Republished on Wednesday 1st May 2019: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of May's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Too many cooks spoil the broth – or so the saying goes. The fellows at Ghost Town Games may have taken this on-board when developing its debut indie effort Overcooked, with just two people working on this couch co-op cooking game. In the jovial, easy-going title, it's up to you (and a few friends) to run a smooth kitchen, prepare dishes, and serve them up against the clock. Interestingly, the saying doesn't quite apply to the gameplay; more players can add to the mayhem, but a co-ordinated group turns up the fun factor dramatically.
Overcooked sets the whimsical tone with a bonkers setup. The Onion Kingdom is under attack from the Ever Peckish, a giant spaghetti-and-meatballs monster with an insatiable appetite. The King, an onion with a full moustache and a dog named Kevin, takes you back in time so that you can improve your cooking and co-op skills before facing the beast again. You do this by fulfilling orders in various kitchens dotted across the land, each one testing your abilities with new layouts, twists, or gimmicks.
Gameplay is beautifully, deceptively simple, and moves at a brisk pace. Orders appear in the top left of the screen – you must prepare the correlating ingredients, assemble it on a plate, and serve it up. You receive more tips for delivering the food quickly, and lose points for failing to serve anything at all. Target scores increase depending on the amount of players, meaning that the level of challenge is always fairly balanced. Achieving three stars on a level requires speed, accuracy, and most importantly, co-operation. Perhaps more than any game on the PlayStation 4, Overcooked positively demands that you co-ordinate and communicate. Anything less than this, and you can kiss those high scores goodbye.
You can play alone, but you must switch control between two chefs in order to juggle the myriad tasks. The whole game can be played solo, of course, but it simply isn't as fun as playing with friends, and swapping between two characters can easily become confusing. Even the addition of one other player makes a world of difference, because you can both take responsibility for separate things. More players simply spreads the workload – someone chopping ingredients, someone cooking, someone serving, and someone washing dishes, for example. If you're communicating properly, orders will fly out of the kitchen.
But while efficiently churning out orders is super satisfying, part of the fun is when things inevitably go wrong. It doesn't take much for chaos to ensue – leaving burning food for too long will start a fire, which spreads rapidly across the kitchen, forcing you to abandon your post and extinguish the flames. This costs precious time and ruins the dish, which can set you back a long way. It can be frustrating, but it's more likely hilarious, and we spent the majority of our time laughing rather than arguing over who's to blame for what.
You start off in traditional kitchens making soup and burgers, but things soon change as you travel to a snowy region, a haunted forest, and even outer space – each area introducing new recipes to tackle. Levels become steadily more complex with moving work surfaces, pesky rats to deal with, and conveyor belts to wrap your head around. There are 30 kitchens to conquer, with progress gated by the amount of stars that you've accrued. They're nicely presented in an overworld map that you're free to drive around in, but beware – every active player is given control of the van. That's right, you even need to work together just to start the next level.
The presentation in general is simplistic but nicely done, with a pleasing, cartoony art style that suits the casual nature and easy-to-grasp gameplay perfectly. Speaking of easy to grasp, the controls are so straightforward that players of any ability can join in and have a good time. You can even share a controller between two people, splitting the DualShock 4 in half, and this works a treat if you don't have enough pads to go around. Performance is a mostly smooth 60 frames-per-second but there are occasional dips, and as the overworld is filled in, it can become relatively sluggish to navigate.
As you play through the main co-op levels, you'll also unlock new chefs to use, as well as competitive kitchens if you've had enough of all working together. In versus mode, you play in specially designed levels that pit two teams of two against each other to score as many points as possible within the time limit. Oddly, there are no level previews of the versus stages, which feels like an oversight given that you get a look at each of the co-op kitchens prior to playing. Gameplay is much the same, but it's a nice alternative, and gives you something else to do once you best the campaign.
Aside from a few minor presentation and performance niggles, Overcooked is a wonderfully executed game, and is one of the best co-operative experiences in recent years. The simplicity of the controls and gameplay make it extremely accessible, while there is still plenty of challenge in the later, crazier kitchens. Working together effectively with a few buddies feels fantastic, and even when things get a bit heated, it's all part of the fun. If you're looking for a light-hearted couch co-op game, Overcooked should definitely be on your menu.