You can tell BurgerTime originated in 1982 from the state of the burgers you’re building. Nothing fancy: a flat bap, a patty, a limp bit of lettuce and maybe a tomato or cheese slice in the more exotic levels. A true 2019 update should deliver ludicrous towers of buttermilk chicken, smashed avocado and chipotle sauce. Our chef hero Peter Pepper should be heaving his ass up and over fat brioche buns, and picking pulled pork from his shoes. The burger biz has come a long way in 37 years. The BurgerTime biz? Less so.
At its heart, BurgerTime Party! is the same bizarro culinary challenge it always was. A chef builds burgers by clambering over a multi-levelled kitchen. He sends ingredients falling towards the plate by walking over them, and can create domino rallies by sending higher burger parts cascading into those below. He’s stalked the entire time by evil foods, who he can crush with falling meats, or drop down on an ingredient, letting it fall further in the process. Catching multiple enemies on tumbling baps is where the big points lie.
Write it down and it seems quite mad. Would the Food Standards Agency stomach a chef stamping on meat? And what separates the evil sausages who chase Pepper from the frankfurters you use in some stages to build hot dogs instead of burgers? Who decides which food gets a soul? (Although the game is 100% correct about dill pickle being of the devil.) There’s a charming loopiness about BurgerTime. It buzzes with that ‘anything goes’ logic of the 1980s arcade scene, and that charm still carries it now.
As does the central risk/reward mechanic. Navigating platforms to set up chain reactions is important, but the meat of the game (beef chuck, cooked medium rare) is shepherding enemies onto a single piece and sending them flying. Pied Piper tactics work for dumb sausages, but eggs, pickles and doughnuts have distinct movement patterns to play with. Throw in a pepper shaker to stun enemies – either stalling them on the ingredient you intend to drop or grouping them into a larger crowd – and you can set up magnificent takedowns.
All this could be said of the original. What does BurgerTime Party! bring to the, well, party? A large part of it is scale, with kitchens so tall that they verge on becoming hard to read when played in handheld mode. But with that height comes the excitement of even more audacious combos, as vast patty pyramids see the screen fizzing with score indicators or a single piece of tumbling lettuce wipes out a small army of pickles clambering up a ladder behind you. Everyone knows burgers become more fun when you super-size, and so it is here.
Party also adds more moving parts: ice to speed you up, oil to slow you down, levers that move platforms and air ducts that move you. A lot of these get in the way of BurgerTime’s arcade pleasures; more of a nuisance than opening up interesting potential. Vents split massive levels (fun!) into smaller playpens (dull!), and switches are a faff as the changing platforms aren’t the easiest visual element to read in the heat of the moment. Like the chilli con carne or roasted peppers in a modern gourmet burger, it’s needless feature creep.
Some of these ideas make more sense in the dedicated Solo Burger mode, which pitches itself as having more of a puzzling edge. Here, the challenge isn’t completing the stage, but squeezing every last point from a limited batch of ingredients in order to unlock medals. In these stages, quirkier level furniture can play a part in ‘solving’ it – using a burst of conveyor belt speed to send five baps raining down at once, say, or using ice and oil ladders to bunch up enemies so they arrive at your bap simultaneously. It’s diverting for a few hours.
The same can’t be said for the co-op. Adding up to four chefs dilutes the secret sauce, as enemies are torn between who to follow, making strategies more hit-and-miss. BurgerTime Party! shines when you’re in total command of the kitchen. As you accidentally pepper each other’s eyes or see partners trample your amazing combo preparation, the game begins to resemble one of Gorden Ramsey’s kitchen nightmares. Only Gordon Ramsey isn’t there to say something nasty and turn you into a hilarious meme. It’s just you and your pals, feeling sad.
A battle mode which recasts friends as Pepper’s food attackers feels like a rather desperate attempt to squeeze yet another drop of fun out of a formula that can only go so far. It’s like your angry dad banging on the ketchup bottle to get that last fleck of red out the nozzle – you admire the dedication but, gawd, other people in the restaurant are starting to look. The most fun is arguably had dining alone, trying to climb the online leaderboards with just three lives and an endless flow of stages (including designs based on the 1982 original).
Of course, it needs this vast buffet of modes to justify the price. But there’s no getting away from the fact that is a whole lot of the same thing. And the simple cartoon look – almost channelling Cuphead in the creepy egg and pickle animations – can only hold the eye for so long. It would honestly be better to have less BurgerTime for half the price. Throw out those needless extra ingredients and the lacklustre side orders, and let the central dish shine. Some foods are just classics, and should be left alone.
When it gets on with the bun-lobbing antics of classic BurgerTime, this is a great reminder of an arcade gem. But too many co-op cooks spoil the broth, and the recipe is overstuffed with extras that detract from the core flavour. That said, any game that lets you leave a trail of murdered pickles as you fight up the online leaderboard can’t be all bad. Just a tad overcooked, perhaps.