PlayFirst’s best-selling PC casual game Diner Dash has already appeared on every important portable platform, including the Nintendo DS, Sony PSP, and mobile phones; now it’s come to the iPhone as well, courtesy of Super Monkey Ball developer Other Ocean Interactive. Diner Dash’s whiteknuckle multitasking is as fun as it’s ever been on the iPhone, which seems almost like it was custom-built to play this kind of game. The game’s lackluster presentation is a bit of a disappointment, though.
The Diner Dash franchise, along with a veritable army of clones, has spread the time-management genre to the four corners of the gaming world; even so, we’ll go through a quick recap in case you’re unfamiliar. You play as Flo, an ex-corporate drone who’s packed in her desk job to open a diner. Nobody ever said the restaurant business was easy, but it’s even harder on poor Flo, because she’s the only waitress in the place. That means you have to seat customers, take their orders, get the orders to the kitchen, deliver the food, drop off the checks, and clear the tables–always in that order, and always at a sprint, because customers don’t like waiting, and will leave in a huff if they’re not seated and served promptly. The worse your service gets, the less money you earn, and if you don’t pass a certain threshold by closing time, you don’t make it to the next shift.
The job’s not so bad when you only have a table or two to manage at a time, but before long, you have to deal with six to eight tables, and lines of customers out the door. Entirely new considerations start to enter the gameplay mix, too. For instance, different archetypes of customers will appear that have different attributes–senior citizens are more patient, but lousy tippers, while businesswomen are exactly the opposite. In addition, the game rewards you for moving as efficiently as possible with a “chain bonus” that starts adding up if you complete multiple actions of the same type in a row; you are also rewarded for seating customers in chairs that match the color of their clothing. These bonuses become a very important factor later in the game, when you need to eke out every last cent to pass a level. Finally, you occasionally get new equipment that helps you manage customers, like drinks to placate unhappy diners, and a podium from which you can distract customers waiting in line for a table.
Diner Dash’s touch screen controls work very, very well. You move Flo around the restaurant by simply tapping the various tables and stations with your thumb. It takes next to no practice to become proficient to a point where the limiting factor is no longer your dexterity, but how quickly your mind can process all the tasks you need to keep track of. One area that could use a slight tuneup is the manner in which you seat customers in specific chairs. To do this, the game zooms in on the particular table, and you rotate the group of customers through the various configurations by moving your thumb slightly; this method breaks down a little when you have to seat larger groups, or smaller groups at big tables, and this can interfere with your color bonus.
Diner Dash also packs plenty of content. Career Mode has 50 levels in all, spread across a bunch of themed restaurants, while Endless Mode tests your endurance in a single session. That’s enough to keep anyone busy for a while, especially if you go for the Expert goal on every level.
The game’s only real weak spot is its graphics, which don’t match up with the rest of the package. The character sprites may have a lot of animation, but they’re on the small side and rather blurry to boot. Also, the backgrounds look kind of washed out, and the game’s text is difficult to read and sometimes not very well centered. Meanwhile, the sound effects are good and the snippets of music are catchy, but they don’t quite catch the beat when looping.
We hope that the developer can clean up the presentation in a bit in an update, because Diner Dash is a great game otherwise. If you enjoyed playing it on another platform, you certainly won’t regret spending $9.99 on it in the App Store. If you haven’t tried it before, and you like fast-playing puzzle games, we recommend giving it a shot.