In a year that has felt like everyone is doggedly just trying to make it through whilst waiting for the next blow to fall, Overcooked 2 (created by Ghost Town Games) has been such a good way to let off steam and forget the woes of 2020. Once you’re in it, it’s impossible to think about anything else and it’s so refreshing.
Overcooked 2, and its many seasonal extras, is the triumphant sequel to the already brilliant Overcooked. In it you play a chef in a kitchen, cooking food from orders as they appear on screen. So far, so boring right? The joy of the game comes in its complicated kitchen design, a kitchen timer countdown and increasingly complex recipe requirements. This game is lots of fun to play solo but where it really excels is in multiplayer mode and in a great update from the original, Overcooked 2 isn’t just couch co-op but online too; perfect in a year where we’ve all had to adjust to being together apart.
The game eases you in with a little light sushi in a fairly standard kitchen with just a few pesky people wandering through the space to get in your way. The moves in the game are super simple as you chop, pick up and dash around the kitchen, often throwing items to each other or across the kitchen to save time – good food hygiene is not your priority here! It feels satisfying to knock out the orders; boil some rice whilst your buddy chops up the fish, plate up with nori and serve for points and tips to get you to those coveted 3 stars when the kitchen timer hits zero. It’s a generous game for content and there are six levels each containing six different kitchens to cook in, plus bonus levels, and that’s just in the main game. Each kitchen brings with it its own specific set of challenges that you will need to puzzle out and solve if you want to succeed.
All this is done for The Onion King – a loveable buffoon (and an actual onion) who constantly gets himself in to the kind of trouble that only the teamwork of culinary masters like you can get him out of. With his long-suffering dog friend Kevin by his side, The Onion King directs you at the end of each level laying out where you need to travel and what cuisines you’ll need to master to save the kingdom for him. This time he’s managed to accidentally raise the “un-bread” and now hordes of ravenous baguettes, bagels and slices of bread are marching on the kingdom who’ll all need their appetites satiating.
Sounds simple enough but it isn’t long before everything descends into chaos as you progress through the levels of the main game and it’s DLC and discover just how tricky an overcooked kitchen can be. Perhaps you’ll be enjoying a spot of street cooking and then builders will come along and move your kitchen around right as you’re trying to chop up some veg. Or in a spooky castle, you’ll be happily constructing a pizza when suddenly the kitchen magically rearranges itself. Now the ingredient you need is on the other side of the room and the pizza you’d already popped into the oven is burning and has started a fire in a section of the kitchen that’s now inaccessible – even if you could get your hands on the fire extinguisher.
You might find yourself taking a little trip along a river on a raft trying your hand at some fried chicken and chips. But the chopping boards and service are on one raft and the deep fat fryer and ingredients are on the other. And did I mention you can’t throw plated food? So you’d best have the timing perfect for those brief seconds when your rafts cross over. Or perhaps your kitchen is prone to spontaneous bursts of fire due to some irresponsibly placed fireworks. These little fire bursts go out on their own eventually but not before they’ve blocked off your route to stop the blender from overheating or from grabbing the cheese for the last burger before the timer runs down.
Or my personal favourite – cannons! Sometimes a kitchen just isn’t complete without areas that can only be accessed by putting yourself in to a human cannon and having your teammate fire you out whilst you’re carrying a stack of pancakes to serve.
This level of action-packed kitchen design is where the teamwork really comes in. When the space you’re working in falls suddenly victim to a moving floor changing direction, or the portal you were about to use moving to a different area – you and your chef buddy will need to help each other out. The key here is: make a plan; talk about the plan; communicate on the plan whilst carrying out the plan; then throw the plan out of the window as your hot air balloon falls out of the sky and strands you in a completely different kitchen with a different menu to start serving. Gahhhh!
As with most things, teamwork has two sides. You’ll be flying high when you’ve attempted a kitchen a few times already and finally it all just clicks in for that last go. One failed order can be the difference and in some of the later levels, you’ll find yourself just scraping over the finish line having served the final meal right at the last second. This kind of perfect synchronicity happens when both of you understand the kitchen and have grasped how the puzzle is solved so that you’re always in the right place at the right time, ready to help your buddy no matter what the kitchen throws at you. It’s so satisfying. And I’d say it happens roughly 25% of the time….
The other side of it is beautiful madness. You’ll find yourself having the most ridiculous conversations with your friend as you play through the levels. From 10 seconds into the level saying: “I’ve messed that up already. Shall we just start again?” to midway through the chaos, “That’s burning, I’ve got it! I’ve got it! …. I’ve fallen off the bridge – I don’t have it! Can you get it? Oh god it’s on fire!”
Some of the best times playing this game are when you both go in with a plan in mind that you think is the same and then realise that you’re on totally different chapters of the book. But you probably won’t realise that until the time is up and one of you announces, “Do you know, I don’t think I looked at the orders once during that…” and suddenly one of the many reasons you’ve been arguing for the last 3 minutes and have failed 10 orders becomes abundantly clear.
The frantic nature of this game will definitely have you arguing but in the best possible way and you’ll learn a lot about each other on the journey. And in the end, fundamentally everything about Overcooked 2 promotes working together and working together well at its core. (It’s just sometimes you need to let your fellow chef know that their terrible time management with regards to frying is what has led to you throwing retaliatory potato and mushroom at them for the last 30 seconds of the game. Otherwise how will they learn?!)
When you break into the seasonal games, that sense of working together becomes even more important with the addition of extra tasks such as camp-fires and coal fires which need fuel adding to them regularly on top of the usual cooking and washing up. Not to mention backpacks: which are the ultimate test of your friendship, let alone your ability to work cohesively. You and your buddy both wear a backpack to grab ingredients from each other whilst you’re also both still trying to dash around the kitchen space getting everything ready. You’ll be chasing each other around the kitchen in no time yelling “Stand still! I need marshmallows, waaait!”
Sometimes you’re given the gift of “sections” within a kitchen where you both have very assigned roles that you don’t need to deviate from but even within them, teamwork is key. If you’re solely responsible for chopping up everything then you need to be ahead of the game so that you’re getting everything to your teammate so they can get baking with time to spare. It’s one of the nicest things when everything is just in place for when you need it. Of course sometimes, despite the best of intentions, you’ll still be obstructed by a Chinese dragon on its way through from the carnival of chaos because it’s stopped for a rest right in the middle of your kitchen… But you know that at least you had the right idea…
Overcooked 2 isn’t a new game but it is one that’s felt like a real treat in a year where we’ve all felt like we’ve been simmering on the stove a bit too long. (RIP onion soup…) As well as being a great bit of escapism, fun and brain training it’s also struck me with a wider message amongst all that mayhem. Sometimes the world can feel a little out of your control with extraneous circumstances coming at you from all sides and ruining the balance of your otherwise relatively ordered existence. No matter what though – there is always a solution. And it’s by working together, embracing the chaos, problem solving and talking things through that you’ll make it out the other side.
As a message, it’s such a good one. This year and any year.