It was only a matter of time before the Overcooked series inspired similarly chaotic co-operative experiences, and Catastronauts does a pretty good impersonation. Following the blueprint of Team 17's co-op cooking game fairly closely, Inertia Game Studios swaps kitchens for spaceships, creating a familiar experience that's not without its unique quirks.
Up to four local players must work together in each level to maintain and defend their spacecraft while returning fire on an aggressive enemy ship. Early on, it's easy to split duties between firing laser guns, putting out fires, and repairing damage, but it isn't long before matters are complicated with new weapons and stage hazards. It's a decent fit for this style of casual co-op fun, although it doesn't have quite the same universal appeal as its clear inspiration.
Having said that, this is an equally accessible game, with easy to follow mechanics and stupidly simple controls. Once everyone understands how the game operates, it should be smooth sailing, but as we know, things can also quickly spiral out of control. Communication is just as important here as it is in Overcooked -- your team should try to divide tasks evenly, but be prepared to adapt at a moment's notice. It's a tricky balancing act that works just as well in this space-faring context.
The game operates on a familiar three-star rating system that ranks your performance in each level, but how you achieve a top score is a little different. Instead of having to do as much as you can in a given time limit, you must defeat the alien ship as fast as possible. Your total time seems to be what defines your rating, so it's all about staying on the offensive while keeping on top of any damage taken. This shift is a simple one, but it makes sense, and later levels will throw out all sorts of obstacles for you and your fleet to overcome. Some levels are split in half, so you'll have to use an item teleporter to hand each other repair kits, missiles, and more. You'll also need to keep an eye on your health bar as well as a respawn unit, the latter of which can be destroyed, preventing your downed allies from returning. It adds a little extra layer to keep confident players on their toes.
It's a shame that it doesn't quite all come together. The game is rough around the edges in a number of ways: it can be a little tricky picking up or using the item you want, especially when things start to go wrong and the screen gets messy. Visually it's a bit lacklustre, too. It's not bad, but character designs aren't quite there and it overall looks a little flat. Presentation wise, it's aping Overcooked extremely closely, but it doesn't quite achieve the desired result with forgettable characters and writing. Also, while the game generally runs very well, we did come across one or two bugs that required a reboot.
Despite a few issues, Catastronauts is a fun co-operative experience that gets most of the basics right. It's unmistakably derivative of Overcooked, but overall, that simply means we now have another accessible yet challenging co-op party game to enjoy with friends. The easy controls and simple structure mean almost anyone can have a good time -- it's just a shame that it falls down on some clumsy presentation issues and game-crashing bugs.