Video games make for great shared experiences; They can facilitate an instant connection between strangers or fuel a conversation between friends. And games that incorporate an actual two-player component can turn all that talk into action, bridging the distances of culture, language and geography to bring players into a game together. Unfortunately, these co-op modes usually feel like last minute additions. This is not the case in Team17’s Overcooked, which expertly centers around players sharing the game. The beauty of Overcooked is the title’s simple commitment to co-op play that shows through in its minimalist plot, vibrant visual design, and collaborative gameplay.
The simple plot in Overcooked presents just enough details to rationalize the game without diverting attention from the gameplay itself. The game employs a clever narrative move to motivate players. The very first level in Overcooked had me hastily preparing simple salads atop a skyscraper that offered a fantastic view of a city in the midst of an apocalypse. Why, when facing my own destruction as well as that of the rest of the world, would I be preparing salads? For no other reason then to appease the spaghetti monster ravaging the world, of course!
In the end, the monster remained unsatisfied, but I was sent back in time to the 90s to begin my journey of training to again face the spaghetti monster. As my chefs mastered skills by completing levels, they moved through time and various regions. These regions were based on different environments, such as a snowy region, a volcano region, and even a space region late in the game. Aside from this progression though, the story in Overcooked stays out of the way. Returning to the idea of the structure of Overcooked in every way supporting co-op play, minimal plot makes sense. My drive to play the game was to share the experience and master each level rather than concern myself with narrative elements.
One aspect of Overcooked that strays from the game’s simple narrative are the unlockable features. As my chefs continued on their trip, the game would intermittently announce that I had unlocked a “versus level” or a new chef avatar. The “versus levels” would reflect the current region that my chefs were in, but these unlockables were not otherwise connected to the narrative. I came away from the game not even knowing whether I unlocked these by reaching a certain score, a level, or some other gameplay metric.
The design of Overcooked again reminded me that this game focuses on the interactions during co-op play. The visual aspects of the title are very simple, allowing the players to work together without struggling to make out the game’s features. These visuals are also just so darn adorable! The ingredients as well as the chefs themselves can be best described as perfectly bulbous. Watching as two chefs bump into each other while carrying onions as big as their heads kept the stressful nature of kitchen gameplay from weighing too heavily on the experience. The cartoonish aspects of the ingredients stand out against the simple kitchen environments and make it easy to quickly spot my own chef and where I needed to be going.
Team17 deserves to be applauded for implementing one simple character design quality that too often remains overlooked in video game design – diversity. The chef avatars available in Overcooked are incredibly inclusive. I did not notice this until a few levels into the game, when I unlocked a raccoon chef in a wheelchair. Going forward, I kept an eye out for this level of thoughtfulness in other avatars and noticed avatars with glasses, braces, and many more features that really incorporate diverse representations. For me, this character design stands out as the most prominent among Overcooked’s many fantastic features.
I mentioned above that some games incorporate co-op play in ways that aren’t very meaningful, like adding a second player to a platforming title without any real benefit. The co-op aspect of Overcooked seems to be just the opposite of that; when I played alone, the gameplay made it apparent that the title was meant for more than one player even though the developers tried their hardest to think of players who might be playing alone. When playing alone, I had to control both chefs by switching between them like some strange shared consciousness. This meant that while one chef was working, the other stood lifeless in one spot. When I enlisted another player, we were able to fully take advantage of the unique methods the game utilizes uses to encourage players to work together. The aspect of Overcooked that sets it apart as such a solid co-op title is that it truly takes both chefs to make it through the game. There are levels where each chef can only work in half the area and the two must then work together and communicate to prepare meals. In this way, the game forces players to collaborate in real ways.
These levels that so expertly encourage players to work together come across almost like puzzles in a way that makes gameplay engaging and rewarding. Players can of course go into the level without a plan and frantically do anything they can, but I found the gameplay much more exciting when our team of chefs carefully observed each level’s mechanics and formulated a strategy that we put into place. Because the mechanics of each level vary so often and you hardly see the same mechanic twice, each level feels unique and the gameplay remains fresh throughout the game.
In all, Overcooked presents a well composed co-op experience that puts a team of players through unique levels that genuinely challenges the team to collaborate and work together to progress through the game. I know that as I move on from this title, I will always hold so-called “co-op” games to the standard that Overcooked has set for me. If you and your friends are looking for a game to share, Overcooked offers everything you could be looking for.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.