Words About Video Games

Overcooked - You Already Know it's Good, but I'll Tell You Anyway

It was a good year for smart, lean co-operative video games. It's something that board games have nailed--that sometimes you don't need a complicated game or a long one, you just need a game that gives your friends an avenue to be fun/creative/funny--but that video games often overlook, thinking of co-op as an extension of a complex single-player experience, rather than as something genuinely social.

In Overcooked, you only need to worry about two buttons: the button for chopping ingredients/washing dishes and the button for picking them up/putting them in the pot/setting them down/serving them. There's a third button--the dash--that helps when you want to be sure to max out your score, but it's purely optional if all you want to do is progress.

And yet even with these simple controls, you will fail. Sometimes gloriously, with a whole kitchen on fire. Sometimes shamefully, watching as a completed burger falls into the trash because someone wasn't ready to grab it off a conveyor belt on time.

The challenge of Overcooked lies in communication. It's your friends who bring the challenge. The timer is tight. You need to be working in sync. It's tempting to hand out roles, but the levels are about perfectly designed to thwart that. Whether it's in subtle ways (the dish sink is on the wrong side of the board for the player who has less to do) or blatant (the level re-arranges itself periodically, forcing players to switch roles.)

In some ways, I suspect it's easier with two people than with three or four. With two, there are fewer hands to keep things running smoothly, but also fewer brains to confuse, to choose the wrong task, to dictate the wrong order. Too many cooks, and all that.

But what I really think makes Overcooked great is that it's about something that we all have some experience with. Cooking. And with the simplified recipes and controls, it seems like it should be easy. I think that's what makes it hilarious when you screw up. With a combination of its bizarre kitchens and the fact that "Grab that burger on the conveyor belt!" is actually a quite hard sentence to say in the heat of the moment, Overcooked renders something familiar and deceptively easy absurd.