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Overcooked 2 Review

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A frantic and inventive co-op game that manages to turn frustration into charm.

I’m relieved to announce that the time my wife and I spent together in Overcooked 2’s increasingly chaotic and always amusing kitchens has not resulted in divorce. It has, in fact, been great fun.

The sequel to one of my favorite indie games of 2016 follows a familiar loop: a team of chefs cuts food, cooks food, and serves finished dishes to invaders to save Onion Kingdom – this time from a zombie army of bread called the Unbread. It doesn’t radically change the formula of the first game and thus retains the pick-up-and-play mantra of the original to the point where my wife, who doesn’t typically play games, had no problem jumping in. But there are more interesting variables in the mix this time,  and thanks to those and some wildly inventive kitchens, varied recipes, and online functionality(!) Overcooked 2 is a ridiculously entertaining party game and a challenging extension of the original.

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One of Overcooked 2’s biggest overhauls is the throw button, and it’s truly a game-changer. Food can be thrown directly onto burners, cutting boards, or into the hands of teammates, which removes some of the tedious back-and-forth of the first game. For instance, with pasta recipes I’d start off by chucking two helpings into pots, freeing me up to move on to the next ingredient almost immediately. Throwing adds a new and welcome layer of strategy and quickly becomes an invaluable technique to shave off time and complete more orders.

One of Overcooked 2’s biggest overhauls is the throw button, and it’s truly a game-changer.

Throwing also makes solo play much better. Like the original, when playing alone you have to switch back and forth between two chefs, assigning tasks like cutting meat and veggies to one while freely moving around with the other. While it’s just as clumsy as in the original, throwing eliminates some of the idle time, making it feel closer to the experience of playing co-op. It’s still more fun to play with friends, but solo play feels natural this time around.

Don’t worry, though; you still have to run around like you’re on fire (well, sometimes you kind of are literally on fire). Since only raw ingredients can be thrown, final preparations of dishes still require a fair amount of scrambling.

The addition of the throw button doesn’t necessarily make the cooking process easier, though. It’s not that simple. Overcooked 2’s kitchens have many more moving parts that, without the ability to lob food, would render some of the layouts virtually impossible to navigate. Even with that ability, they’re challenging.

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If you thought Overcooked’s kitchens were off-kilter, the sequel’s are downright silly. With moving platforms galore, wandering ingredient tubs, random fires, windstorms, button-operated conveyor belts, and portions of kitchens that disappear before your eyes, there’s a lot to juggle that could foil even the most well-thought-out strategies. Unexpected twists and turns are what made Overcooked so fun, so it’s awesome to see that concept expanded upon in interesting ways that maintain that unpredictability – even for those of us who consider ourselves expert chefs.

There’s a lot to juggle that could foil even the most well-thought-out strategies.

Moving walkways alternate between pushing you in the opposite direction and rapidly pulling you forward. Some of these walkways are even suspended across gaps in kitchens, which makes each journey to the other side all the more nerve-wracking. Magic portals transport you or ingredients to different parts of the kitchen that are inaccessible by foot. Sometimes these portals move, so you have to time your journey properly or risk falling off the map. Joystick-operated platforms need to be carefully maneuvered to grab ingredients, reach cutting boards, and cook your food. The new kitchen features really test your movement skills in a way that makes some levels feel like something out of a platformer.

Among the wide range of kitchen settings are hot air balloons, mines, a wizard school, white water rafting, and some familiar maps such as lava kitchens (though there are no annoying ice-covered maps to slip on this time around). All of the kitchens are expertly designed challenges that keep each round feeling distinctively outrageous all the way through the epic 15-minute final kitchen marathon that tests everything you’ve learned for the ultimate cook-off.

Speaking of tests, Overcooked 2 has nine recipes to master, a few of which are new to the sequel. In certain levels, there’s an additional step between chopping and cooking: mixing. A number of recipes such as pancakes, cake, and steamed meats or veggies must first be combined in a mixer with ingredients such as flour or egg. After mixing, you have to put the ingredients on the right burner, whether that be a frying pan, oven, or the new wooden steamer. Contending with the additional equipment and extra steps heightens the difficulty and heart-stopping tension. It’s a delightful mess that often leads to hapless and comical mistakes.

Piling onto the things to keep watch for, certain foods can be served cooked or uncooked, such as fish or tomatoes, making attention to detail key. Salads have been bolstered by the addition of cucumbers, and cheese can now go on burgers. Soups have been dropped altogether, which makes sense because preparing those was pretty boring in the original.

While it’s still possible that you’ll be expected to prepare the exact same dish multiple times in a row, the lengthy ingredient list leads to more differentiation than in Overcooked. On more than one occasion, my wife and I realized we (probably me) added cheese to a burger that needed tomato, or cucumber to a burrito when it really belonged in the salad. It sounds like a small problem, but minor errors quickly lead to failed orders, kitchen fires, and general disarray. Escalating disasters like these happen often; it’s part of Overcooked 2’s endless discombobulating charm.

Sometimes, though, the volume of items on screen can move from hard to manage to disorienting. If you have a full countertop of ingredients, picking up the right item can be a challenge. Depth perception is a bit of problem, too, as it’s easy to pick up the next item over rather than the one you wanted. With that in mind, one small change I really appreciated was that food can be placed on freshly washed stacks of dishes. Not having to move the plate to an open countertop first, as you did in the original, goes a surprisingly long way to freeing up counter space and keeping things reasonably orderly.

Like its predecessor, you can play through all 40+ Overcooked 2 stages with up to four chefs.

Like its predecessor, you can play through all 40+ Overcooked 2 stages with up to four chefs. The zany kitchen designs alone demand expert teamwork, and some of the stages are set up especially well for three or four chefs to kick it up a notch. For example, a white-water rapids level has a moving platform in the middle housing the ingredients, while stationary platforms on each side hold the cutting boards and burners. Positioning one or two players on the center platform to transfer ingredients to each side makes sense.

I personally think the ratio of strategy to pandemonium is at its best when Overcooked 2 is played with two players. You have enough room to work with to stick to your carefully laid-out plan, and even when things get dicey it’s easier to communicate with one solid teammate to get back on track. The burden of success is solely on you in solo play, which can feel both rewarding and daunting. But with all of the moving parts and the new throw ability, Overcooked 2 gets out of control in the best way with three to four chefs just trying to work together.

Exit Theatre Mode

With 10 hours of the campaign under our belt, I still have more than a handful of stages left to three-star and a few of the 25 chefs left to unlock. Outside of saving the Onion Kingdom from the Unbread, you can replay unlocked stages in arcade or test your skills in versus battles. Versus kitchens have the same general amenities as the campaign kitchens and take advantage of the increased chaos. In one especially chaotic match, I actually accidentally scored all of my points for my wife’s team because I failed to realize the order counters swapped spots constantly.

All modes can also be played online with friends, and matchmaking is available for arcade and versus. While Overcooked 2 still feels right at home as a couch co-op experience, it’s nice to have the option to play online when you don’t have friends nearby. A word of warning, though: the Switch version does not have voice chat. Instead, you have to use a rudimentary emote system to tell other chefs what you’re doing. This simply isn’t ideal for a game that requires a lot of communication to succeed. So if you plan on playing a bunch online and have your choice of options, you’ll probably want to go with PS4, Xbox One, or PC.

The Verdict

Overcooked 2 serves up a great balance of hilarious chaos and strategy alongside meaningful improvements over its predecessor. The kitchens have more moving parts, the recipes are more varied, and the ability to throw ingredients fundamentally changes the arcade cooking formula. It’s still ideal when played on the couch with friends, but solo play is much improved, and online support adds versatility.

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