Yes: the ‘undercooked’ pun is overplayed. I have no regrets.
When a game creator lands on a truly excellent gameplay concept, it breeds creativity and excitement; a newly tapped wellspring of potential gushes out interesting scenarios to explore and flesh out. Ghost Town Games’ 2016 title Overcooked repeatedly proves its excellence with each level. The ever-expanding spectacles of this outrageous couch co-op kitchen simulator kept me and my friends in a constant state of comic confusion, maintaining the pandemonium we enjoyed when first starting the game. Overcooked was an easy pick as cooperative game of the year in 2016, and its core premise and presentation make it a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch.
Unfortunately, the Switch port of Overcooked: Special Edition suffers from a number of technical issues, including debilitating framerates and faulty controller rumble.
The chaos of a restaurant kitchen is an environment rarely visited in the video game landscape (a couple notable exceptions include Diner Dash and Order Up), and Overcooked successfully recreates that chaos. With each level, players are tasked with preparing the ingredients for and cooking two or more dishes as orders come in. These meals must be made and sent out before the order expires, and unless you and your partner work expeditiously, those meal calls will start to stack up. The recipes start off simple, requiring little more than chopping three tomatoes, onions, etc., throwing them in a pot, then sending the soup out. With each new level, however, the process becomes more complex as you take on dishes like hamburgers, vegetable soups, and full Thanksgiving turkey meals.
Actually preparing these meals requires traversing the kitchens themselves, which quickly enter the realms of absurdity in their layouts. One of the earliest kitchens took place in the middle of a pedestrian walk, meaning my friends and I would have to shoulder through indifferent civilians as we carried tomatoes and onions back and forth. A later level had us torching turkeys on conveyor belts with flamethrowers. The absurd inconveniences of each level become the source of both the game’s challenge and humor.
Thankfully, Ghost Town Games gives the player all of the necessary tools and information in a gracious manner. Meal recipes are simply displayed and easy to interpret, and food items and utensils are visible and identifiable. Interacting with the 2D environment and all of its culinary items feels smooth and responsive… on most platforms, that is. While the PC and PS4 versions I played of Overcooked were easy to manage on the standard gamepads, the Nintendo Switch’s JoyCon controllers don’t offer the mild precision needed for navigating kitchens and managing ingredients. The detached JoyCon technically has every necessary input (four face buttons and a single analog stick), but I found it far more difficult to control my miniature character with the short joysticks, especially when I needed to thread the needle (perhaps through some of those pesky pedestrians walking through my kitchen!) or line up with a cutting board to chop some lettuce. There is also a strange defect which causes rumble to be shared between controllers, meaning my JoyCon would begin to vibrate at seemingly random moments, triggered by my friend’s concurrent interactions with dishes and soap. Worst of all, the entire experience of this Switch port is further muddled with an unsteady framerate of 30fps, often taking a nosedive to 20fps (according to DigitalFoundry). A pair of Switch Pro Controllers can fix the issue of character control, of course, but it’s a shame that the game cannot be fully enjoyed without packing a couple of bulky controllers along with the Switch.
These technical issues are a real bummer, because the game otherwise feels right at home on the Switch. I mostly played this version of Overcooked in bars, restaurants, outdoor patios, or the dining rooms of those I managed to talk into trying my new toy. The first level or so manages to sell folks on the game almost without fail. Every time, the experience comes with the initial raw stupidity of learning the controls, followed by the slow comprehension of what needs to be done. After that, the cooking race is on, and the insanity ensues with much hilarity. I’ve yet to introduce Overcooked to someone who didn’t end up barking an order for another tomato or shouting at me to get some burning soup off the stove. And the portability and unobtrusiveness of the Switch made it exponentially easier to get a round going. Most of these introductory sessions ended in frustration once the obstacles created by framerate dips and imprecise joysticks overcame the game’s novelty, but the novelty is still present.
Reviewing a game on the Nintendo Switch means, in a way, reviewing the Switch itself; if a game’s presentation and premise conduce portability, then the Switch will most likely make a great platform for it. Overcooked is an incredible cooperative game with one ingenious concept built up by a bevy of inventive and hilarious scenarios, and its simplistic and clear presentation makes it a great fit for the Switch’s 6.2 inch display. If Ghost Town Games follows through with its promises of better framerates and rumble fixes, then the Switch will have gained an invaluable couch co-op title for its quickly expanding library. Until then, however, Overcooked on Switch will remain little more than a fun demo to show off to your friends; any attempts to play more than a couple hours of the game inevitably leads to frustration.