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Is Overcooked getting cooked over?
Shakes on a plane is a co-operative cooking game where you take orders, prepare food and drinks and serve it to the customer in a tight time limit while the environment, chaotic controls and corporealness of other players are all working against you. If that sounds hauntingly familiar, like a popular game whose name rhymes with shmover shmooked, that’s because it’s almost a carbon copy of that very game.
For legal reasons (read: fun reasons) I won’t be referring to That Other Game by name (except in the subtitle because the joke was just too good). But, it’s almost impossible to review Shakes on a Plane without talking about it because they are just so similar. Any comment on the quality of the game has to be taken in reference to The Elephant in the Room because they’re both available on the same platform at the same price. It’s a direct competition for the same market, the likes of which I can’t say I’ve seen before.
The part that Shakes on a Plane nails is the feeling of chaos and any vestige of control gradually slipping through your fingers over the duration of a round until you become a passenger on a road paved in the poor decisions of your younger self. You find yourself running frantically from one end of the plane to the other, trying to will a coffee to brew quickly enough for you to add it to your tray and dash it over to the customer in time for the three-second deadline while bashing your teammates out of the way. The game has duplicated that hectic charm from You Know What almost perfectly.
Unfortunately, that’s where the favourable comparisons to the Game That Shall Not Be Named end. The most jarring disappointment for me is the style of the game. The game has a very generic aesthetic with assets and models that look like they were ripped directly from a Unity asset market, all paired with a very washed out and muted colour pallet. It feels like the game as absolutely no soul, which doesn’t look good when it’s compared to the vibrant cartoony aesthetic of Overson McCooked.
The game also doesn’t tell you enough about how ready your food and drink are to serve. For example, even the worst of the bad fast-food restaurants have worked out that you need to cook a burger before taking it to a customer. However, in Shakes on a Plane, the uncooked burger and cooked burger models just look like ready to eat burgers, with nothing on screen to tell you whether they’re cooked or not. That’s fine when you’re taking a burger directly from the dispenser to the oven to the customer, but the hectic nature of the game means that you rarely have that luxury. A drastically different item for the uncooked and cooked versions of food or an on-screen prompt for where you need to take it next would have been nice (like is done in ‘certain other games’) but Shakes on a Plane omitted that quality of life feature.
One final minor note that doesn’t ruin the gameplay but does give a really bad introduction to the game. In the menus, the button for select/yes/enter/whatever moves around, seemingly at random. During the character selection menu, it moves from A when selecting a slot, to B when selecting a character and Y when selecting an AI character, with the button that was previously ‘Select’ becoming ‘Back’. It’s possibly the worst UI design that I’ve ever seen. It’s obtusely unintuitive and a bold decision to get the player frustrated with the game before they’ve even started playing it.
Overall, Shakes on a Plane is inherently pretty average. It has a great premise with some less than great execution in places. However, that great premise is directly ripped from another game and, as the old saying goes, if you come for the king you better not miss. Shakes on a Plane didn’t exactly miss its swing for the co-op cooking game throne but the strength of the swing was equivalent to an ant swinging a toothpick at a giant. If you’re looking for a chaotic game to play with friends to beat the lockdown blues, there isn’t much to promote Shakes on a Plane over the king: Overcooked.