Gateway Games – Video Games for Beginners: Overcooked

Gateway Games - Video Games For Beginners
The Walking Dead Overcooked
Orcs Must Die 2 Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime

Overcooked At A Glance

Recommended Player Experience Level: Played through at least one controller based game.
Starting Difficulty: Easy
Ending Difficulty: Hard
Difficulty Spikes: Occasionally steep spikes, especially later in the game.
Learning Curve: Easy to pick up, moderately difficult to master
Visual Aesthetic: A silly cute polygon based art style.
Storytelling: Facetious, whimsical, unnecessary, but appreciated.
Controls: Tight layout for hand-held controllers, and the ability for two players to share a single control(not recommended). Keyboard controls are passable but limited to one player. You’ll need to buy controllers and an adapter to play this on PC.

You did it. Against all odds you managed to convince your non-video-gaming friend to try playing a co-op game with you. You start to gleefully fumble through your collection looking for your favorite co-op games of years past.

You pull out Halo: Combat Evolved and think of all the good times you had playing the co-op campaign with your best buds back in the day. However, you don’t want their first Halo experience to be against a wildly inept version of the covenant forces(on easy), and wisely slide the case back in its spot on the shelf.

Next you consider playing one of the co-op classics of consoles past. After-all there is a wealth of memorable co-op games in previous generations that you distinctly remember having a good time playing. However, you are worried that the combination of dated graphics and traditionally brutal difficulty of the classic systems will all but ensure that this gaming session is a one time thing.

Not wanting to blow this opportunity, you decide to investigate options outside of your current gaming library. After searching around for the best co-op games on the web, you notice one particularly mouthwatering option keeps on appearing in your search results. A chaotic co-op cooking simulator called Overcooked.

The dramatic monologue above was actually a more or less exact representation of what led me to give Overcooked a shot. Not wanting to lose any momentum from my tremendously successful experience introducing Telltale’s The Walking Dead to my fiancee, I felt that a co-op experience new to both of us would be a logical next step.

It turns out that I was right! Overcooked ended up being a critical second success in Meesh’s gaming journey. However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t a couple of hurdles to overcome along the way. In fact, I found that the biggest hurdle to overcome in the case of Overcooked was my own short-comings as a co-op partner!

However, before we dig into the specifics of each trial and tribulation, it is important to make sure you know how to set the stage for this co-op experience.

Preparing To Play Overcooked

Fortunately, the list of pre-game steps needed to play Overcooked is fairly short.

Overcooked: Pre-flight Checklist

Graphics Settings: PC ONLY – This game is surprisingly tough on low-end machines so run a few levels and lower your computers resolution until the frame rate is stable
Audio Settings: Music – 80%, Sound Effects – 100%
Control Settings: No configuration needed
Gameplay Settings: No configuration needed
Difficulty Settings: No configuration needed
Profile Settings: No configuration needed
First Boot: PC ONLY – Make sure you are able to connect with both controllers, and that the first level doesn’t crash

While a couple of levels can cause the screen to chug a bit, this issue tends to be temporary and generally restricted to low-end PCs. Other than that the game tends to be fairly stable in on-line and off-line environments.

Gameplay Overview

The game has the two of you choosing from a colorful cast of furry and fantastical chefs cooking meals in the most absurd kitchen layouts ever imagined.

The control scheme of the game really only comes down to a handful of commands:

  • Movement
  • Pick-up/Place
  • Cut
  • Dash
  • Change Chef – Single Player and Versus Only

There are some nuances surrounding how pick-up and place work that we’ll discuss later on, but the mechanics don’t really get more complicated as the game progresses.

While the control scheme for Overcooked is fairly simple, the game itself has a surprising amount of depth. This is depth is magnified by the fact that the game is co-operative at its core. Often times both players are walled off from each other, and certain tasks can only be completed by one of the players.

For example, one level has players in different rooms of a spaceship joined by a conveyor belt. The top room has the cutting boards and delivery window. The bottom rom has the ingredients, stoves, and sink. From a mechanics stand-point, this means that a single dish needs to pass through each players hands twice in order to be delivered. This type of level design forces both players to collaborate and play around each others strengths and weaknesses to succeed.

Each level is housed in a larger world map. Levels are unlocked linearly, but the player can return to them at-will once unlocked. Unlocking a level requires you to earn a pre-defined number of “stars”, which can be earned by hitting pre-defined score thresh-holds in prior levels. You can earn up to a maximum of 3 stars per level, and you must earn at least one star in a level before the next level can be unlocked.

Challenges and Roadblocks to Expect

While Overcooked is a very fun game for new and veteran gamers alike, there are a couple of important challenges I want to touch on.

The Difficulty Curve

Overcooked is not an easy game to complete. You might be able to limp through the game by settling for 1-star scores occasionally, but the world map actually has some fairly demanding star requirements later on in the game.

Although the game forcing the players to improve is a good thing in the long term, it is a major risk point for newer gamers. This risk is exacerbated by the fact that many levels make it extremely difficult for one player to carry the team to two or three stars.

Because of this co-dependency I recommend not throwing a brand-spanking-new player in the proverbial gaming fire. Overcooked is best suited as the second or third game in your players gaming journey. Ideally they should be able to intuitively know where each button on the controller is without looking, and have some experience using a joystick to move around. While it is possible to start a player off on Overcooked, the games difficulty does ramp up fairly quickly. Just make sure you have an easier game ready to go on the side if you find the new player is losing interest. As we all know sometimes the best way to progress is to step away from a game for a bit and clear your head.

Personal Anecdote: Put It Down and Pick It Back Up

Although Meesh was a fan of Overcooked pretty much right away, the difficulty of the game was a source of frustration for her. The words “I hate this game” were uttered more than once, but without fail after stepping away from the game for a few days her old excitement to play would come back. I made sure she was aware that the game was actually fairly challenging, and (she actually told me)this re-assurance helped motivate her to continue playing.

Mechanical Oddities

While Overcook’s control scheme is pretty solid as a whole, there are some mechanical quirks that can trip up newer players.

Most of these oddities are focused around Overcooked’s pick-up and placement mechanics. For the most part the mechanics work the way you would expect. For example you can place a burger on the table, place cut lettuce in the burger, then pick up a pan and place cooked meat in the burger. However, if you were to try to pick up the burger and pull the meat from the pan, the game won’t let yo do it.

To make matters more confusing, this ability to pull ingredients from a heat source works perfectly fine if you have a plate in your hand. That is until you try to do this with pizza where the game actually REQUIRES you to pull the pizza out by hand then place it on a plate.

I’ll admit these are minor gripes around what is an overall mechanically sound game. However, for a newer gamer picking up these quirks might not be intuitive, so just make sure to acknowledge that the quirks are in fact… quirky!

While these write-ups aren’t meant to be a strategy guide, the details of these mechanics are never really explained in game. For those of you who don’t care to go through the discovery process yourself, I listed out my top 3 mechanical quirks behind the spoiler tag below. If you trust yourself to figure it out on your own, then just avoid highlighting the text in the blacked out box below.

  • Buns and Tortillas can be used to compactly store chopped vegetables and cooked meats in one square.
  • Plates can be used to pull ingredients directly out of pots, pans, and fryers.
  • Pizza needs to be pulled out of the oven by hand.

The Skill Gap Between Players

It turns out that most “co-operative” games on the market are actually just single player games with some co-op functionality bolted on to the side. From a design perspective this generally means a game can be completed without a second player, so in co-op the second player is really just along for the ride.

Overcooked is not one of those games.

As I said before Overcooked is a game that is co-operative at its core. This means the game was designed from the ground up to be played in a co-operative manner. As described above there are numerous levels in overcooked where an individual player cannot complete an order on their own.

While this co-dependency does create interesting challenges in game, I would make sure you pay extra attention to the challenges it creates outside of the game as well. Unless you have the patience of a saint, it is entirely likely that your composure will falter as frustrations mount.

This is easily the biggest risk point in introducing a newer player to Overcooked.

Personal Anecdote: Watch Your Tone!

Throughout most of my gaming career I have played co-op games with similarly skilled players. While I did expect the skill gap to come into play with Meesh, I figured my own “1337 $k!LLz”(Translation: elite gaming skills) would allow her to punch above her weight class, and permit us to play a wider list of games. Although for the most part this ended up being the case, Overcooked was one of those nasty exceptions.

I’ll be shamefully honest here, there was more than one occasion where the two of us got snippy with each other. In my head I knew it would take time for her to develop her skills. However, There were more instances than I care to admit where my tone would shift from calm, to impatient/annoyed as we tried to scheme our way through levels. At the end of the day it all worked out and Overcooked is still one of her favorite games, but there were definitely some(self inflicted!) speed bumps along the way.

You might be able to avoid flaring tempers, but if you can’t then be ready to apologize if you are stressing the new player out. It is important to remember that both of you are playing this game to HAVE FUN. Yes games are inherently challenging(in fact some would argue challenge is the whole point), but some people respond better to failure than others.

In fact I’d argue that most people get flustered when they are performing poorly in any game, video or otherwise. I’m willing to bet many of you “experienced gamers” reading right now probably tried and gave up the game of Golf(the real life one) at one point in your life. I know I definitely did.

It can be frustrating picking up a new and challenging skill, especially when it is something you see other people doing so easily. The first key to overcoming these challenges is to have/be a positive and encouraging mentor. The second key is to convince the new player that sometimes the best way to improve is to step away and get back to the basics.

If you find the player is hitting a wall, try to convince them to play the single player mode a bit. This can help them get a “full view” of the games mechanics, which will make them a better player in co-op as well.

Despite the obvious benefits of practicing, convincing a newbie to play single-player might be tougher than you think. They might be uncomfortable with you stoically watching and judging them as they fumble through the mechanics.

Surprisingly, one of the best ways to solve this problem is by playing the versus mode. If you can convince the player that you aren’t actually competing and it is all for fun, then they might be open to using versus as a sort of “practice mode”.

Personal Anecdote: An Unconventional Solution

Meesh was originally resistant to my instance that she try a few levels on her own to hone her skills. She really preferred playing with me(awww), and didn’t like the idea of me just sitting and watching her, despite my insistance that I didn’t mind.

However, I was eventually able to convince her to try the versus mode under the pretense that we were not competing. I chose the first versus level because I knew there was no way for us to interfere with each other, essentially making it two single player instances running in parallel. This ended up being an incredibly useful tool for Meesh to hone her skills.

We must have played through the first “versus” level 10 times in a row(Meesh actually insisted!) the first night we tried it. After a few rounds of struggling she noticed that I was consistently putting out scores 5 to 6 times higher than her. This prompted her to watch how I play the game, and lead to a number of really great discussions around how to improve her game.

By the end of the night she was consistently putting up scores 3x higher than when she started, and her co-op play also reflected this improvement.

Just to be safe, if you do use versus for practice make sure you choose a level where neither side can interfere with one another. The first versus level is a good candidate for this since it has both players walled off in their own separate kitchens.

Final Thoughts

Overcooked is a phenomenal choice for a second or third Gateway Game. The combination of cute graphics, wholesome humor, and compelling gameplay make it an accessible choice for virtually any type of gamer.

While the game does ramp up in difficulty quite a bit, this experience of overcoming adversity is a key part of a new gamers journey. Overcooked pulls out all of the stops in the final level, which results in a satisfying and (I’ll say it!) epic conclusion to the game.

Once you’ve made it through to the end of Overcooked, the only beast you’ll be worried about feeding is the newly game-addicted one sitting next to you on the couch.

<The Walking Dead Orcs Must Die 2>

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