The first time a friend gushed to me about Overcooked, in 2016, I had a distressing flashback to a conversation we’d had a few years earlier, wherein I’d tried to convince him to shed his prejudice against mobile games and check out a handful I’d enjoyed. His response? It was all a bunch of “Diner Dash, free-to-play crap.” Now here he was, proselytizing gleefully about a game that was, in fact, very similar to Diner Dash, and I couldn’t get over the hypocrisy. He tried to hand me a controller, and I shut him down out of principle.
But then 2017 came around, and more and more people were talking about Overcooked. Not the Diner Dash crowd, mind you, but the same friends whose opinions had informed some of my favorite gaming discoveries in recent years. And then, just as I was at a place in my life where local multiplayer gaming had become a fixture again, the Nintendo Switch port came out. I figured I had nothing to lose by requesting a review code, and when that request was granted, I downloaded the game, then handed my wife and one of our friends a Joycon each and tossed off some casual remark like “let’s just see how this is.”
Well, friends, the hype is justified: Overcooked is one of the most uproariously frenetic multiplayer experiences I’ve had in years, and arguably the best co-op game currently available on Nintendo’s hybrid console.
The premise is silly and straightforward: an ever-peckish demon threatens to engulf the world, and the only way you can stop it is by learning to cook a meal that will satiate its hunger. Across 40+ kitchens, you’ll hone your culinary and time-management skills, craft raw ingredients into delicious meals, and feed as many customers as possible, all with the help of up to three other cooks. Each stage seems manageable enough from the outset, with a simple recipe to follow (burgers, pizza, soups, etc.), plus a generous countdown timer. But the serenity of a well-ordered kitchen soon devolves into chaos as the orders pile up, and as you juggle more and more tasks—chopping ingredients, frying meat, baking dough, serving up completed meals, washing dishes, etc.—it’s easy to become overwhelmed and start making mistakes, which causes you to miss orders, which docks your completion score. Completion is ranked on a star system, with perfect kitchen management rewarded with three stars and lesser performance awarded one or two stars. Scraping by with only a single star is fine at first, but if you don’t learn to master each kitchen, you’ll soon find you’re unable to progress, as each new level requires a certain number of stars to unlock.
This, of course, is where your friends come in. Because while there is a single player mode that allows you to swap between two cooks to complete each level, the real joy of Overcooked is in its cooperative multiplayer action. Coordinate your efforts, respect the roles you’ve defined for each player, communicate effectively, and learn to roll with the occasional hiccup, and you’ll get the best possible score on each level; berate, belittle, and step on each other’s toes, and you’ll be lucky to finish without burning your kitchen to the ground.
If you’re the kind of person that enjoys a little chaotic ribbing, Overcooked can be just as fun when you’re losing as when you’re winning. Barking orders, screaming over each other, tossing food on the floor for expediency’s sake and then loudly debating health code while you scramble to put out fires because someone forgot to take a patty off the grill—it’s all part of what makes Overcooked such a unique experience. But if you don’t want to hit a progress wall, it behooves you to learn to work together, planning out your approach to each kitchen as you learn to overcome its quirks. Still, the best-laid plans often go awry thanks to the dynamic nature of each stage. One, for example, is set on a floating iceberg, which makes it all too easy to slip off and plummet into the ocean, taking with you a meal that you were just getting ready to serve. Another has you running back and forth between two half-equipped food trucks as they roar down a highway, frequently veering too far away from each other for you to pass between them, keeping you from crucial ingredients or cooking apparatuses. At one point, I joked to my friends how amazing and terrible it would be if there were a stage with an earthquake, and within minutes, we’d unlock just such a stage. Each kitchen is a delicate dance, and learning the peculiarities of each one is crucial to success.
Overcooked: Special Edition on Switch was a bit undercooked at launch, with frame-rate issues and other bugs that kept it from performing in parity with its PS4 and Xbox One counterparts. I tend not to focus on such things as they usually don’t interfere with my enjoyment of a game, but in this case, the low frame rate sometimes made it difficult to position my cook in the right location to accomplish the task at hand, leading to several instances where I’d accidentally throw a meal away instead of place it on the counter to be served. As of the recent 1.01 update, though, the game fares much better on Switch, and I haven’t experienced any problems since. According to publisher Team17, there are more performance improvements to come, but from where I stand, the game is ready to be served, albeit seven weeks after launch.
The Switch might be Nintendo’s most technically innovative gaming platform to date, but it’s signaled a return to the good ol’ days—days where playing together with friends meant sitting next to each other on a couch, passing snacks back and forth, and talking a whole bunch of smack. Overcooked: Special Edition is the best example yet of that kind of experience: one that just can’t be replicated while playing with friends online. Beyond that, it’s just a damn fine arcade game, with simple controls, a friendly art style, and a premise than anyone can understand. Is it similar to something you might find someone playing on their phone on a crowded subway after work? Sure. But there’s a reason you see so many people playing those games. Set aside your preconceptions, and treat yourself: Overcooked: Special Edition is a fine meal, indeed.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Overcooked: Special Edition is based on final review code provided to us by the publisher. The game launched on Thursday, July 27th, 2017, and received its much-needed 1.01 performance patch on September 8th, 2017.