Overcooked: Special Edition (Switch) Review
The Switch has quickly positioned itself as a local multiplayer monster, with a bunch of great games that you can play with your friends even if you’re out of the house, with such easy and enjoyable ways to get local games running on it. This makes the Switch a great new home for a variety of indie games that are already available on other platforms because of their focus on local multiplayer. Overcooked is definitely one of these games – it’s a blast to play with friends, and is simple enough for them to pick up a JoyCon and play. It’s deceptively simple though, and you’ll all soon find that the game is a demon in disguise, ready to have you all turn on each other… and love every second of it.
Overcooked sees you and your friends pitted against the high-pressure environment of a commercial kitchen. You have to co-operate to prepare and serve various dishes using a series of simple recipes. Each of these is handled by the pressing of two buttons, but you’ve got to take the right ingredients to the right apparatus – you’re not going to cook pizza dough in a rice cooker! Levels start off with simple coordination challenges where you need to get the right ingredients ready for other teammates to cook (and not crash into each other as you rush around the kitchen!) but soon you’re faced with more and more complications that you would expect from a commercial kitchen. You’ll have multiple orders at once with ingredients at opposite ends of the kitchen, and then you’ve got to keep washing your dirty dishes so you can plate up more food, and then you have to make sure that when you jump out of the truck to the kitchen you don’t miss and go splat on the road, and then at the next restaurant you have to stay out of the way of the fireballs blazing around as you carry food to the counter… Okay, it might be a bit more of a fantastical take on restaurant work, but the gimmicks you encounter in each level spice things up and (usually) make things more entertaining than they would be otherwise.
There are a few gimmicks though that get a bit frustrating. Some of these can be overcome on your next attempt once you re-evaluate your strategy, but others are so unmanageable that they stop being fun. When the layout of the kitchen keeps changing so that you suddenly can’t access your cooking meals or prepare any new ingredients even the best plans go out the window and it’s hard to compensate for it. Thankfully these levels are outnumbered by the fun ones, so they’re mere speed bumps along the way.
Your performance in each level is granted a rating, the bare minimum score needed to clear the level earns you one star while better scores can earn up to three. These aren’t just for bragging rights – each level requires you to earn a certain amount of stars overall before you can access it. For the first few portions of the game this system works well – it ensures that you’ve refined your technique enough to be able to manage the difficulty of the levels ahead. But before long the thresholds just keep getting higher and higher, forcing you to replay more and more levels to the point where it feels like padding rather than anything that benefits you or enhances your enjoyment. While you may be no Gordon Ramsay or Marco Pierre White you know that you’ve progressed enough to handle the game’s challenges enough, so you don’t want to keep backtracking instead of pushing forwards to new levels.
Despite what people say about too many cooks in the kitchen, Overcooked is at its best when you’re playing with other people. You start getting in the way of each other, causing chaos, and everybody starts getting frustrated with each other (but laughing at one another the whole time). Levels seem to be balanced around differing player counts, so while having four players may make some levels a breeze due to all the hands available to spread across each task, you may find that other levels become frantic with that many people and you’re all bumping into each other and stopping one another from getting anything done. Whereas if you’re playing with just two people you might find the exact opposite – the latter level is easily manageable while the former is a challenge due to so many tasks needing to be balanced up by the two of you. This approach to level design means that regardless of how many players there are, you’ll have a good balance of levels in which you can take it easy in, and frantic, hilarious messes that end with screams and flaming pizzas burning the restaurant down.
That being said, if you’re going to be mostly playing the game by yourself then you’ll want to wait for a price drop. The single player controls are better than you would expect, and they do the best they can at maintaining the multitasking and cooperation you see in multiplayer, but it still doesn’t compare to playing with other people. You switch between multiple chefs who can be left to do a single task at a time while you set the other chef to do something else. It’s a lot less fun to play like this because you don’t have the highs and lows of working as a team. You don’t get the satisfaction of finally coming together to stop preparing fish and chips nobody ordered and stop crashing together with loud thuds and expletives, and hit that three-star ranking you’ve all desired. The teamwork (and lack thereof) is such a big component of the game that you’ll want to make sure you’ve got other people to regularly play with (in the same room, at that, since there’s no online multiplayer).
When (if?) you become top chefs and clear the campaign, the game’s still not over. There are extra levels added via DLC packs that were extra downloads on other platforms but are included for free in the Switch version. One of these was already free elsewhere which lessens the impact a bit, but hey. While these don’t offer as much content as the main game they still provide a decent amount of playtime and some fun new gimmicks. Want to cook Christmas turkeys with a flamethrower? (Who are we kidding, that question really doesn’t need to be asked).
There’s also a series of competitive levels that you can challenge your friends on. Players are split into teams and the team with the highest score at the end wins. It’s a decent enough change of pace (and a good means of revenge on any teammates who have cost you games) but I ultimately found myself sticking to the campaign levels as they had more interesting designs and challenges.
Now, there is an elephant in the room that you’ve probably heard about already and which needs to be addressed – the game’s performance. The game has a choppy frame rate, and though you won’t be able to visibly notice it all the time, it definitely has an effect on the responsiveness of the controls. Your inputs will be slightly off, so you’ll often find yourself interacting with the wrong item or placing something just off from where you want it to be. And when the frame rate gets really bad (usually when playing in handheld/tabletop mode) it can make you feel a bit dizzy looking at the game.
The Switch version does have some unique features that improve the experience though, so if/when the performance issues are sorted out then it’s definitely worth a look over other versions. Obviously, you have the boon of portability that all Switch games have, and since Overcooked can be played with single JoyCons you can easily set up a multiplayer game wherever you are. One of the more gimmicky (but no less cool) features in this version is the HD Rumble – you can feel other player’s actions in your controller, so you’ll have an idea of what your teammates are up to even if your eyes aren’t focused on them.
Overcooked is a hectic party game that is great fun if you’ve got people to play with, but is enjoyable enough if you don’t. It’s a great addition to the Switch’s library but it could have done with a bit more time in the kitchen to sort out its performance issues that keep me from rating this any higher. If those are fixed then its biggest issue is the painful gatekeeping of campaign levels that eventually just become padding rather than a learning aid.