More of a second helping than an entirely new dish, Overcooked 2 sees the Onion Kingdom’s monarch, in his hubris, reading from—ahem—the Necro-nomnom-icon and accidentally raising evil pastry products called The Unbread from their moldy slumber. And the only way to send the pastries back to the abyss is to gain the skills to feed them mass quantities of the best food in the game’s realm. Imagine Hell’s Kitchen, except instead of the apoplectic Gordon Ramsey screaming for your blood for serving raw fish, your crew of two-to-four cartoonish chefs are making burritos in derelict coal mines where there’s a risk of accidentally dropping food down a mine shaft.
In one level, you’re running a pasta kitchen on a set of rafts drifting down a river, where your dry pasta and plates are on one raft, your boiling water, mushrooms, and sauce on the other, and ingredients have to be tossed between the two rafts. In another, you’re cooking on a hibachi grill in the middle of a construction site, where the workers keep having to shift parts of the room around at random intervals. All the while, the clock is ticking, and hungry guests will still demand perfect food every time, on time.
The major flaw with both Overcooked and its sequel is that their mechanics are so predicated toward co-op that playing solo feels almost counterintuitive, a slow, deliberate juggling act with no tension. However, put four friends on a couch, forced to work in perfect harmony while a level shifts, slides, and breaks all around them, and you might end a match with three fewer friends—and laughing your head off about it. The series’s mechanics are simple enough for anyone to latch onto, but they only truly starts to sizzle when it involves constant coordination and communication between multiple people.
Making it so much easier for players to find human comrades through the game’s multiplayer lobby means that the best version of Overcooked 2 is available to all. But it’s not a perfect solution. Even more than the most involved multiplayer shooters out there, the game requires a chemistry with your teammates that isn’t always going to be available with randomly matched players, and there’s no way to filter your search for chefs by skill. Weak links in any team are common. And while not having voice chat is typically a blessing for those less tolerant of the more toxic side of online multiplayer, not even having the option to talk to your teammates except through built-in emotes hurts the Switch version of the game in particular.
The trade-off is that Overcooked 2 dials back its environmental hazards from the chaos of its predecessor, meaning in a game where you might be trying to establish a working relationship with complete strangers, less caution needs to be paid to the stage itself in favor of just getting dishes made. Which isn’t to say that the game doesn’t throw the occasional curveball at the player. The most impressive in that regard is an early stage where you’re forced to cook in a makeshift kitchen in the basket of a hot-air balloon. The balloon drifts into a storm, gets struck by lightning, setting part of the kitchen on fire, before the balloon crashes into a restaurant, where you end up having to finish up service in that establishment’s kitchen, your mise en place now completely out of whack. For the most part, stages tend to work on variations of creating walls between chefs and the exact ingredient they need to complete their dish. The learning curve for new players is steadier this way.
One shouldn’t take that to mean that this game is any easier than its predecessor. More of the focus being on the food in Overcooked 2 puts the onus on the player to learn the most efficient way to cobble together ingredients and recipes, and the layout and complexity of the dishes this time around often makes efficiency hard to come by. Just being able to put a basic cheeseburger together, while also making sure dishes get washed so they can be reused typically either results in chefs working as a well-oiled machine or the entire dinner service playing out as a high-intensity comedy of errors. Even when you fail miserably at a task, however, the experience of playing the game is raucous and rewarding, and just enough has been done to tweak that original recipe to make that experience accessible to all.