Spinning plates – Simulated chaos in Overcooked 2

By Neil Merrett

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Overcooked 2, Released on Nintendo Switch in 2018, developed by Ghost Town Games

Overcooked 2, much like its predecessor, is a kitchen chaos simulator.

With its cartoonish visual appeal – a design where humans of various ethnic backgrounds and even disabilities work together with furry animals and unicorns in chefs hits to knock out burritos, pizzas and pasta dishes – it is only tangentially a game about food.

It is the machinations of dealing with awkward customers and their individual demands and needs that is central to the game’s universal appeal, which simplifies cooking to chopping, boiling, steaming, mixing or baking ingredients into pasta, pizzas or fried chicken.

Challenge in the game is dictated in part by having to prepare increasingly more complex dishes that start at simple salads and build up to having to prepare a combination of dishes such as fish and chips and Dim sum while ensuring you keep your head under pressure.

This is compounded by a variety of increasingly chaotic levels that start off with simple commercial kitchens, before expanding into bustling street eateries, raft-top deep fat frying, and hot air balloons that offer a live dining service at the same time as careening towards the ground.

The player’s crew of chefs during the game is also charged with providing multiple dinner services to a faintly recognisable college for warlocks and female practitioners of magic.

It is all wonderfully, inherently silly, yet there is something chaotically real about being left spinning in confusion as dishes and kitchen tops set on fire, or a pile up of dirty dishes leaves you looking on helplessly. Whether the player is working in conjunction with friends, a group of online strangers, or managing two chefs simultaneously, it is really a game of managing and helping a group of people and finding their relative strengths.

There is the righteous anger a player may feel when an already delayed order of a vegetarian burrito is ruined by accidentally throwing some meat on top, or a failure to produce sufficient rice for a busy lunch session.

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Stress as a gaming mechanic 

Mirroring the pressure of an overwhelmed kitchen isn’t inherently something a colourful multiplayer title should want to recreate, yet it is a perfect counter to the joy of working Sympatico with a team to plate up a complex fusion dish and garnish just in time to earn a coveted three-star rating.

It is a game that could ultimately be reshaped into any complicated multi-person process, be it some fantastic sci-fi setting such as a complex starship, or even an under fire technology factory.

Yet, a kitchen restaurant is the perfect subterfuge for dragging family and friends into your budding chef empire. After all, how bad can knocking together a couple of pizzas be? A bad head chef may face anarchy if a kitchen is poorly managed and other players decide to weaponise some diced cucumber in a messy protest.

With the second game in the series, perhaps the most revolutionary aspect to the game is the inclusion of online play and matchmaking. Whereas the first game required a hearty stock of friends to engage in couch co-op for progression, a single player can now try and forge new alliances online.

This is certainly welcome for a game that can often prove to be as mentally taxing as it is fulfilling for a group of friends. Yet the single player alone becomes an almost different game of managing two chefs as simultaneously as possible. While one player is chopping up ingredients, the player must switch to their other character in a drastic dash to the sink before the ingredients are ready.

As the player starts cleaning dishes, they must then train their brain to switch back to the other character and position themselves for the next vital task.

It is a management game in effect, but one of managing your own thought processes rather than a team of strangers – both equally complex, just in different ways.

The complexity of our relationship with food is a tough subject for games cover. The medium, as it stands, can only really fulfil the visual aspects of nutrition in our lives, or seek to comment on its importance towards psychical development and wellbeing.

Having said that, Overcooked 2 does show us another side of the human condition when under pressure, especially our interactions with other people.

When a carefully planned system is suddenly thrown into chaos due to burnt pasta, or an earthquake making a chopping board temporarily unreachable, how do we cope when we ourselves or those around our succumbing to confusion?

Much like the need to overcome hunger, working as best we can with others to mutually progress is another universal human trait.

It’s enough to make you work up a hunger.

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