can play all of the above in two-player or single player. Make no mistake, this is balls in single player. Don’t even try it. You can choose to take turns with the two kiwis, switching at a button press, or you can control them simultaneously. But they’re both half-arsed compromises in an attempt to ensure one player could feasibly play. In all honesty, KeyWe needn’t have bothered: this may as well have been mandatory co-op.
KeyWe does have a few flaws that are worth prefacing. We found some of the actions to be inaccurate. In games like Telegraph Room, especially when you’re chasing down a gold trophy time, it can be difficult to focus on a small, singular letter and all too easy to stomp on the wrong one. When the delete button is on the other side of the room, it can take a chunk out of your time. Equally, some buttons need you to be standing on them, while others need you to be next to them. The inconsistency takes a bit of learning.
The Overtime Shifts are a mixed bunch, too. Heaven knows why KeyWe chooses to make a couple of them larger than the game screen, but they do. It means that, if a player is on the extremes of the game field, it can block off the other player. And, as you’d expect from a game as stuffed with different things to do as KeyWe, there’s plenty of killer but also some filler. We’ve already mentioned the naff Paperboy clone, but a ‘patching up water leaks’ minigame is also a chore, particularly when you’re trying and failing to grab sellotape from each other’s backs.
But the fiddly bits are worth it because KeyWe is such a riot. Even when compared to Overcooked!, there’s some standout elements. For one, KeyWe is fine with you each owning your own section of the problem. In Overcooked! it can feel like you’re under each other’s feet, but here you’re complimenting each other and high-fiving at the end. It feels more like you’re working together, and that might just save your relationship.
KeyWe also has a knack for remixing itself. 48 levels in four different categories sounds like too much but – nu uh – it’s not a problem at all, as every iteration is different, while still holding onto the basic rules to ensure familiarity. The tutorials, too, are brilliant, giving you ample time to learn the new rulesets and adapt your roles.
You’ll soon find yourself in niches. I was the box-pusher in the Dropoff Depot, and my wife would sort the letters, mainly as she has the sharper eyesight, and could sort them without the need of an in-game magnifying glass. We were a well-oiled machine, if that machine could occasionally forget to do certain things. KeyWe can be like rubbing your belly while tapping your head, but you’re next to someone else who’s doing the same, which makes everything hilarious.
If you’ve fallen for the chaos of Overcooked! before, then KeyWe is a fantastic alternative. It’s less likely to cause ruptures in your relationship, but it’s more abstract in what you’re asked to do. That makes it an odd old bird, but we loved it.
So, sharpen your beak, master your bottom bounce, and start scooting telegrams across the Outback. Just – whatever you do – don’t dare to do it solo. You have been warned: KeyWe is a friends-only experience.
You can buy KeyWe from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S