The bench is covered in dirty dishes. There are frying pans full of burnt meat and spoiled pots full of what was once Mushroom soup, now nothing but a forgotten culinary memory. A small red-eyed rat rears its head in the dark corner, ready to pounce on the scraps. No, I'm not talking about my student kitchen or branching into a Horror novella, I'm playing Overcooked, and I'm crying out for help.
Overcooked is a 4 player couch co-op title from Ghost Town Games dealing with the strain of managing a busy kitchen. Not exactly a new concept, but the thing that sets it apart from other restaurant tycoon games like Diner Dash is that it's not grounded in reality. Let me explain.
The game starts with you in some sort of crisis point, where a giant onion with a crown on his head tells you to make food for 'The Beast' or cause the fall of the Onion Kingdom. Of course, with your meager skills (I think even Gordon Ramsey would struggle with this one), you crash and burn. Quite literally, as the world around you is plunged into dystopia. Your french onion soup wasn't exactly Bellisimo, so The Onion King sends you back to 1993 so you can hone your cooperation skills and prevent your inevitable doom.
This is where the real fun starts. The game drops you onto an overworld map adorned with references to famous landmarks where you drive your van to and from different cookout stops. You'll immediately notice the minimalist graphics on show, which are effective and pleasing to the eye. Each character has a slight dorky charm, and the cartoon focus means each locale (and trust me, they become rather outlandish) is brimming with life.
The structure and progression of the game reminded me of a mobile game, which I mean as anything but an insult. Overcooked uses the three-star system seen in games like Angry Birds to its advantage, as even though you may finish a level and work the hardest shift of your life, that erroneous star silhouette will bring you back tomorrow for another crack at those burgers. If only an earthquake hadn't caused a ground tremor to separate you from your sous chef whilst the patties were burning. C'est La Vie.
You also unlock chefs after every few levels, which range from a similar looking human to a ginger cat. It's merely an aesthetic change, but I had no time for names when I was playing with friends. Such titles are too drawn out when you need to bark orders across a kitchen. "GET THOSE MUSHROOMS IN THE POT BEFORE THE SHIP TILTS, CAT" It added an extra level of humor to an already absurd game, which is an absolute riot when played while sitting around a big screen on a comfy sofa. Much like other titles in the couch co-op hall of fame, this is a game that will test friendships and lead to outbursts of hilarious rage. You don't know pain until you've watched three pots of soup burn in a truck that's barely out of reach as it swerves on a desert highway.
The only things I would knock Overcooked for is the steep difficulty spike of the single player and the lack of online co-op. Of course, if you plan on buying this game, it's almost assumed that you have friends available to play with on the couch, as controlling two chefs on your own is a fervent dose of anxiety that I couldn't recommend. Though I respect the decision that perhaps keeping it local only will enhance the cooperative feel of the game, I think adding online features would be a huge boost to the game's community.
I've been trying to pepper in a few mentions of the locations, but I feel they need their own discussion because of how well executed they are. Overcooked takes you everywhere AND the kitchen sink, be that space, a pirate ship, an iceberg, you name it. With each new level, you have to quickly work out an intrinsic puzzle that is stopping you from getting the food out on time. It's fresh and replayable, and even the kitchen-bound levels change the pace with crowded hallways and counter-tops from hell, forcing a Bomberman style twist on the gameplay.
In a game like this you would think the music would be an afterthought, but again, Overcooked will prove you wrong with its dynamic score. The levels have wonderful themed music to fit the setting, and as time starts to run out and tensions flare, so do the sonics.
In a relatively short amount of time this game has proven to me that it belongs up there with Mario Party and Left 4 Dead, due entirely to the similar attention shown to its simplistic but highly appealing gameplay. There is no strict learning curve, you just pick up your controller and go. You get the ingredients, chop them up, cook them, put them on a plate, serve your dish, and make sure to wash up afterward. Every single level follows this tried and tested formula, but it's the combined influence of the changing environments and latent human error that elevates it far beyond monotony and into the couch co-op hall of fame.
Overcooked is not Overthought in the slightest. It's confident in its tasty molten core, and you must take a bite.
Overcooked was reviewed on PC (Affiliate) via Steam with a copy provided as part of our partnership with Games Republic. It is also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.