The last time I sat down with a video game based around cooking it was on my kid’s Nintendo DS as I attempted to convey my kitchen skills to the handheld scene with Cooking Mama. Needless to say, things didn’t go down too well.
So when I heard Ghost Town Games and Team17 were joining forces to bring a kitchen based cooperative affair to Xbox One, I can’t say I leapt out of my seat. I mean, cooking? On Xbox One? What’s that all about? Surely it’s going to be something for the kids to mess around with whilst I continue playing proper games?
Well, I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge, because Overcooked is, in its purest form, absolutely chaotic fun. And that’s really all we want from a game.
You may think that Overcooked is nothing more than a party game that should be checked out a couple of times before being tossed in the bin and never looked at again. But you’d be totally wrong to do so as it brings some lovely gameplay and the chance to partake in some of the best teamwork you can find on the latest consoles. Yes, you need a team behind you if you wish to succeed in Rocket League, and you may only want to go into battle with the sharpest shooting team in Halo 5. But believe me, if you’re attempting to rustle up a burger with some slack kitchen hands beside you, then you’re in for a world of trouble.
And a world of trouble is exactly what we have with Overcooked’s story. If ever there were a bizarre tale to be told, then Overcooked wins the day absolutely hands down. You see, with the Onion Kingdom in danger of being overrun by terrible beasts, it is up to you to save the world with your fine cooking skills. You know, that Onion Kingdom and those fine cooking skills you’ve previously heard me talk about. Yeah, I dunno either.
Taking charge of a couple of rosetted chefs, you’ll find yourself sent across all manner of kitchens, before being left to chop, boil and fry ingredients prior to serving them up to some rather pleasant diners. With the orders flying in thick and fast, you’ll have to swiftly run around each area, picking up the ingredients needed and creating the required orders in the fastest time possible. With a timer counting down and your score only ever increasing should you get the correct food on a plate and out in time, it hammers home exactly what a tricky situation those real world chefs find themselves in.
The kitchens themselves are strange but cleverly designed affairs, seeing us going from your standard kitchen complete with its own rats, to a mobile burger van, fire filled levels of hell, the penguin populated slippy slidey slopes of the Arctic and more. Each come with the standard chopping board and plate rack that make up the basics, but from there on in change up ever so slightly depending on what needs to be cooked. You may find your steak needs frying in the frying pan, or your basmati rice needs a few seconds in a saucepan of boiling water and these will be included to allow for even more thinking time. With a sink ready to clean the dirty plates which come back from the ‘pass’ and a handy fire extinguisher on hand should you start burning the place down, everything that an everyday cook has to put up with is in place.
The characters included have been brilliantly realised and it’s great fun being given the chance to use each and every one of the 14 varied, comedic chefs. Ultimately, you’ll probably find yourself being drawn to the strange raccoons and cats instead of the human characters – although perhaps that’s just me. Admittedly though, other than a visual skin change, they all work the same (or at least, so close to each other that I’ve noticed no difference) and it would therefore have been nice to see certain chefs be hit with special skills, fast reactions or the like. Working out the best combination of chefs required for each stage could well have added another little facet to proceedings. But then, Overcooked is a pretty complex game in itself and perhaps this would have stirred the pot a bit too much. With a solo player holding control of two chefs at once, each obtainable via the bumper buttons, what may initially seem a simple affair very quickly ramps up into nothing short of turmoil. Thankfully the controls are near on spot on though and whilst you may find them a little twitchy to begin with, once you’ve spent some time running around the kitchens, will find they function well.
It does all however work best when you can grab a friend or three to share out the chores, and as long as you develop some tactics, shout what needs doing, what is currently being actioned and what is still left to prepare, then it works brilliantly. Chaotically, but brilliantly.
It would be lovely to see Overcooked embracing the online cooking community instead of just focusing itself on the couch co-op scene, and I’m slightly surprised to see something released under the Team17 banner not take the bull by the horns and go all out for full success. But it is what it is and I’m not going to knock things too much on that basis.
I do however have to point out that unless you’re able to find a team of four cooks, all capable of quick thinking and all a dab hand with a controller, then you may find Overcooked a bit of a struggle – at least with trying to earn enough stars to unlock all the kitchens and levels. Whilst it’s brilliant to see a sliding success scale in place, meaning those who take to the kitchen alone need to score less points than when working together with others, three starring each and every stage is going to take some going. In fact, after a couple of weeks with the game, and numerous attempts at smashing each level, I’m at a loss to understand how some of the scores needed are garnered. But then I guess even though I think I’ve got a decent understanding of what is needed for each stage, I’ll have to just continue grinding on through in the hope I somehow get lucky. Of course, it never helps when you forget to remove that well done steak from the pan and the entire kitchen burns down.
The main idea behind Overcooked is to prove that you are a chef worthy of a kitchen place and have the requisite skills to work as part of a team. But once the diners go home, and the shackles are off a little, it’s nice to see the inclusion of a versus mode so you can pit your skills against each other. It all works in the exact same way as the standard campaign, but this time round you get to try and beat your rival chefs by serving the food up faster than them. It’s a nice touch, but again, with that essential online offering missing, will probably just appeal to the odd student flat trying to settle a score. If only there were the option to create beans on toast!
Thanks to Overcooked, I’m now a bit of a dab hand in the kitchen. I’m a burger maestro, know exactly the best way to cook a chicken burrito, and can whip up a mushroom soup in no time at all. Whether those who have to eat my food will tip me as well as they do in Team17 and Ghost Town Games’ kitchen themed puzzler is anyone’s guess. But as least things have gone down a whole lot better than when being shouted at by that Cooking Mama. Should you be in the market for a new cooperative title, or like to think of yourself as a bit of a cook, then Overcooked serves up a very tasty platter indeed.