A dish best served bold.
You haven’t lived the Overcooked 2 life until your romantic partner tells you to go f**k yourself over a botched beef burrito.
Such is the way of Overcooked 2, the sequel to 2016’s kitchen coordination calamity. It’s never just about getting a sushi out on time. It’s also about life presenting so many tasks to tackle at once that you just sort of stand there gawking open-mouthed at the sky while everything burns around you. (Sometimes it’s also about apologizing to your partner for falling into a pit with that plate of cucumber.)
At its heart, Overcooked 2 maintains the original’s zany sense of discord and coordination. Up to four chefs run around a kitchen, grabbing ingredients, chopping and grilling ingredients, washing dishes, and serving it all to (hopefully) grateful customers. If you missed yelling at your friends to “just get the damn chicken,” then Overcooked 2 will fulfill that need a thousand times over.
While the basic gameplay hasn’t changed that much, the kitchens you’ll play in certainly have. In the first Overcooked, most kitchens had unique designs, but were mostly stationary, with some standouts like two food trucks that connected and split every 30 seconds. Overcooked 2 flips this around, with many more kitchens featuring a unique gag or an outright evolution halfway through. One level features two connected hot air balloons, which then plummet to the earth as a storm strikes, where they then land onto a kitchen from a previous level, shifting the gameplay to an entirely different rhythm. Another level forces chefs to dash across a busy street to serve their dish, and another features a large platform hanging above a pit that can be moved via a joystick. These levels are a fun evolution on what’s come before, and you won’t grow bored if you’re always wondering what will come next.
(Not) Too many cooks
Now, with the online multiplayer that was absent from the first game, culinary antics are no longer just a couch-based affair. If you’re playing with friends, one player simply hosts a session, allowing buddies to join.
Friends better hope that they’re playing on some killer Wi-Fi, though. Lag will factor into how quickly you serve that dish, and in a game with plenty of dishes to bungle and (literal) pitfalls, it’s enough to drive a man (or his partner) mad. Some minor bugs threw sessions for a loop too, including meat somehow landing in the same table square as a rice pot, or the aforementioned joystick refusing to budge. Suddenly being shifted around the kitchen due to lag was a common occurrence, made more annoying if we happened to be standing next a chasm, a rushing river, or chef-smashing sedans.
These issues were very infrequent and minor, but they can still throw a player off his groove.
Where online multiplayer really struggles thus far is playing with strangers. The Daily Dot reviewed Overcooked 2 on the Nintendo Switch, which doesn’t always have its own voice chat functionality from game to game, making communication between players a bit of a nightmare. Imagine shepherding rice balls from one end of a chasm to the next while another player just seems determined to bump into you. In another match, the four chefs needed to move a raft from left to right in order to transfer dishes, but the players responsible for serving the dishes never realized that we had two ready to go. Players will also drop out occasionally, adding to an already devilishly stressful game. In short, I’ve yet to successfully earn even one (out of three) stars on any given multiplayer level.
That stress isn’t always a bad thing, but it is omnipresent in Overcooked 2. On more than one occasion, I’ve had to put it down after a rough day because I just know it’s going to pile it on. It’s a game you should play only when your relationship with your friends or loved ones can take the heat. There’s a sadistic thrill in tackling the same seemingly impossible kitchen for the ninth time, but when you get to double digits and the weight of that endless order ticker haunts your dreams, you might be better off hanging up your apron for the night.
It’s important to note that none of this takes away from the pure, unadulterated joy that’s earned when you do score well on a tough level. It’s all worthwhile when you get to pump your fist triumphantly in the air, knowing the amount of group effort it just took to get there.
In so many ways, Overcooked 2 reminds me of a classic Anthony Bourdain story: A much younger, spiffier version of the late chef shows up for one of his first shifts at a tough kitchen, working alongside literally some of the largest, surliest men he’d ever seen. After a mishap with a hot pan, Bourdain scrambled to find a mitt to grab it with, only to watch the biggest and baddest guy in the place grab the searing metal with his bare hands, chiding him like a school boy.
Bourdain learned the tough rules of his kitchen that night, just as friends and I have learned the cruel ways of each individual kitchen in Overcooked 2, suffering for our art until it becomes secondhand. It’s this mix of chaotic misery and joy that makes Overcooked 2 a dish best served bold.
This review was published based on a review code for the Nintendo Switch provided by the publisher. Overcooked 2 releases Aug. 7 on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.