Review: DinerTown Tycoon (PC)

DinerTown Tycoon
Genre: Simulation/Puzzle
Developer: PlayFirst
Publisher: PlayFirst
Release Date: 05/05/09
Minimum System Requirements: OS: Windows XP SP1+2/Vista (Mac: OS X 10.4 and 10.5), Processor: Pentium 4 1.2 Ghz or better (Mac: G4 800 MHz or better), Memory: 256MB or more.
Buy it Here: PlayFirst.

The management simulation genre is the sort that mostly appeals to detail-oriented folks who enjoy micromanaging things and building up from humble beginnings into super-stardom. Aside from the odd Sim City and Theme Park game, most of these sorts of products aren’t going to attract casual folks. This is mainly because they’re a bit more of a time-investment than someone who only acquires four games a year is going to be interested in bothering with. Diner Dash, on the other hand, is more of a casual gamer’s product: it’s fast, frantic, good for all ages, and generally offers quick, satisfying enjoyment that can be played in small or large doses. DinerTown Tycoon, surprisingly enough, is an attempt to cross-breed those two types of gameplay in an attempt to offer up something with enough micro-management empire-building play to satisfy the management sim crowd while also offering enough fast-paced clicking play for the more casual crowd. While it doesn’t quite succeed at doing enough to completely please both sides of this equation, it’s actually not a bad idea and manages to do just enough to be interesting, if not amazing.

There’s a new food establishment moving into DinerTown by the name of Grub Burger (complete with a smiling grub for a mascot). Grub Burger is the evil corporate empire of the story, and the mayor wants nothing to do with their mass-produced products until he’s convinced to try one, which suddenly and astonishingly changes his mind. This is because of Ingredient X, the secret ingredient in Grub Burgers that makes them tasty and, incidentally, makes them glow neon green. Yep. So Grub Burger moves into town and completely takes over the food service industry until Flo and company decide to take the town back by way of making the best food possible to sway public opinion. The story is explained in little comic book cutscenes between sessions. While it’s basic and completely stereotypical (The evil corporation is evil, their food is horrible, and Ingredient X is bad stuff. The usual.), it’s cute enough to keep things going and does what it needs to do.

Visually, DinerTown Tycoon is simple but charming. The cities and characters are bright and colorful, and everything looks cute and happy. Even the bad guys are charming, though they’re designed in such a way as to be shadowy evildoers, so it’s a menacing kind of cute. The visuals are simplistic, which is both good and bad. On one hand, the simplistic designs are charming on their own way, but on the other, they’re also not really anything fantastic technologically speaking, and they all kind of run together after a little while. The audio is in much the same position. The tracks are cute and fit the tone of the game well, but it gets a bit repetitive as a lot of the songs are re-used in multiple sections of the game. Unfortunately the music isn’t anything outstanding or attention-catching on its own. Both the visuals and the audio do the job they’re intended to do, nothing more, and while that isn’t a bad thing, it isn’t a great thing, either.

The gameplay in DinerTown Tycoon is one part resource management and one part frantic clicking, but it’s easy enough to adjust to after a few minutes. At the start of each day, you restock your ingredients, purchase your recipes, buy ads or new restaurants, and generally prep your business for that day. Once done, you start your day and watch as the teeming masses pour forth to buy from your restaurants, monitor their responses and collect their tips. At the end of the day, you’re shown how many of each type of person visited your restaurants that day, as well as how far away Grub Burger is from taking complete control of the area. Your goal is always the same: serve X number of each customer type to take back control of the city from Grub Burger. The amounts of people and types of customers you’ll see in each area differ in tastes from location to location, which makes learning their tastes paramount to your success, as does managing your resources and money appropriately. This might all sound a little confusing at first, but honestly, it’s not hard to work around after you get used to it, as most of the interface is quite streamlined and easy to navigate.

Starting out each day, you’ll be hopping between four screens. The first screen shows you your customer’s served and Grub Burger’s overall performance, both to show you how close you are to winning AND losing. From here you can also buy market research for each customer type, to see what ingredients they like best so as to better entice them to buy from you. The next screen shows you the daily news, to give you an estimated customer turnout, the desirable ingredient of the day, and the Chef’s Challenge, which you can try to accomplish to slow down Grub Burger’s progress. The third screen type allows you to manage your restaurants, and you’re given a different management screen for each restaurant you own. You’ll be able to view each restaurant’s general statistics (chef name, items sold, customers unhappy, etc.), their menus, their decorations and your general ingredient inventory, which is shared between all of your restaurants. You can buy new recipes and decorations from this section, which will help you attract customers to your restaurant. New recipes will attract people who like the ingredients in the dishes you serve, while new decorations will attract more people in general. Every time you buy a new recipe, you’ll have to buy the ingredients you need for that dish, and at the end of every day you’ll have to re-stock for the next day, or re-stock MORE if you sold out of something. You can also dictate the price of each item on the menu of each restaurant, meaning you can charge less for unpopular items or charge more for items that are in high demand that day, in case you want to try and earn a little extra dough. The final screen shows you the neighborhood and allows you to buy new restaurants and advertisements (mobile and stationary) that can entice customers to your shop.

After you’ve finalized your choices for the day, you click to start the day, and that’s when everything speeds up. Customers will start pouring in from all directions to spend their money in one of the restaurants. Depending on your menu for the day, your advertising, and your decoration rating. Your decorations and advertising are fairly straight-forward. Customers will be more likely to be swayed to visit your restaurants if they pass by advertisements or if the restaurant is nicely decorated, and if not, they won’t. The menu, on the other hand, is a little more complicated. Part of your menu appeal comes down to having the in-demand ingredient of the day incorporated into your recipes. If you have recipes that feature this ingredient, people will flock to your restaurant to have some, and if you don’t, they won’t. The other part comes from catering to general customer tastes, meaning that every customer has certain ingredients they like, and having menu items that incorporate those tastes will attract those specific types of customers. Thus, having chicken on the menu on a day when it’s the in-demand ingredient will both attract customers who specifically like chicken AND people looking for the in-demand item of the day, making it readily desirable to have on the menu. As people go to your restaurants, they will either come out happy or unhappy, giving you an indication of how you’re doing. Unhappy customers will either be unhappy with the price of something or will complain that an ingredient is out of stock, and you can move the mouse over them to investigate that complaint. Happy customers will mostly just show up with hearts over their heads, but occasionally will show up with a coin over their head, and a fast click on these customers will earn you a tip for exceptional service. You’ll also occasionally see Flo running around the neighborhood, and a fast click on her will cause her to advertise for you for no charge, though she only shows up randomly. At the end of each day, you’re shown a tally of how many of each customer type you served that day. Every time you satisfy a customer type, they thank you for your existence and give you a gift of either money, ingredients or a new ad type. You’ll then move on to the next day and start over again until you succeed or fail.

There are five sections of the town to liberate from Grub Burger’s grip, and depending on your business management skills and the speed you play at, you should be able to complete all five in about four to six hours. You’ll earn different trophies as you complete various tasks, and you will more than likely have to go through the game a couple of times to earn them all. You can go back to the various locations and play them again as well, so if you liked a particular setup you’re more than welcome to go back and try it again to earn more cash or stomp out Grub Burger faster. The game is mostly quite well balanced from start to finish, and you’ll find that as you progress the challenge ramps up by charging more for ingredients, restaurants and ads, requiring you to wow more customers, and other things. The challenge is by no means oppressive, thankfully, so you probably won’t spend more than two or three tries on a location before you complete it.

Now, despite the fact that DinerTown Tycoon features some simulation management elements, it is not an in-depth simulation management experience. This is both a blessing and a curse as casual players will find the sim experience easy to deal with and manage, but actual fans of the genre will find this a good bit underdeveloped and linear for their tastes. Someone looking for a straight puzzle game might also find it unfriendly trying to manage their cash flow and their recipe prices when all they wanted to do was, well, play something like Diner Dash. The sort of person who kind-of sort-of likes Sim City and kind-of sort-of likes Diner Dash will most likely love DinerTown Tycoon, as it’s a little bit of both mixed together. However it’s hard to recommend to someone who loves one and loathes the other. Also, while it’s nice that you can go back and goof around with the different cities after you’re done, there’s no new variety to be found or higher difficulties to attempt/. This means you’ll just be playing through the same sections over again, which gets boring no matter how cute the presentation.

Frankly, DinerTown Tycoon is interesting and inexpensive enough to be worth checking out if you’re fan of both Tycoon-type games and Diner Dash-type games, but if you’re only a fan of one or the other, or not a fan of either one, you might want to check out a demo first. The product is presented well, simple enough to play without much effort, fun enough to keep your interest and just long and challenging enough to justify the price. It’s kind of hard to recommend to someone who isn’t a fan of management simulation or frantic puzzle games, and there’s unfortunately not nearly enough reason to come back to it once you’ve completed it, but if you’re okay with that, you’ll find that DinerTown Tycoon is a cute, enjoyable experience that’s worth checking out.

The Scores:
Story: ABOVE AVERAGE
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: GOOD
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: ABOVE AVERAGE
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
DinerTown Tycoon is a weird amalgamation of management simulation and fast-clicking puzzle game that’s interesting and enjoyable, but not for everyone. The presentation is nice and the gameplay is easy to pick up, and fans of both genres should have a good amount of fun from start to finish. The game is a bit limited in depth at times, and may not satisfy someone who is a fan of one genre but not the other, as it’s kind of a jack-of-all-trades, genre-wise, and it doesn’t really offer enough to interest a twitchy puzzle game fan or a dedicated management sim player. Frankly, though, it’s fast-paced fun that’s easy enough to pick up and play around with, and for the price, it’s worth it if you’re a casual fan of Sim City or Diner Dash.

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