Waaay back in 2014 we had a post about ‘the best games for couples’. The post tells an embarrassing story about me before listing some of our favourite gaming experiences as a couple. In the years since Maya and me have played many games together, and our list today would probably look quite different. One new addition would surely be Overcooked: Special Edition. This is a nifty co-op game that tested our relationship – mostly in positive ways, I’m pleased to report.
Overcooked is a surprisingly friendly co-operative experience. While the game includes a competitive versus mode, the main co-op campaign stages have no competitive elements whatsoever. Anything good you do is good for the entire team, and likewise with anything bad. Given past experience with games like the Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures which mix co-op and competitive elements, I was quite relieved. We also hardly encountered any “performance anxiety” that another co-op game, Kuri Kuri Mix (aka The Adventures of Cookie and Cream) gave us – I suspect because Overcooked is never short on things for each player to do, I was rarely focused on what my partner was doing or vice versa.
Overcooked presents a daunting challenge as you have to combine and coordinate efforts in the kitchen, completing as many food orders as possible within a set time. Playing the game is deceptively simple, as you use only an analog stick to move and two buttons. The buttons pickup/drop items and use items respectively. As you might expect with such a limited moveset, you can only carry or use one item at a time – no inventory management here.
The basic setup for each level is completing fixed (usually simple) recipes for meals: burgers, pizzas, soups. Often it makes sense to divide duties – one person prepares all the raw ingredients while another person cooks and serves finished dishes, for instance. There’s also the matter of washing the dishes – just as contentious in this game as in real life, unfortunately! – which generally becomes a problem a minute or two into each level once an initial set of clean plates are used.
If that weren’t simple enough, Overcooked contains various stage obstacles that force you to change things up. The game is devilishly clever at complicating matters whilst still (in most cases) keeping it fun. A simple example would be the presence of mice who steal ingredients and dishes left unattended on any counter. A more common ploy is to have the stage morph at fixed intervals – rather like the way stages in the Smash Bros series change throughout a match.
My favourites are the stages where you are given some control over how and when you change the stage. Some late space-themed levels have you press a button to send a capsule back and forth from your buddy’s kitchen area. In practice that meant one player chopping ingredients and sending them across in the capsule for the other player to cook, who would send back the cooked dish for the first player to serve.
It is immensely satisfying to devise plans for overcoming these hurdles, and to then execute a successful plan with maximum efficiency. Thankfully, when things go wrong – and trust me, things go wrong – there’s almost always humour to be found. A common worst-case scenario is hinted at in the game’s title: overcooking. Anything cooked, if left for too long, will explode into flames, ruining that dish and potentially more if the fire spreads. In these cases you need a fire extinguisher, which may or may not be handy at the time!
Overcooked is a fantastic shared experience, and comes highly recommended for couples and party scenarios. Cook on!