I’m competitive, always have been. I spent my youth playing organized soccer, and the desire to win was real. This translated to other activities, such as Monopoly, or anything else that had an element of competition to it. I wanted to win! In terms of my schooling back then, my parents instilled the importance of studying, that the effort I put in would result in good grades, which in my mind was a competition of sorts. Not necessarily against others in this case, but against myself. Competition was a means of self-improvement. It was the mechanism that gave me the drive, the motivation to succeed. Heck, even Pokémon encouraged competition, whether through the core trainer battles in the video games or via the infectious theme song of the anime.
And speaking of Pokémon, I can make a case that that franchise influenced my completionist tendencies. As I’ve mentioned before, when I experience something, I want to experience the whole of it. Similarly, when I play a video game on a modern PlayStation or Xbox, trophies and achievements materially impact my experience. If I’m digging the game, I’ll do my best to unlock as many as possible. When crafted well, they can complement the gameplay experience by rewarding experimentation or offering up unique challenges. Even when they’re not crafted well, I still feel compelled to obtain them, or at least do a cost-benefit analysis to determine which are worth my time. They’re a fun element of modern gaming; a nifty way to compare progress with and compete against friends, and an element that I care way too much about.
So, when a friend and I completed Overcooked! last week, and then went a step further and got the highest rating on each stage, only to have the related trophies not unlock for me… well, it was a huge bummer. My mood immediately soured, in a way that helped me to sympathize with diehard sports fans, the kind whose day is ruined when their team loses. It made no sense, considering we had both been unlocking every trophy up to that point. A quick bit of research confirmed it wasn’t a glitch, and a little more research hasn’t resulted in any reason why this is the case. Was there a technical reason that allowed both of us to unlock progress related achievements, but somehow not the two most important ones? Is it some devious way to coerce nuts like me into buying a copy of the game? Who knows, and regardless of my bellyaching, the rotten cherry on top that was missing out on those trophies only impacted my opinion of this game minimally; it was an otherwise exceptionally fun experience that, for us, continually tested whether two cooks in the kitchen was too many.
Overcooked! debuted August 2, 2016, on the digital storefronts of the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. It was the first release from Ghost Town Games, a Manchester, England based studio founded by Phil Duncan and Oli De-Vine, veterans of Frontier Developments, where they had worked on games such as LostWinds 2: Winter of the Melodias and Zoo Tycoon (2013). Wakefield, England’s Team17, the developer long known for the Worms series, and who for the better part of a decade has gone on a tear publishing indie games, handled publisher duties.
The game’s premise was pretty simple: a pair of chefs (or more, up to four), received meal orders that had to be prepared a certain way. As the chefs, we had to prepare ingredients, cook the meal, and serve it on a clean plate. Additionally, in many scenarios we’d also have to clean dirty dishes and worst case scenario, put out a fire or two. Success was gauged by the accuracy of our assembled meals and how promptly we were able to deliver them. The recipes started out simple enough, like onion soup, which required boiling three chopped onions, but got progressively more complicated through the game’s ten hour campaign. They were never overly complex, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t make mistakes. In short order, as we began delegating responsibilities on the fly, our kitchen turned into a chaotic rendition of “Who’s on First?”
Almost every kitchen was laid out in such a way to cleverly promote cooperation. For instance, one player might begin a stage near raw ingredients and stovetops, while the other was closer to the cutting board and sink. Naturally, we took on responsibilities associated with our avatar’s proximity to these task areas and verbally communicated with each other that an ingredient was ready, or a clean dish was needed. Even when a kitchen’s floor plan was open enough for one person to complete an entire order themselves, there were no individual scores, no cooperative/competitive element ala The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure, to incentivize us with personal greed. Our efforts culminated into a single grade and if we wanted to three-star a stage, we communicated.
I’m sure our campaign playthrough was comparable to most others. At the onset, we were charmed by the cataclysmic, yet humorous premise, and the logical gameplay. It was lighthearted, until it wasn’t. The meal variety increased, the kitchens became more complex, and we began bumping into star limits to unlock new stages. Our communication grew more exasperated as the customer’s demands compounded, and errors made by the other were the mistakes of an amateur. No names were called, but we were definitely thinking them. Eventually, usually around the second or third attempt at a stage, we’d reach a harmonious understanding, and operated with an efficient silence, knowing almost by instinct what the other individual needed before they needed it. I wouldn’t call it a transcendent experience, but we weren’t always on terra firma, either.
When we finished Overcooked! and the final trophies didn’t unlock for me, it was like I got the wind knocked out of me. I mean, why shortchange the other player(s) and omit the final trophies for them, when this was a game designed around cooperative play? It’s illogical, but it’s in the past. And ultimately, the trophies don’t matter. I may take them too seriously, but that’s just a reflection of my competitive/completionist nature. What mattered was the enjoyment of the experience itself, the joy of cooperating with a pal, and sometimes yelling telling them what to do and how to do it. It was an experience worth having, and this nut will likely purchase his own copy of Overcooked!, but not explicitly for the trophies. No, it was a rousing multiplayer game that I anticipate will be very different depending on the partner; and with two-button controls that approached the simplicity of Kirby Air Ride’s, it’s quite accessible. The game is a delight and its multiplayer will be top of my mind for years to come.