One of the first titles to truly show off the co-op power of the Switch was 2017's Overcooked, a fun arcade action game about chefs scrambling to get food orders out the door. Overcooked was a goofy, chaotic, and refreshingly original title that was a wonderful addition to the Switch eShop, so it was unsurprising that the sequel, Overcooked 2, was met with considerable fanfare when it was announced at E3 this year. With Overcooked 2, Ghost Town Games has managed to recapture the magic that made the first game special, while polishing it up with nips and tucks here and there to make for an overall tighter experience, if one a bit thin on new ideas.

The story of Overcooked 2 is just as delightfully silly as the in its predecessor, keeping to the overall humorous and lighthearted tone that one would expect. After successfully averting the cataclysm of the Great Spaghetti Monster form the first game, the Onion King and his loyal chefs must now battle a new threat in the terrifyingly carb-inducing Unbread Horde. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the sort of game that plops the plot front and center; it’s mostly put on the backburner after the opening cutscene sets the stage, but the story still does a good job of keeping things cute and funny. The many brief interactions with the Onion King and his dog, Kevin, seldom fail to tease a smile.

Gameplay is almost exactly the same as that of its predecessor, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You play as cooks in a kitchen, tasked with getting as many orders out the window as possible before the timer runs out. Orders continuously pop up in the top left corner and the dishes that you serve change by the level; one stage may have you cooking burgers while another has you steaming sushi. Just like in a real kitchen, none of the food makes itself, so you have to grab ingredients from crates, cut them on cutting boards, cook them, bake them, or whatever is needed, and maybe even wash dirty dishes, too. The orders never stop until the clock does, and if you don’t get an order out in a timely manner, it’s ‘failed’ and you lose some money on it, which can affect how many stars you’re granted at the end of a level.

Wearing several hats and juggling several responsibilities at once is stressful enough in its own right, but Overcooked 2 takes things to another level with the kind of level design it employs. See, most kitchens are broken up or difficult to manoeuvre in some sinister way, which makes food prep hilariously more difficult than it needs to be. One level sees you running a kitchen on a hot air balloon, with powerful, random gusts of wind blowing your tables and ingredients around. Another has you running a kitchen that’s divided by a series of magic portals and disappearing stairs, orchestrated by a mischievous wizard. You’d be hard-pressed to find any kitchens past level 1-1 that don’t actively fight you in some manner, but that’s part of the ridiculous fun of Overcooked 2.

It’s clear that Ghost Town Games has matured its understanding of the concept of this gameplay, too; Overcooked 2 feels like a tighter and better thought-out experience than its predecessor, offering up many more inventive and fun levels than before. Many levels are much more dynamic in nature, changing up objectives and obstacles as the timer runs down, which requires you to adapt on the fly. One memorable stage started in a hot air balloon making salad until the balloon flew into a storm, sending it careening through the roof of a sushi restaurant and giving your cooks the new objective of making sushi dishes, too. Stages overall feel livelier and more animated than before, and it’s a change for the better.

New to this sequel is a game-changing feature: the ability to throw. Though it’s limited strictly to raw ingredients, so there’s no throwing plates or pans around, this simple addition has a surprisingly huge effect on the strategies that can be used to master a stage. You no longer have to be in ten places at once, as you can negate some of the running back and forth by simply tossing what you need to each other when it's required. Though it’s merely a helpful inclusion early on, later stages are often built around this concept and play with it in interesting ways, demanding a kind of dexterity that the original game didn’t require. The addition of throwing makes for an overall more action-packed experience while not losing any of the deliberate play of the original. Rather like the introduction of the spin dash in Sonic the Hedgehog 2, it’s an elegant way to expand and iterate on a good idea, and it’s something that feels sorely missed if you go back and play the original.

Overcooked 2 is completely playable in single player mode — with scaled back difficulty and hot-swapping between two cooks — but this is a game that was clearly designed with co-op multiplayer in mind, and what an experience it is. Up to four players can be in at once, and the weird and crazy designs of kitchens often make communication an absolute necessity if you want to get anything above a single star, but this is where the fun comes in. Unless you’re playing with a group of people that have previously worked well in a team-centric crisis situation, it’s only a matter of seconds before the kitchen devolves into utter chaos. Maybe someone forgot to take the noodles off the burner and set fire to half the kitchen, or someone tried running that completed dish across the river to the window and fell in, taking the dish with them.

This constant, unpredictable madness is Overcooked 2’s strongest suit; the game is at its best when you have a couch of people shouting curses at each other about lettuce and dishes, while trying their best to salvage a quickly worsening situation. Factor in the game’s remarkable ability to introduce new ideas in every stage, and you’ve got a gameplay experience that’s different practically every time you play; just when you think you’ve got things down, the game tosses another curveball. One would think from the description thus far that Overcooked 2 is often frustrating or unfair, but that’s seldom the case. In fact, the opposite is usually true; it feels rewarding in the most cathartic of ways, particularly when you manage to find a flow that works for your group and you hammer out a perfect three-star performance after repeated attempts.

New to Overcooked 2 is the inclusion of local and online wireless play, a highly requested feature that admittedly has some mixed results. Setting up a lobby and joining a game is straightforward and easy, but we ran into issues with the connectivity which bogged down the experience. Whether playing on two Switch consoles in the same room or with someone over the internet, there was noticeable lag encountered on both sides that hindered the ability to perform properly. It’s far easier to drop things or cause fires when the inputs don’t always respond as they should, and we even encountered a few times (even locally) where the connection dropped altogether.

Thought voice chat isn't supported here — you'll need to use an external app like Discord if you want to talk to other players — players can utilize a series of in-game emotes and pre-set messages to communicate, which ensures that there’s plenty of ways to talk when playing with others. It feels a little counter to the idea of the game as a whole — part of the experience is hollering with someone next to you — but overall online play feels like a satisfying inclusion that will likely extend the game’s replayability dramatically for many players.

If you’re ever looking for a more bite-sized way of playing, there’s also an arcade mode on offer, where you can select from a list of level themes and have the game pick a random stage. This mode is great for when you have a group of friends on hand and you just want to jump right in, or for if you just want a quick few rounds while waiting on a train. Versus mode sees a return here, too pitting two teams of two chefs against each other in one kitchen to see which team can get the most orders out. This changes the dynamics in interesting ways, as you can focus on getting as much food out as possible, or you can try to attack the other players, like throwing out one of their near-completed dishes. Versus mode is a fun reversal of the co-op gameplay concept, and of course, this is also playable online if you wish.

On the presentation side of things, Overcooked 2 manages to supersede its predecessor in almost every way; this game looks way better in motion, and it all runs solidly, too. Though the art style is still kept to a chunky and relatively simple look, the stages feel much more detailed and colourful than before, in addition to all the extra visual fireworks that come with the dynamic stage changes. There are more cook avatars than before, too, and new inclusions like the unicorn and the platypus help to make it easier to pick out your character on the busy screen, while also making the game feel delightfully weirder. All of this is accompanied by a soundtrack that loves to go overboard with the guitars and the accordions, playing frantic and high energy tunes that perfectly gel with the goofy action and characters on the screen. The performance issues from the original are gone, as well, and while we did notice some occasional hiccups here or there in portable mode, this feels like a much better-optimized game.

Conclusion

Overcooked 2 is a fantastic sequel to a co-op classic, building on the gameplay ideas from before in meaningful new ways while polishing up what was already there. There is a lingering sense that this is more of the same, but it’s such a blast to play that you’ll hardly be focused on the lack of any major innovations; overall, this feels like a stronger execution of the original vision. Overcooked 2 is a game that’s full of personality and heart, and we’d recommend this one to anyone looking for a fantastic party game.