Being a parent often times feels like managing a small restaurant. Bills need to get paid, hungry people need to get fed, and yes, there’s spaghetti on the walls. Coordinating two elementary-aged children in the day-to-day of brushed teeth, backpacks and nap time is not unlike making sure your servers are staying off their cell phones and your chefs are keeping the line hot and moving in between multiple smoke breaks. For some parents, this machine is like clockwork, while for others, it’s more of a patchwork. For all parents, I would recommend a few valuable sessions with Ghost Town Games’ Overcooked.
In Overcooked, you and and up to three collaborators group your efforts in an easy-to-play, difficult-to-master cooking simulator. You must coordinate your efforts in order to serve up timely hamburgers, soups and other foodstuffs before your customers grow impatient and leave your establishment. What sounds like a simple task is made increasingly difficult by bizarre new scenarios. Certain levels may stick you on a deteriorating ice floe, or a rocking pirate ship. Your team’s ability to adapt and communicate will determine your level of success in Overcooked, making this game a surprisingly effective parenting tool.
I embarked on my quest across the Onion Kingdom with my 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. After selecting our chefs (the raccoon in a wheelchair being the favorite in my house) we set off tackling multiple challenges, crafting burgers and artisanal soups while building our ability to work as a team. What began as a frantic rush for ingredients and burning pots (yes, there will be fires, but it’s okay, extinguishers are featured in every stage!) slowly evolved into a well-oiled labor chain. “Buns on plates,” I’d call. “Buns on plates,” my son would repeat, gleefully placing hamburger buns in their proper designation. “Patty up!” my daughter would add, while I chopped lettuce and onions for those hungry digital patrons.
At the end of each stage the players are given a star rating from one to three. The pride we felt as a unit after a well-deserved three-star rating was comparable to little else in gaming. We excitedly high-fived until our palms were as sore as our thumbs, then dug in for another level of frantic mayhem to practice until it was mastered. Since Overcooked has entered rotation in our regular family activities, our communication and ability to cooperate on tasks has improved markedly. Everyone is happy to pitch in with their fair share of work, and mundane tasks have become fun with only a little Overcooked-inspired gamification.
This game features remarkably simple controls, utilizing only two buttons and the control stick on the gamepad of your choice. Anyone can pick up Overcooked and enjoy themselves, with the real challenge stemming from communication skills and an ability to multitask. It’s a great party game with friends, but still simple enough for young children to engage with. The diverse and inclusive cast of playable chefs comes as icing on the cake, so to speak, and a breath of fresh air in the often toxically masculine world of gaming.
Get the family together, put your buns on the couch, and get some buns on plates. You won’t regret it.