Part of the draw and charm of the Nintendo Switch is the increased focus that it puts on local multiplayer. Nintendo has always been the king of that style of play, but the Switch takes this to a whole new level when you combine the portability factor with at least two controllers that are always ready to go. Though there are already plenty of games on the Switch eShop that take advantage of this multiplayer functionality, Overcooked: Special Edition is definitely one of the best uses of it that we’ve seen so far.
The premise is silly and unimportant, but it adds a good amount of charm to the overall tone. The game opens with asteroids raining from the sky and a city under assault, with your cooks watching the chaos with the Onion King from a kitchen on a roof. Not soon after, the source of the apocalypse — the mighty spaghetti monster — storms over to the cooks, and it’s quite hungry. Despite your best efforts at feeding the monster it simply isn’t enough to sate its ravenous appetite, so the Onion King opens a time portal that you escape into. The portal opens up in 1993 — several years before the coming of the spaghetti monster — and the Onion King tasks you with travelling the land so that you can be ready when the apocalypse comes. Aside from occasional visits to the Onion King, the story mostly takes a backseat from that point on, but it nonetheless does a good job of setting up the “why” as you find yourself in increasingly more ridiculous kitchens and scenarios.
Gameplay is extremely frantic and stressful — in many ways emulating the real experience of working in an understaffed kitchen — yet it’s some of the most fun couch co-op we’ve experienced in quite some time. Each stage will see you working to output as many orders as possible under a set time period, making everything from soups to pizza. Each kitchen’s layout is different and there’s a process to producing things. For example, in order to produce an order of tomato soup you have to run over to the tomato box, then run over to a board to cut up the tomatoes, then run over to a pot to cook them in, then put it in a plate and run it out to the window.
That would be enough as is, but the difficulty comes from how limited your abilities are. You can only be carrying one item at a time, and you can’t move around everything in the kitchen to expedite things. Sometimes the cutting boards might be in one room and you have to walk through a portal or cross a river to get to the fryers. Sometimes there’s only three plates to work with in total, so someone will have to keep doing the dishes to keep up with the orders. You only have so much control over how efficiently each kitchen can be run, and many of them are often intentionally made to be as frustrating as possible.
The game is completely playable in single player — difficulty is turned down greatly and you can switch between cooks at the tap of a button — but the real fun comes when playing with others around you. Whether playing with full controllers or taking a Joy-Con each, the controls are simple to pick up and easy to use. Kitchens are often designed in asymmetric ways, and so your success or failure will almost entirely depend on how effectively you can communicate with your friends. As the orders keep rushing in you’ll have to be constantly asking each other to pass ingredients, or to pull out the pizza before it catches on fire, and it doesn’t take long until everyone in the room is shouting demands and curses at each other as you all barely manage to keep your heads above the never-ending demand. Even so, the goofy visuals and chaotic nature of the gameplay lend themselves to plenty of laughter, as you sometimes fail spectacularly.
It’s that dynamic kind of gameplay that proves to be this game’s biggest draw. No two stages are exactly alike, and the gimmicks grow increasingly more ridiculous as you progress deeper into the game. Even so, the orders that come in for each stage are randomly generated each time, so replaying the same stage multiple times can still lead to vastly different experiences. There’s a great deal of satisfaction, too, to be found in finally mastering a stage by figuring out the most effective method for getting past certain bottlenecks in the process. Each kitchen will give you up to three stars based on how many orders you made, how quickly you got them out, and whether or not you failed to get any out on time, and that coveted third star can be heinously difficult to achieve in some stages.
As for presentation, there’s something left to be desired on the performance side, but the visuals and audio are spot on. The colorful visuals have a cartoony, silly look, and the game sticks to a lighthearted atmosphere; you can be rushing around the kitchen as a small dragon or a raccoon in a wheelchair, if you wish. The soundtrack can get a bit repetitive at times, but it keeps to high tempo tracks filled with accordions and guitars to match the quick pace of gameplay. HD Rumble is uitilized here, too, and is especially helpful in single player for keeping you aware of when the other cook is done chopping something up, but it otherwise isn't a very notable or impactful part of the game. Ultimately, you won’t really notice the visuals or music all that much, as you’ll be too focused on keeping up with food orders, but you likely will notice the framerate.
Versions on other consoles seem to run at a fairly consistent framerate, but the Nintendo Switch version rarely manages to hit 30FPS, usually oscillating somewhere around 20-25FPS regardless of whether you’re playing docked or undocked. This has an effect on gameplay, as you’ll sometimes drop items or miss picking them up because the game jumps or stutters. Considering that the game isn’t all that visually intensive this just comes off as being a bit sloppy on the developer’s part, although at the time of writing work is apparently underway on a patch.
In terms of replayability, there’s plenty of meat here for you to sink your teeth in. The main campaign has dozens of stages, which will take quite some effort to achieve three stars in. Beyond that, however, Overcooked: Special Edition also includes two DLC expansions that came to earlier versions, and these nicely build on the initial game and offer plenty of innovations and stage gimmicks of their own. Suffice to say, it’ll certainly take you a while to see everything Overcooked has to offer.
All in all, Overcooked is an absolute must-buy for anybody looking for a fantastic party game to play with friends. The wacky visuals and chaotic gameplay make it an ideal game for local co-op, and there’s plenty of content to work through. Although there are some disappointing launch issues with the framerate (reflected in our scoring), we still give this one a strong recommendation overall; it's a title that perfectly nails what makes local multiplayer games so fun.