Diner Dash Review
Has anyone ever come back from a brutal day of waiting tables and said, “damn, that was fun?” This is why the concept behind Diner Dash has always seemed strange to me, but it has proven successful since the original debuted on the PC way back in 2003. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that an iteration of this fast-paced little puzzle-esque game has arrived on the PlayStation Network, and it ought to appeal to those who enjoy a bit of tension in their virtual entertainment. Perhaps the strangest part of all is that this game somehow manages to capture the stress and frustration involved with being a waitress…and it’s difficult to label this as “entertaining.” I mean, it is in some bizarre way, but really, when the number of people waiting to be seated begins to mount and everyone already seated still require attention, your teeth will start to grind. And I suppose that’s exactly the point. Isn’t it…?
The graphics, like many of the more recent downloadable titles on the PSN, are both well presented and quite pleasing to the eye. There’s a cleanliness and clarity associated with these visuals; everything is very colorful and crisp, and with only a few animations to consider, the game remains solid throughout. As you progress, you will find different locales due to new restaurants, and there are different types of customers as well. However, there still isn’t quite enough diversity; they could’ve provided us with varying setups within each restaurant, and although there are different customers, there are only a handful of designs. Of course, graphics are hardly the primary focus of a game like this and in the end, the clean lines and pleasant – albeit hectic – scene complements the atmosphere. Perhaps in future iterations, they could expand the idea and have it take the next step into “restaurant simulator,” so that you have to have skills other than speed.
The sound is in much the same boat. There isn’t much here but what does exist is nicely implemented: there’s the clattering of dishes, the general murmur of the assembled crowd, and even the subtle writing of an order. It all sounds just about right but once again, I have to complain about the lack of a really appealing soundtrack. The frenetic pacing of the gameplay could’ve used some lively music, although I understand it can’t be too intrusive. The sound effects are fine but as there is no voice acting and even the busiest clamor can become repetitive, I just think an inspired soundtrack would’ve proven to be a great benefit. The balance between the effects is excellent, though, as nothing really seems to drown out other sounds; you will always get the sensation of being in a crowded diner and nothing gets in the way of that. In this way, the sound and graphics are very, very similar: sleek and slick, but nothing to get too excited about.
As always, the gameplay takes center stage. When it comes to serving the public, especially in what can only be considered cheap diners, speed is all that really matters. You must seat the customers, take their orders, deliver the food, and clean the tables, all in that order and as fast as humanly possible. On the surface, this seems to be a clear-cut goal and one that only requires fast pressing of buttons but as usual, puzzle-based titles always have a lot more lurking underneath that simple exterior. Okay, so there isn’t a lot more underneath, but it’s enough to keep you playing for a while, and serves to make the experience a bit more involving. …wait, was that a pun? Anyway, as you might expect, the increasing difficulty will result in more tables, larger tables, more customers, different types of customers, and to counter it all, a few extra upgrades to keep everyone happy. It’s pretty cool, but it does get a little tiring.
The controls can’t be much simpler: you move Flo – the waitress who ironically escaped the dog-eat-dog world of corporate business to enter into the restaurant trade – with the left analog stick, use the L1 button to switch customers about when you seat them (you have to try to match the color of the customer to the color of the seat), and the X button handles all the action. This includes taking and delivering orders and moving dirty plates to the bin. Your restaurant is only open for a certain amount of time and customers can get upset if you take too long; those that haven’t been seated yet will actually leave. The challenge is to try to keep absolutely everyone happy for as long as possible. But you have to factor in seating arrangement and the behavior types for each customers. For instance, senior citizens are more patient but they don’t tip so well, while the high-powered businesswomen aren’t patient at all but tip very well. Furthermore, each customer acts differently when waiting in line than when they’re at the table, so you have to take all this into account.
Then there are the chains you can form. Flo can typically carry two things at once – two orders, two plates of food, etc. – and the more you do this, the more you can create combination chains that up your score. So in other words, by delivering two plates of food at once to each table is preferable to delivering each plate separately. And if you see a certain type of customer in line that gets annoyed faster than others, you’ll want to take care of that person ASAP. All of this works together very well but there are a few problems that often hinder your enjoyment. First of all, the tables seem to be set too close together and when moving quickly, it can be difficult to negotiate the narrow alleyways all the time. Furthermore, the selection of the customers and the ensuing seating process feels clunky; it’s easily the worst part of the game. You can select a group easily enough with the X button, but what happens after…
You’re on the clock, so you waste precious time rotating a group around so they can match the colors on the seats and if you don’t do this, you sacrifice valuable points. Furthermore, it seems overly slow when selecting the table with the left analog; this control just isn’t anywhere near responsive enough. Now, you do have the option to streamline the gameplay a bit, because each of the necessary stations are mapped to a face button. So if you don’t want to manually direct Flo to each area, you can simply press the correct button to send her on her way; this is actually preferable during tougher sections of the game, because Flo will always run smoothly through the narrow spaces between tables. The other complaint I have is the fact that Expert level can be extremely difficult to get; I could’ve sworn I did one level almost perfectly and I still came up short. The good news is that the basic goal – the point total you need to hit to pass the level – is agreeable and not unduly challenging.
But in the end, things just felt weird. This may be the very first time where a game basically succeeded in bringing the concept to life, but as I indicated in the intro, the realistic counterpart to Diner Dash is being a constantly rushed waitress/waiter. So yeah, after a while, I started to get frustrated at the amount of people coming in the door, I got annoyed at the customers at the tables who just seemed to get more demanding (even though it was all in my head; each customer has a set time for ordering and eating), and I was just looking forward to closing time. I figure that’s exactly how a severely stressed waitress would feel so in that way, the developers got this right. But…is that fun? It’s really a strange situation, I must say. But in the end, the game is unique and entertaining at least for a few hours, and things get much more appealing when a second player is introduced.
Diner Dash is good…I think. It’ll tick you off but again, that’s good…I think. Maybe you’ll just have to play it to fully understand.
12/3/2009 Ben Dutka