It takes a lot to make a stew
Especially when it’s me and you
and him, and Steve from corporate too
Too many cooks it’s true
Some people say it’ll spoil the broth
But that’s not the American way
Too many cooks (x8)
Too many cooks will serve a helping of freedom and resist the forces of evil
-Too Many Cooks
“The following is a contributor post by the Sometimes Vaguely Philosophical Mage.“
When the worst comes to pass and zombie slices of bread start to terrorise the Onion Kingdom, who can the Onion King and his faithful dog Kevin trust to restore order? Why, a group of one to four chefs which may or may not include a person with glasses, a walrus, a unicorn, an alien, a normal-looking woman, or a raccoon in a wheelchair, of course!
This is Overcooked! 2, which as you may have gathered by its helpfully denotational title is the sequel to couch co-op cooking chaos simulator Overcooked!. Its predecessor came out of nowhere to quickly become one of my very favourite co-op games, perfectly balancing chaos and frustration with fun and moments of extreme accomplishment; running around haphazard and often unreasonably situated kitchens picking things up, chopping them, putting them in pans, washing dishes, and then sending it all out to waiting customers was somehow made magical by some very tight level design and a willingness to let everything reach catastrophic levels of disorganisation in the process.
Since I know that what many people will be wondering is how the sequel stacks up to those lofty expectations, let me quickly sum it up: Overcooked! 2 does more things not quite as well, less of the same stuff better, and fewer things more not less worse.
If you’d like a direct comparison between my opinions on this and the first game, by all means just open up my review of Overcooked! and scroll through the 8-bit Review section; I’ll be grading this game on the same categories as the original. First, though, let’s dive into the stuff that’s not as easily quantified and compared, and take a general look at the game as a whole.
Overcooked! 2, as you might expect, turns up to work with many of the same tools in its kit as its predecessor; some of those tools have been polished a little since last time, while a couple of them are completely new. The game unfolds with a similar structure: we open with a quick cutscene alluding to the presence of a narrative which is really just an excuse to send our cheffy protagonists off on their culinary adventure – and to make some terrible puns. (That’s not to say that the game suffers for it. It doesn’t need some super-well-thought-out story, and might even have suffered if one had been attempted.)
After learning of the threat of the dread ‘UnBread’, the Onion King decides once again that the only possible course of action to save the world is to deploy a ragtag bunch of cooks who may or may not be professionals – since there are a whole bunch of character skins to select, none of which make any difference whatsoever to your abilities or the gameplay, your chefs don’t get any sort of backstory, so for all we know they’re just a completely unqualified set of people, walruses, aliens, and other assorted beings – to travel the world honing their skills in the many great kitchens of the kingdom.
Travelling around the overworld of the Onion Kingdom isn’t really a part of the gameplay so much as just a transition between levels, but you can identify a couple of the tweaks that have been made between this game and the first, and perhaps start to think about the philosophy behind them, just from wandering around on the map. One of the first things I noticed was that you no longer drive a regular old van around, but rather a multi-terrain vehicle capable of growing flotation devices to traverse watery areas or wings when in sky-themed locations. It’s a small adjustment, but shows a level of polish and thought for the details and quality-of-life tweaking that wasn’t present so much in the original, perhaps because following its success, time and budget were presumably a little less constraining for the sequel.
There are two other major adjustments in the overworld sections: firstly, there are now bonus levels! (I guess this isn’t really an adjustment to the overworld as such, since they’re unlocked in regular levels, but y’know.) This is a nice touch, since there wasn’t really much in the way of reward for good play in Overcooked! beyond a general sense of having overcome the vicissitudes of the forces of chaos, and we’ll talk more about these bonus levels in a bit. The other thing that’s new is that, while a level will become visible as soon as you’ve got the requisite number of stars and completed all previous ones, you’ll occasionally have to drive over a switch to make the level accessible (by raising a bridge, for example). I think this is another attempt to just add more features and spend more time working on details and little improvements, but this one really doesn’t work for me. I don’t think it’s necessary to add any sort of puzzle element to the travelling sections – as with the plot, this is not the draw of the game and doesn’t need to be anything other than a functional device between levels – and the switches are barely even hidden anyway, meaning that all you actually have to do is just drive very slightly out of your way before heading back to where you were before.
Nobody cares about the overworld sections, though, do they? I don’t. I mean, I’ll happily talk about what they could have done better, but frankly I wouldn’t really have taken much notice if the overworld had been the best overworld of all time. I’m just using it to get to the bit I want to be playing, much as you’ve probably just read the previous couple of paragraphs in order to get to the bit you actually want to know about.
Overcooked! 2 is of course really all about its kitchens, and what takes place within them. Once again, you’ll go on a journey through some fairly regular restaurant-style kitchens and a whole lot of very much un-regular ones. We’ve got kitchens in hot-air balloons, ones in volcanoes, a couple in some sort of magic school, more than one that’s literally just in the middle of a busy traffic junction, even a couple in space. It’s a more diverse selection than last time, and that phrase rings true in many other aspects of the game, too. There are more recipes, more kitchens, more levels, more chefs, more ingredients. THERE’S MORE! MOOOOOORE! As I’ll come to in a moment, though, the more-ness of it all isn’t always to its advantage, at least to my mind.
Within each of Overcooked! 2‘s fantastical kitchens, you have broadly the same task: create, plate, and circulate as many meals as possible. The top of the screen will display what’s on order (along with a helpful reminder of what ingredients go into each thing and how they need to be prepared), with a timer that runs down for each meal; you’ll need to collect the necessary items, do whatever prep needs doing on them, then combine them and get them on a plate and out to the customers. Quicker serving means more points, with a point penalty if you should completely fail to get an order out in time. It’s a simple but stressful setup, fairly well-balanced so as to make it possible to get most if not all orders completed just barely in time, if you manage your resources smartly.
The preparation of the recipes themselves is similarly low in complexity and high in anxiety, involving only two or three different button presses to pick things up, put them down, chop them, put them in the cooker, then get it all on a plate and send it out. It’s all the other stuff that presents the difficulty: countertops that move around, fountains of fire that block your way and threaten to ruin your dishes, deadly alien slime, and most of all just the sheer pressure of managing your time when you need to be doing so many different things at once in order to get things done quickly enough. You’ll need to balance the actual cooking with dishwashing, firefighting, all that good stuff, and if you’re doing it in multiplayer (which you really should be) you’ll need to be co-ordinating all this with another person.
It is, overall, an extremely fun game, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of a good couch co-op experience. If you played the original, you will almost certainly enjoy this one, especially if you can play it with the same companion(s).
Now let’s dive into the specifics of what exactly Overcooked! 2 does, and how successful those things are. I don’t particularly want to make this all about comparing every aspect to the first Overcooked!, but some of that will inevitably continue to creep in. Let me reiterate, then, before we head into the 8-Bit Review: I really do like Overcooked! 2, but… well, as you may already have guessed, I don’t think I like it as much as I liked its predecessor. But that’s OK. You’re never gonna like everything as much as you like everything else, or when would you have time to do it all? That’d be some Overcooked!-level multitasking and time management.
The 8-bit Review
As will become a theme (if it hasn’t already), Overcooked! 2 is very alike to Overcooked! here but does things just slightly differently. Better? I’m not sure. Once again, we have the bright colours and cartoonish proportions that made the visual style of the original charming and accessible; I don’t know if it’s so distinctive as to be iconic, but it’s an aesthetic that really works for this series. Coupled with the jaunty soundtrack, the whole experience has a charming, easygoing air that’s completely offset by the hair-tearing despair that the gameplay itself will almost certainly induce. It’s a nice little stress-reliever, actually; if this game had, like, God of War graphics, then the entirety of the experience would be brutal and horrifically stressful, and I’m not sure I’d be able to cope with that.
You don’t really get straight edges in Overcooked!; everything’s lovely and rounded, accented even further in 2 by the newly-added presence of coloured circles under your chefs so players can more easily tell who’s who. It’s a simple touch, but a nice little quality-of-life addition. That’s probably about the only way I’d be able to tell the two games apart purely by visuals, actually, other than recognising a particular kitchen, chef or recipe who only appears in one of the games and not the other. Each of those kitchens, chefs and recipes, by the way, is designed simplistically but recognisably, which is handy for quickly spotting which things need to be where in a pinch.
Overcooked! 2 takes the easy-to-learn-existentially-draining-to-master principles of Overcooked!‘s gameplay and adds a couple of things for maximum betterness. Most notable is the new ability to throw items (only uncooked ingredients, though), meaning that chefs separated from each other by distance or countertops can still get things across to each other without necessarily needing to navigate around the entirety of the level to get there. You can also, with enough precision, throw ingredients directly into a pan or onto a plate, saving precious time. This is a great addition; movement is probably the slowest and most frustrating part of both Overcooked! and Overcooked! 2, since it’s the bit where you’re not really doing anything to contribute to the recipe you need to get dished up, so cutting down on running back and forth is a smart tweak.
Fundamentally, everything else is still pretty much the same: you can move, dash, pick up, and ‘action’ (chop/ wash etc.), and that’s about it. There is a new ’emote’ facility allowing you to express simple status updates or demands in-play, but I never used it. I can see the benefit for online multiplayer, where you can’t see and hear your partner, but it’s much slower than just yelling at the person next to you if you’re doing local co-op. The main adjustments to gameplay that the sequel makes aren’t actually to the mechanics themselves, but more in the form of adding a bunch of variation in the level design as well as new, more complex recipes that sometimes require multiple steps and different types of cooking.
Despite it all being pretty much as it was before, it doesn’t feel quite as smooth. I’ve no idea whether this is something others have found, but I thought I noticed quite a bit more difficulty with the game recognising inputs quickly and accurately; it never got it wrong, as such, but I had trouble executing quick sequences of actions and dashes, or picking things up while moving. I asked my partner whether she noticed this too and she said she thought it felt less responsive, more difficult to pull off accurate inputs in a rush (which, given the time sensitivity, is pretty crucial to be able to do). It’s one of those things that’s difficult to ascribe to anything in particular, but I just don’t think it’s quite as finely polished as it could be.
I’d also point out some little things like the levels being occasionally a little underwhelming (you’re set up to expect more like the early one where a hot-air balloon crashes mid-level, creating a total shift to a new landscape, but this drastic shift doesn’t really happen again) and the odd removal of the ability to change chefs without returning to the main menu. In the original, you were able to select your character before each level; this time, if you want to swap, you’ve got to quit to menu before heading back to where you were. It’s a peculiar choice, and I don’t quite understand why they wouldn’t just have kept that feature from last time. If it ain’t broke, and all that.
Still, it’s a satisfying and weighty experience overall, and it’s really only through comparison to what came before that I can find things to be a little disappointed with. If this were my first experience with the franchise, I’d be very happy with it.
This is still one of the best couch co-op games I’ve ever come across, and I would wholeheartedly say to anyone looking for something to play with a partner that this is for you. Even if the person you’d like to play with isn’t usually a gamer, Overcooked! 2 is at its heart simple enough for them to pick up, charming enough to be engaging, and fun enough that they’ll find themselves getting just as invested as you in the success of these weird little kitchens.
Something that this game has that the first didn’t is online multiplayer, which I didn’t have a pop at because I literally never use online multiplayer. I therefore can’t speak to how well it’s been implemented, but I have trouble imagining it working brilliantly; part of the charm of this series is how engaging it is to play with someone actually next to you, someone you know and at whom you’re comfortable swearing profusely. Perhaps someone who’s given it a go can let me know how it works: is it like an online lobby matching you up with someone you don’t know? I just can’t see that being anywhere near as fun. If it’s a facility to connect with friends and play through the whole game with the same person, then that would probably be a better experience, though again I still think that the true best Overcooked! 2 play must be two people sat next to each other getting equally excited, frustrated, satisfied, deeply traumatised, and overall just having a great time.
Once again, this game’s simple controller setup means that gamers of all abilities can pick it up and dive straight in. The control scheme isn’t the only thing that a new player will need to learn, though, and the potential barriers to entry are a little higher this time around due to the addition of more stuff. Navigating around the levels, working out the best paths to complete recipes as quickly as possible and ideally without dying, is a bit trickier than before, and the recipes themselves have had a significant complexity spike which I can see being hard to follow for some gamers.
If you played through Overcooked! then you’ll already be familiar with a few of the dishes and the steps involved: at their simplest, it’s just a case of fetching a couple of basic ingredients, chopping them and putting them in a pan, or even straight on a plate. Having some experience will probably make the learning curve seem a little less steep, but it can still get frustrating when you start having levels throw multiple variants of similar recipes at once, each one requiring a subtle difference in ingredients or cooking method. I can certainly understand the desire, in the quest to make a sequel that tops the original, to just make sure there’s enough new content, but I think overcomplicating the recipes is a point against Overcooked! 2. The frustration that comes from trying to do everything quickly enough is to be embraced, but the sense of unfairness that can sometimes surface when a recipe is done just slightly wrong because you were dashing around at such haste that you didn’t have time to spot that you were supposed to steam something instead of fry it… feels like the wrong sort of difficulty to me. Ramping up the challenge by making the same thing more complicated is one thing, but adding an additional, different type of confounding factor isn’t what I was hoping to see.
As already alluded to, there’s much of the same sort of difficulty and some of a different sort. It’s usually fairly tricky to do so badly that you fail a level entirely, but the quest to get three stars on as many levels as possible isn’t an easy one.
Come to think of it, in the most fundamental terms, the game really isn’t very difficult at all. Almost anyone, no matter how much or how little experience they have with games, will probably be able to get through the game, perhaps with a few repeated attempts at levels to get enough stars to unlock the next one. They may not feel all that accomplished, unfortunately, as the ending of the game is really rather underwhelming, but perhaps rather than follow the ‘main story’ quests they might decide to unlock some of the secret Kevin levels (ostensibly kitchens assembled by the Onion King’s faithful dog, who is… kind of sadistic, apparently). These levels provide the most challenge you’ll come across: to unlock them you’ll need to complete additional objectives within other levels, which the game will never set out for you, and then the levels themselves are certainly a step up from the rest of the game. These are the places where it’s most possible to fail entirely, although a couple of pops at improving your strategy should see you able to get at least a star or two on all Kevin’s kitchens.
There are probably a couple of kitchens in Overcooked! 2 that I’d go back and play again, but I’m not sure I’m likely to sit down and replay through the entire game any time soon. I certainly wouldn’t do it for the story – as mentioned briefly, the end is really quite disappointing. In the first game, your final battle was an epic challenge to feed the beast of infinite hunger, culminating in a triumphant cutscene; this one just sort of ends.
That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if I ever should get the hunger to just have a quick bash at a couple of the levels in isolation from time to time. They’re satisfying to get through whether within the context of the wider experience as a whole or not.
What Overcooked! had going for it that this one doesn’t is the fact that it was… well, the first one to do what it did as well as it did. Being the second one to do roughly the same sort of thing is, unfortunately, a point against the uniqueness value of its sequel.
Nevertheless, I still don’t think you’ll find another game outside this little franchise that captures the same sort of feeling. It’s not really much alike to other cooking games at all, but neither is it a fully-fledged action game, a simulator, or a strategy. It takes components of each of these things and mashes them together to create something fast-paced, demanding, and different. None of its parts are particularly innovative, to be honest, but the combination of them does add up to more than the sum, I think, and that (while not unique by any stretch of the imagination) is better than what some games manage.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
I do really like this game, despite the fact that a lot of this critique has taken the form of detractions against the game based on things it didn’t do quite as well as the one it’s trying to follow. Let’s not forget that in the 8-Bit Review, 5 is an average grade, and so I’ve still rated most of Overcooked! 2 as being average or slightly better, if not astonishingly so.
As I say, though, this game is more than just its components; it’s the experience that somehow arises when they’re taken in combination. It must surely be a great compliment to a developer to say that they’ve taken parts and assembled them into something that is, as a whole, greater. I expect there to be DLC for this game, which I will most definitely be picking up so I can experience more of the ludicrous fun that this game really does capture.
At the end of the day, that’s what I love these games for. They’re fun. So very fun.
So go have fun!
Aggregated Score: 6.3
Reviewer’s note: This review was accurate at the time of writing; since then, there have been multiple free patches and DLC content which have addressed several of the points I raised as concerns. I leave the text and scores unchanged, as the review is by necessity only able to capture the game at the time of reviewing, but know that if you’re planning to pick up Overcooked! 2 at this point, some of the problems I’ve brought up here have now been addressed.
Though he’s been known by many names across the vast and peculiar landscape of the Internet, every iteration of The Sometimes Vaguely Philosophical Mage has shared an urge to look far too closely at tiny details and extrapolate huge, important-seeming conclusions. These days, in addition to Mage duties, he can be found discussing gaming and other pop culture (and occasionally sharing some of his own musical and fictional creations) at the Overthinker Y blog and on Twitter.
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Categories: Game Review