May 30, 2007 - There's a plethora of casual games out there on the Interwebs, but only a few of them manage to become viral crazes where everyone's forking out the cash for the full version. Once they hit that status, though, the videogame publishers take note -- a casual hit on the PC can easily convert into the same on the handheld. Just a few months ago Majesco released a handheld version of Cake Mania, and Eidos pounced on a similar game, both in design and in popularity, for both the Nintendo DS and PS. Diner Dash in either handheld form might not be as well-suited on the two systems, but there's a certain energy and intensity in the gameplay that makes this a tough and challenging, but somewhat addictive arcade-style game.
The design of Diner Dash follows Flo as she tosses the business suit and the stressful lifestyle of the white collar workforce, and takes a risk by buying a run-down diner and dons the apron as a short-order waitress. By keeping customers flowing through the door (see? We get the name reference!), fed and happy, you'll score enough points to make it to the next round where the customer base gets more complex -- grumpier, more numerous, and more demanding. It's all about speed -- keep up with the demand and you'll keep moving on.
There are tremendous similarities to Diner Dash and the "other" popular web game Cake Mania, which was ported to the Nintendo DS by Majesco just a few short months ago. But instead of baking cakes, it's about maintaining the demands of the people that wander into the diner. Seat them at the table, take their order, put their order in, serve the food, collect the money, and clear the table...all done at a rapid-fire pace. Do it quickly and you'll score the cash. Take too long and they'll leave in a huff -- and penalize you points (which, in the whole swing of things doesn't make sense since, other than running out on the tab, they didn't exactly steal from you). In later levels additional responsibilities are thrown into the mix: cleaning up spills and grabbing a highchair for the kids are two of the early ones. The pacing is far more intense than Cake Mania, and honestly, even though things can get incredibly hectic really early in the difficulty curve, the speed and energy really does make Diner Dash the better of the two designs.
The original idea was handled on the PC and a simple point, click, and drag interface that could keep up with the pace of the game: click and drag customers from the queue to the table, click on the tables, counter, and dishes to perform the needed task. For the portable, this interface has been converted to the Nintendo DS in a similar fashion, using the stylus in place of the mouse pointer and works pretty well. The downside is that the small screen fails to offer as much game real estate as the PC version, so players have to scroll the screen left and right between the customer line and the diner to keep pace. This doesn't hurt the game that much, or as much as the quirky touch screen sensitivity that'll occasionally get in the way when you're rapidly tapping locations on the screen.
Use the D-pad and shoulder buttons to guide Flo around the restaurant.
The PlayStation Portable, however, doesn't have equivalent controls so the programmers had to produce something that could give players the ability to keep up with the action: players cycle through locations with the D-pad and toggle options with the shoulder button. This is a far better option than having a virtual mouse cursor controlled with the analog stick, but let's be honest: it's so far away from the intuitive nature of the point and click design. Having to tap through the options makes Diner Dash a much more clunky experience -- you'll eventually get the hang of it, but these controls can't replace the game's original way of playing. The PSP's widescreen gave the designers all the real estate in the world to fit the entire map without the need for scrolling, but that's all the PSP version has over the DS game. The visuals are the same, and the PSP version even has sluggish loadtimes. In a head-to-head battle the DS game wins out.
Diner Dash doesn't have much in the way of variety; it's just a single design that keeps going and going, but like a good old-school arcade game its addictive nature makes it fun to come back to for quick sessions. There's also a multiplayer competitive mode against two systems, but you'll need a second copy of the game...and that's a shame and a little annoying considering how basic the visuals and audio are. It's hard to believe the developer couldn't sandwich a multiplayer version of Diner Dash to fit into a game or disk-free system for game sharing mode.
The one thing hurting Diner Dash is its price: at the release of the game it's a full-priced DS game and only a slightly reduced price for the PSP. That's far too much to pay for a game you can download in its original form for the PC at a much cheaper cost. In a few months it'll most likely come down to a more acceptable level ($20 bucks), and that's when you should pounce -- the game's fun and frantic, but it doesn't really offer much than its face-value production.
It's the PC game on the handheld. Right down to the simplistic imagery and minimal options.
Very basic art and character animation. Diner Dash definitely won't win awards in visuals.
Pretty much the same lounge music throughout the game. Not bad, but kind of repetitive.
Point and click has been turned into "cycle through the options), which doesn't work nearly as well. Still, you can get into the groove with a little training, and it ends up being pretty fun.
5.0 Lasting Appeal
It's a simple, but addictive, arcade-style game. There's a couple of modes including multiplayer, but this is more for the pick-up-and-play-in-stints crowd.