Dec 3, 2014

[Games] Diner Dash 2015 (Android)

Once upon a time before smart phones and the rise of mobile games, Yahoo Games was actually a thing. Yes, one of the best things about having a Yahoo account was being able to play all these different casual games via the Yahoo portal. It was through this gaming portal that I first discovered like Collapse! and Zuma.

Oh wow - Yahoo Games is still alive? How weird.

One of the games that ate up a lot of my free time was Diner Dash - there was something about the frenetic management of the different process steps in being Flo the waitress was just so compelling to me. And this year saw the release of the first free-to-play version for the franchise. And sadly, the brilliance of the core game concept has gotten a little lost behind all the things that make freemium games so horrible.

Diner Dash is a free-to-play mobile strategy and time management game published by PlayFirst, which is now owned by Glu Mobile. The first game was originally designed by Nicholas Fortugno.

The core concept behind Diner Dash remains largely unchanged over the years. You control Flo, a waitress in a cozy little diner and each stage represents a new opportunity to meet the challenge for the day. In her role, she has to run around the diner, seat customers, take orders, serve meals, collect payment and clear tables. Since she's human, she only has two arms (this sounds silly to declare, I know). And this means that she can only hold up to two objects in her hands - for example two orders or an order slip and a finished meal. Thus this becomes a major constraint.

Customers come in a wide variety of forms. At their most basic, they each wear a different colors of clothing and thus if you're able to seat them in chairs that match their outfits, you get bonus points. Characters also have different behaviors - some are quick to order but slow to eat. Others are highly impatient and need to be calmed down with coffee or other drinks. Each customer has three hearts that represent their current happiness and a customer that loses all three hearts will leave the diner without paying. And that's a bad thing.

As a free-to-play game or freemiun game, your ability to play levels is bound by a rather severe energy system. Seriously, you only have up to 3 energy at any time and it takes about 20 or so minutes to recharge. And the only way to get more energy to keep playing continuously either involves in-app currency called Dinero or through leveraging social connections through Facebook to give you more energy. It's a classic model, but capping energy at 3 is pretty unforgiving - especially given how the game plays out.

In addition, there's the option to use coins earned in the game to buy some appliances or decorations for the diner. I'm not sure if the decorations have an impact on your customers, but the appliances are pretty make-or-break. But most can't be purchased using the coins that you naturally earn in the game - most of the essential appliances require Dinero. And that sucks.

The core dynamic of the game is simple enough and relies on the tried and tested principles that has allowed the Diner Dash franchise to survive this long. But then they've stacked on more and more ridiculous side tasks that you need to perform that further delay your character and make things difficult. I can still understand customers who only drink coffee or decide to order snacks and desserts apart from the main dish - that still works and isn't entirely new to the franchise. But there are other stuff that annoy me to no end.

The first set of stages in the initial diner later include customers making quite a mess. Each splotch on the floor once encountered by Flo automatically causes her to stop and pull out the mop. I assume that a messy diner makes customers more upset, but I'm not really sure. In the second diner, they throw in a delivery guy who needs you first receive the package (during which Flo is stuck in one area), and then carry the boxes to an area in the back. If you don't, there's a chance that boxes will land in places that block you from reaching customers. And of course when you're carrying a box, you walk much slower. This is a stupid challenge.

The game naturally offers enticing items that can help like robots that mop or crabs that carry the crates for you. But you need to pay over 50 Dinero for each item. What's worse, items do not carry over between diners. So you might spend Dinero on really dressing up the first diner only to find that in the next series of stages, you are back to zero. This is a horrible experience. It reeks of just wanting to make money instead of finding a good balance of offering premiums that customers might actually want to purchase with minimal guilt.

There's still a lot of fun to be found in playing a game like Diner Dash and it's nice to see how far it has come over the years. But the heavy-handed freemium aspects to the game that are designed to gouge players for every last cent they can possibly bleed out from the player is just disgusting. Thus the game can only really rate 2 crazy rocket engines that threaten to blow away your customers plates out of a possible 5.

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