NOW PLAYING: OVERCOOKED
“I don’t want to do it again.” “This is so stressful!” “Can we stop now?” It’s fair to say that my wife Lyndsey is thoroughly enjoying playing Overcooked with me. Sure, we can only play for about half an hour before the fun becomes so overwhelming that she has to retreat to the bedroom. And yes, she does sometimes insist that the washing up really can’t wait when I suggest we start the next level. But we’re having a great time. Okay?
Lyndz isn’t a gamer. In the past, bless her, she’s tried her best to get involved in my favourite hobby, giving a selection of local multiplayer games a go. We have played through our fair share of LEGO games in the past, and she… well, she knows exactly how to watch a Blu-ray on my Xbox One. Does that count?
But recently, she suggested we try and find a new game that we could play together. As I searched through my Xbox’s library of games I suggested titles like A Way Out (“That doesn’t look very fun…”) or Halo 5: Guardians (“Does that have guns? I’m not very good with guns…”), but in the end we settled on Overcooked, which I have been meaning to play for years. It fit the bill perfectly – it’s fairly simple to pick up, it only uses three buttons along with the left stick and the artwork features an adorable cat in a chef’s hat. It’s the clear winner.
All seems well as we start up a new game. There’s an onion king with a pet dog. A giant spaghetti meatball monster forces us to travel back in time to train hard so that we can become expert chefs. It is, frankly, whimsical, and Lyndz is lapping it up. But I’ve watched a few other people play this game in the past, so I know that this excitement is misplaced and a stress nightmare is about to begin.
The first level starts simply enough. You’re tasked with making burgers, the goal is generously achievable and we are laughing as we both struggle to get to grips with the purposefully wonky controls, understand the physics and avoid dashing into each other as we zip around the kitchen. This is fun!
Then, Ghost Town Games hits me with a sucker punch. “Hey, I got an Achievement! ‘Lettuce Begin’. Nice, we played the first level. Wait a second, did I only get 1G? One single Gamerscore? That can’t be right.” I check my profile and there it is. A single, measly digit at the end of what was, just seconds ago, a beautifully rounded number.
Some of you may not understand this, but I get twitchy when my Gamerscore ends in anything other than a zero or a five. Is that weird? Probably. But then some people like to dress up as giant cartoon animals and do it like they do on the Discovery Channel, so I’m not too worried.
I don’t immediately panic, because there must be an achievement for nine Gamerscore somewhere in the game. It’s fine! We’ll just get that achievement and everything will be a-okay. I look it up – you get 199G for completing every level with three stars. FUUU
I have to forget about this, because Lyndz is looking confused, and try as I might I can’t adequately explain why my Gamerscore has to end in a zero or a five. So we forget about it (who am I kidding, it’s all I can think about)
and carry on playing. And this is where things start to go downhill.
You see, Overcooked is designed to cause arguments. The goal is to deliver meals to hungry patrons, which means you and your fellow chefs have to grab, chop, cook and serve the food customers order before you miss the window and you lose points. But the real challenge comes from the frankly dangerous kitchen environments in which you cook. You’ll be frying burgers in moving vans, chopping onions in rat-infested restaurants and serving burritos surrounded by burning lava. It’s like Delia Smith’s fever dream.
Getting around these obstacles – and preparing the right meals before their meal ticket timers run out – requires constant communication and clear instructions. And when a rat makes off with your diced mushroom, shouting anything other than, “GET OFF MY FLIPPING MUSHROOM YOU HAIRY ARSEHOLE I JUST CHOPPED THAT!” becomes a secondary concern.
As the clock ticks down and the pressure to reach that precious three-star score ramps up, we both find ourselves forgetting how to press the A button, dropping raw meat on the floor and literally setting fire to the entire kitchen when the soup boils over. Thankfully, while we both start raising our voices, we manage to keep fairly calm with each other. Yes, I might be holding a tomato when actually Lyndz needs a clean plate from the sink that only I can access, but she isn’t screaming at me for it. We’re doing okay!
We soon develop a workable method. It’s far from perfect, and it usually flies out the window six seconds into the level, but it’s a method. After we first play through a level, Lyndz correctly says, “Right, we need a plan.” We look at the level, discuss the challenges we face, then come up with a solution to simplify things. The level begins again, we instantly panic and the plan falls apart. That process repeats until we finally get three stars (hey, I can’t get that 199G on my own) – and then we do it all again on the next level. Half
“The real challenge comes from the frankly dangerous kitchen environments in which you cook”
an hour later, Lyndz says something sensible like, “Can we go to bed? This is stressing me out.” And because she is 100 per cent right, we head off to bed and I lie there, staring at the ceiling and thinking about that one point of Gamerscore.
But you know what? Despite all of that nonsense – all of the stress, and the panic and the stupid goddam rats stealing our carefully sliced vegetables – we’re having a great time. Not only am I proud of Lyndz picking up the game so quickly, I’m happy that we’re talking stuff through, problem-solving and getting three stars on every level. We haven’t played games together in a long time, and it’s great to have a title we can pick up and enjoy without me having to spend ages explaining control schemes, or weird mechanics. Ghost Town Games might be a monster for its choices when it comes to that Achievement, but the team made a damn fun game. After this, we’ll probably give Overcooked 2 a try. Or maybe we’ll look for something a bit more relaxing – I think she’d love Super Meat Boy. ■
ABOVE Look at that inviting, whimsical piece of art. Watch out, though: it lures you into a false sense of security.