PC, PS4, Xbox One

Oh, bug­ger, the chips. One of our num­ber has just come a crop­per and fallen off the block of ice we call a kitchen, tak­ing a vi­tal or­der of fries with him. Our com­pan­ion will be back in five sec­onds and the plate will respawn soon af­ter, but the clock is tick­ing and that stack of tasty fried pota­toes is gone for­ever. Even if the four of us work in per­fect har­mony, there isn’t enough to time to fill that fi­nal or­der – the last one we need to get the max­i­mum, three-star rat­ing.

And we will not, in all like­li­hood, work in per­fect har­mony, or any­thing like it. Fail­ure is sim­ply the cost of do­ing busi­ness in Over­cooked, and all part of the charm. There are lit­tle snapshots dur­ing lev­els when every­thing sings, when you think the four of you should go into the restau­rant busi­ness to­gether. But they are few and far be­tween, and that is the point. Over­cooked’s de­sign ethos is a suc­ces­sion of po­ten­tial points of fail­ure, strung to­gether like sausages.

The con­trols, at least, are sim­ple – one but­ton to pick up or put down an ob­ject, an­other to chop, prep or wash it – but even the most ba­sic tasks you’re asked to per­form are likely to go hor­ri­bly wrong. Take, for ex­am­ple, the hum­ble ham­burger. First you must ten­derise a steak, and form a patty from it. Then, while the burger cooks, you must find a plate and bun, then chop let­tuce and tomato. All the while a timer ticks down – the longer you take, the lower the tip, which af­fects your over­all score – and the or­ders just keep stack­ing up. This one wants let­tuce, but no tomato. Vice versa for an­other. The next one, bless them, sim­ply fan­cies a burger in a bun; the fol­low­ing one wants the works. Ugh. We used to like burg­ers, you know.

Sim­ply keep­ing on top of the chaos amid the hub­bub of a busy kitchen would be tough enough, but Over­cooked com­pli­cates things fur­ther with some de­vi­ous level de­signs. One puts you on the deck of a ship: ev­ery so of­ten the boat tilts to the op­po­site side and takes some of the kitchen with it. An­other puts the pantry, prep area and fry­ers on the backs of three mov­ing trucks and has them move to­gether and apart over time.

There are plenty of smart ideas here, but a fair bit of dreck too, as Ghost Town Games tries to trans­plant the struc­ture and length of a sin­gle­player game to lo­cal four­player co-op. Over­cooked would not have suf­fered for hav­ing fewer lev­els and it would be a bet­ter game for the ab­sence of a three-star rat­ing sys­tem that fre­quently forces you back to ear­lier lev­els be­fore you can progress. In a game where fail­ure is as much fun as suc­cess, and a good deal more achiev­able, it’s dis­ap­point­ing that Over­cooked spends a large por­tion of its run­time feel­ing too much like hard work.

The or­der UI is a lit­tle un­friendly – the coloured timer bars could do with be­ing more prom­i­nent. Worse is the fussy po­si­tional recog­ni­tion that fre­quently sees you put a fin­ished dish in the bin, in­stead of on a plate

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