Time management cooking games are nothing new in the mobile space. For years they dominated the lives of those foolish enough to download them and start the app up, and those of us on console mocked their addiction and returned to shooting our friends in the face for fun. Somehow, that genre of mobile game never really seemed to break ground across the more powerful machines until Overcooked! released with a focus on co-op game play. Sharing a sofa and managing a chaotic kitchen in the Onion Kingdom turned out to be addictive to play and watch others attempt as well. Understandably, Ghost Town Games and Team 17 are wanting to capitalise on that before the imitators make their way into the market, and Overcooked! 2 has just released. Does it turn up the heat, or deflate in the oven?
The original was a surprise hit, garnering a lot of attention through streamers due to the way it was fun to watch 2, 3 or 4 people descend into abusing each other because someone hadn’t cleaned the plates; but also because it had tight controls and a way of making simple looking layouts challenging to compete in. The idea is simple enough – each level is a kitchen with food and utensils dotted around, and a service order clocking up in the top left of the screen. Make the food shown and get it to the serving hatch before the customer gets so hungry they leave in search of getting a meal elsewhere. It becomes a challenge as more complex food comes into the mix and as the kitchens become more bizarre and difficult to work in. Overcooked! 2 builds on the design of the first without significantly changing the recipe that made it great.
Returning to the Onion Kingdom which is being invaded by the Unbread (possibly one of the best puns in a game ever), you and your team of chefs are tasked with feeding the starving slices of evil to keep them at bay and save the realm. Travelling around the map in a food van, levels open up based on the tried and tested 3 star system – as well as secrets being discovered along the way, and it’s mostly a case of earning a single star to continue the campaign. A comprehensive tutorial and easy to understand initial stages all help build a false sense of confidence in your abilities because all too soon it gets manic. There’d be no fun in it otherwise.
Up against a tight time limit, the menu has to be prepared and despatched to hungry diners without error, and though the food itself is relatively straightforward to manage, the difficulty is set by the kitchen being used and how much co-operation is needed to keep things flowing. Ranging from large open areas where each player can focus on a single role, to distinct workspaces that need communication to get through; there’s something in all of them that makes you stop and think for at least a second. Whether you’re floating down a river and have to run between rafts to grab ingredients, or are separated by a chasm that needs items throwing across, there’s always a need to consider the environment and what can actually be done. These kitchens don’t stay static either – balloons float around each other taking your chopping boards away, worktops levitate around with the ingredients, and sections rotate intent on trapping you on the wrong side of your boiling pans. It’s not only a challenge to figure out what needs prepping, but also how the kitchen is going to change whilst you’re in the thick of an order.
Co-operation is the key to success… unless you’re wired up differently to most and can operate two characters from the same gamepad, Kuri Kuri Mix style. The other 99% of us will need a partner or two in the same room, or even online. Overcooked! 2 adds that element to the mixing bowl so if you’ve no friends on hand and don’t have the dexterity required to pat your head and rub your tummy, you can find a game easily enough. Matchmaking is quick and you’re into the action with up to 3 (hopefully) like-minded players before you can finish reviewing the avatars. Voicechat is supported by default if there’s a device connected, and there are simple emotes to help cover tactics with the others. Nothing beats having people in the same room though that you can bawl at and still remain civil with afterwards.
The main gripe with the game, and it’s one that I think is designed to be there, is the fallout after the co-op game play. Your human partners will never be as good as you want them to be, or you’ll miss something obvious and fail the level. It’s at that point all hell is likely to break lose and you’d rather run to a real kitchen and chop onions than spend another minute playing with your so called friends. As things get more difficult and more co-ordination is needed, the atmosphere gets more tense, and you’ll soon find out of your relationships with those people will last. Maybe it’s best to only play this online with strangers…
Overcooked! 2 is fun, tough, well designed, frustrating and brilliant in equal measures. All the things a good puzzle strategy game should be. Regardless of how badly it feels like it’s going, there’s a reason to keep pushing on, or continually retrying a level – and that’s the sense of achievement you get from pulling off the win with another person. It’s co-op game play at its finest that spurs you on to be a better team. There are niggles around the ability to see what’s going on behind the pop up icons sometimes, and the sensitivity of interacting with each item, but nothing that really spoils the experience. It’s cute, colourful, devious and feels just as complicated as cooking in real life without the possibility of first degree burns.
A PS4 review copy of Overcooked! 2 was provided by the Team 17 PR team and the game is available now on all the main platforms for around £17… unless you have a Switch, then you’ll be paying about double.