Everything's on fire, and there's meat everywhere. It's clear, as the timer starts blinking red furiously, that my sous chef and I might have to restart this level. Our burger making expedition hasn't exactly gone to plan, and it's mainly because we keep falling down chasms and getting caught out by the rotating plank of fry stations and plates. But that's just part of the manic, and regularly rather messy, fun of Overcooked 2.
After the success of the co-op focused, super quirky, cooking game that was Overcooked, it was pretty much a sure fire thing that it was going to get a sequel. Well, as sure as fire is bound to happen in the game, which is pretty high to be honest. And boy, what a sequel this is.
At its core, this is the same game as its predecessor. You're still a chubby little chef trying to overcome often ridiculous kitchen locations in order to get dishes out of the door. Ingredients need to be chopped, processed, fried, steamed, prepped, plated and served, but there will be plenty of obstacles in the way. And that's where Overcooked 2 really turns up the temperature over its predecessor, because these kitchens are seriously creative. The game's story will see you travelling around the various lands of the Onion Kingdom trying to save people from the Unbread - yes, zombie toast, beware their crumbling flesh. The entire world is now interactive, with new levels (and hidden ones) reached using your amphibious air bus to push switches. Discovering the various new kitchens you'll be cooking in is brilliant fun, even if it is regularly daunting, as is the a wide range of recipes you'll discover, from the likes of pasta and dim sum to burgers and sushi.
And I say daunting because these new kitchens are something else. The perils around in the first game were tricky enough, but this time you've got dynamic levels that change what you're doing and making halfway through, and throw perils at you almost non-stop. I've lost count of the times I've fallen down a chasm and when you start adding in the moving platforms and other quirks, it can get wonderfully chaotic
Thankfully the throw mechanic is here to stay in Overcooked 2, allowing you to lob uncooked ingredients from chef to chef to speed things up and generally try and get recipes made. There's a level of head-scratching involved to begin with though, as you lob ingredients to each other knowing that they'll have to come back a very different way. You're working against the clock, and against the terrain and kitchen layout constantly, and yes, it does occasionally get a little mad.
It's well known that a session of Overcooked can be quite stressful, and those that play it either work impeccably well as a little cheffing team, or have major friendship / relationship breakdowns. In fact, I've known couples that physically can't play Overcooked together because of the rows it causes. Thankfully, I don't have those kinds of friends, but it is the type of game that makes you realised you haven't blinked in a really long time. That's serious concentration folks.
It doesn't help that the game regularly feels like everything is just a little bit too small for the big screen. It's an absolute delight on the Switch's own screen, but if you want to go big with TV mode or the PS4, Xbox One or PC version, you might find that you're moving your sofa closer to the TV. It's often the case that there's a lot going on on screen in Overcooked 2. You've got plates of food, all your ingredients at various stages of preparation and it can feel a little muddled. On the one hand that's part of Overcooked 2's particular brand of glorious mayhem, but on the other it can be infuriating. One level saw us trying to make pizzas. In order to prepare them correctly, you have to chop the dough, add chopped cheese and sliced tomatoes and layer all three together before slamming the entire thing in an oven. Lining up a load of mid-prep pizzas on a bench that goes back in towards the rear of the kitchen means lots of tiny little icons overlapping, making it tricky to see what needs cheese STAT.
Strangely enough, if you've played the original game you might also notice that the controls feel a lot different this time around. It suddenly feels like you're piloting chefs like move like tiny drunk hippos - slow, sluggish and very imprecise. It has quite a different feel from the original game, which when you go back to it feels much more responsive and controlled in comparison. It's not a huge deal, but when every second counts it can be fairly infuriating.
Thankfully, when you're in the midst of a level, all of the frustrations melt away, because after all this is really an experience that you aim to have with friends. Online multiplayer has really helped that, and although it works a treat, it has done strange things to the ease of play for couch co-op sessions, which only seemed to work by hosting a local wireless session. Couch co-op in the original game was simple drop in and drop out, but that's not the case with Overcooked 2, unless a gaggle of game journalists are being utterly silly. I particularly love the option to play co-op with two Switch consoles tethered via local wireless, it's the best way to play Overcooked 2, in my opinion.
And that's because that's the way the game shines best. When you get to it, none of the annoyances really matter, more like a burnt corner of your toast that can be forgiven because the rest of the buttery bread is delicious. This is the same jolly madness you fell in love with from the first game, but with more creative levels, better graphics and more adorable little chefs. (But by god I wished I'd pre-ordered to get that unicorn skin.)
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.