Some games live or die based on their multiplayer modes, and Overcooked is definitely putting all its eggs in the multiplayer basket. While Overcooked does have a single-player experience, it is the cooperative play that Overcooked sells itself with and it is really the best way to experience the game. That’s not to say that multiplayer is the absolutely correct way to play Overcooked, just that the multiplayer focus leads to it being the much stronger experience. On the PC, since the game had no online multiplayer, co-op was a bit harder to arrange, but the Switch’s portability and controller that can split into two incredibly easily made this system the true home for a game like this.
Overcooked is a game about working together with your fellow cooks to make meals and deliver them out as quickly as possible to build up a score. The cooking itself isn’t actually all that difficult. Cutting up and cooking ingredients is incredibly simple to do… but the kitchen itself is working against you. Each level of the game involves you heading to a new kitchen with a strange gimmick that will force you and your partners to think on your toes. There are kitchens that get split in half by earthquakes, kitchens where deadly fireballs race across the room, kitchens that are actually just trucks or boats that move about and shift the counters around… Overcooked has a lot of creative kitchen designs that make the simple cooking gameplay suddenly chaotic and exhilarating. Every level has a score rating system that adjusts based on how many partners you have with you, with you unlocking the next level as long as you receive one star but the three star rating serving as the goal for a completion run.
Surprisingly, this game about cooking in kooky kitchens has an actual story to it, one that is just as kooky as the characters you can play as and the kitchens you end up in. The game starts immediately by throwing you into an apocalyptic scenario where a giant spaghetti monster (no relation to any Flying Spaghetti Monsters you might know) is attacking a city and you must quell its immense hunger. Unfortunately, you have no training at all for such a task, so the Onion King takes you back into the past to train in the most intense kitchens around so you are ready for the final battle with the Ever Peckish. It’s a cute touch I feel, and you’ll see the Onion King every few levels for a nice little chat about how you’re doing. This wacky storyline fits the wacky world quite well, and the cute and silly art direction allows the game to throw you in absurd situations without making it feel too unusual.
Definitely the main appeal of Overcooked though is the way the co-op plays out. If you and your partners try to run the kitchen doing your own thing, you won’t be able to hit the high scores, so you’ll end up discussing game plans, panicking together as things get hectic, or calling out in surprise as the level throws a curve ball or one of you flubs an order. A good partner or partners is definitely required to get the high scores, although the single-player does exist as a decent out if you just want to get a three star score that’s evading you due to a lack of team synergy. As said, the cooking itself isn’t usually too complex, it’s just knowing how to manage your time and deal with the kitchen’s unique obstacles that will determine how well you do. Orders can expire if you take too long to make them and fires can start in the kitchen if you get sloppy, so this only adds to the enjoyable mayhem of trying to cook against the clock.
While levels like to mix things up quite a bit, there are a few repeats, and you and your partners will likely come to dread certain food recipes or kichen hazards when they make a reappearance. While you might moan and groan when you see what the level ahead holds, the levels with the hard tasks definitely achieve that rewarding feeling for finally overcoming them rather than just being a frustrating challenge. If anything, the presence of levels like these that push you to the limits make the game the enjoyable experience it is. In fact, sometimes when I was playing, we’d have the timer run out and begin planning how to better do the level… only for us to three star it on the first try! It felt like a bit of a shame to be able to move on from a level without perfecting our technique, but of course, over time, your team will learn how best to assign roles and do tasks so you end up a well-oiled machine. Seems like the Onion King was wise to lay out this training regimen!
Unfortunately, even on the Switch, there will be some people who can’t play this with friends, and the single-player does not match the fun of the cooperative play. In single-player, you control two cooks you can swap between at any time, an attempt to keep the gameplay style of the multiplayer despite only one person being present. Sometimes, this is still pretty fun. It certainly has a different feel than multiplayer, but levels still need to be figured out and the chaotic switching and balancing of orders is still present, just lessened by the fact you’re dealing with it alone. However, some levels end up downright boring if you’re on your own, as they are either too slow or require you to manage things too tightly as a single person. I can’t outright say it’s bad as most the levels still seem to be fun, just not nearly as fun as if you had an actual person helping you out instead of trying to pull double duty. There is also a versus mode that falls short compared to working together as friends in the kitchen. It is prone to tipping incredibly towards one team or player as its near impossible to find evenly matched teams, but its presence is appreciated at least, even if the City 2 kitchen is mysteriously absent. An even bigger absence is, of course, online play, but it makes sense. The online experience would not be able to carry the gameplay style well, as you’d be working with strangers who you likely couldn’t communicate with in a high intensity and fast paced scenario. You’d likely encounter players with vastly different skill levels, players who are just messing around instead of trying to complete orders, or worst of all… you’ll encounter someone who is actually good, but you’d have no synergy since you can’t communicate and fail because of it. Of course, hypothetically playing online with people you do know could solve a few of those issues, but the inclusion of online could drag down the experience because of those who would have to play with strangers who just aren’t up to snuff.
That’s not to say you’re exempt from these issues in real life. Finding other people willing to play this can be an issue for people even if they have friends into gaming. I was avoiding getting this game at first until I realized I did know somebody who would be willing to try it out, and when you do have at least one other person to take on the kitchens with, Overcooked is a wonderful challenge that still manages to stay fun even as you ram your head against a challenging kitchen over and over. It might be good to avoid playing if you’re easily frustrated, but the ability to move on with just one star does alleviate some of the challenge of the hardest levels at least. I have also heard some Switch users had issues with framerate, but I never encountered it during my time with it, so hopefully it’s either rare or it has been fixed by a patch.
THE VERDICT: Overcooked is a game gambling on its local cooperative play, eschewing online entirely and adding what feels like a token single player. However, with the caveat that you should judge a game on what it is trying to do rather than demanding it to be an entirely different game, Overcooked manages to create an incredibly enjoyable and unique multiplayer experience. Finding a friend to play it with you before you play it is definitely recommended, and while you can certainly explore this game on your own and have a good enough time with it, you’re missing out on the delicious chaos of trying to work together in a video game kitchen just like you might in a real life restaurant… except with some insane and goofy complications to make it fun instead of a job.
And so, I give Overcooked: Special Edition for the Nintendo Switch…
A GREAT rating. Again, this rating comes with a qualifier. If you are playing Overcooked with a friend or friends, it can definitely be great, but the solo experience won’t match it and who you play it with may change your enjoyment of it. These are known issues with a multiplayer focused game, but since the actual controls and tasks of Overcooked aren’t too complicated, it is at least more accessible than some multiplayer games. Your ability to work together with other people is really the more important skill as you need to delegate tasks and know where to be and what to do at all times. I don’t believe it is too rare to find someone who will serve as a fine companion, especially if you aren’t going for getting three stars on every level. Once you’ve got someone to go on this cooking quest with you though, you’re going to be treated with plenty of content. This is a great game to get for people who want to play together in something quirky but challenging, and the Switch’s design may mean that you’ll be cooking with all kinds of people, allowing you to find a good match for going for the top scores.
Just like a fine dish, Overcooked won’t be for everyone, but for the people open to this kind of game, you’ll find a filling experience that still leaves you asking for seconds.