Review: Diner Dash: Flo on the Go (Nintendo DS)

ddashcoverDiner Dash: Flo on the Go
Publisher: ZOO Games
Developer: ZOO Games
Genre: Casual/Simulation
Release Date: 11/03/2009

Oddly enough, I had never played a Diner Dash game before this showed up in the mail. It mostly has to deal with the fact that I don’t really get into too many casual games, though I do have some fun with them when I do. I’ve spent hours and hours on games like Peggle and Desktop Tower Defense, so I was hoping that Diner Dash would be another great addition to that list.

Then I saw the ZOO logo on the box.

For those of you who don’t know, ZOO kind of has a bit of a nefarious reputation with us. They’ve published some truly bad games and only the rare gem has managed to sneak by. I was fully expecting that when the time came for me to play a ZOO game, I would be experiencing one of the worst games of the year.

But this is Diner Dash! There’s no way they could screw it up!

Could they?

(And yes. I know the subtitle of the game was poorly chosen. We’ve all taken turns making fun of it.)

Modes

The setup for the game is pretty simple. Flo and her gal pal are getting ready to take a vacation from the restaurant business. They’re all set to board a cruise ship when the staff quits and Flo loses her luggage over the side of the boat. The captain offers them free passage and some cash if they run the kitchen, so Flo quickly agrees so that she can rebuild her wardrobe. This proceeds to happen at every one of the five locales you visit in the game. It was nifty enough the first time, but seriously, someone needs to handcuff that suitcase to the girl’s hand!

So first up is the story mode. Here you’ll partake in challenges in five different themed locations. You’ve got cruise ship, train, submarine, blimp, and finally outer space. Each locale has ten levels for you to complete which you must finish in order. If you beat it, you’ll be rewarded with upgrades or a new set of duds for Flo. You’ll get a star if you get an expert score, and overall it’s a pretty standard setup for this kind of game.

Once you’ve finished that, you have Endless Shift to play around with. This is basically a survival mode where you’re tasked with lasting as long as possible. After a set number of customers have gotten angry and left, the game is up and you’ve got your score for solace.

ddash1There’s even some multiplayer options available. You’ll need two systems and two games, though you won’t be playing on the same screen. Instead, you each run a restaurant while a meter on the top screen keeps track of each player’s progress. You can compete to see who can serve all of the customers the fastest, who can get the highest score, or play until someone loses a certain amount of customers. I don’t get why they couldn’t have thrown in a mode where you pass the DS back and forth, but at least there’s an option for multiplayer.

After that, there’s a tutorial you can view and an option to customize Flo’s outfit with the clothes you’ve earned in story mode. Its a pretty standard setup and another play mode or two would have been helpful. Still, there’s a decent amount of stuff to do in the game.

Graphics

This game didn’t handle the transition to the DS very well.

For starters, the game only uses the touch screen for the restaurant while the top screen is reserved for keeping track of your score. When you have somewhere between twenty to thirty customers sitting at tables all at once with another twenty or so in line waiting to be seated, it can get a bit cramped. There where several instances where it was hard to tell where one table ended and another began.

Worse though, is that the characters don’t look particularly good at all. Every customer of a certain type is identical with only a change in the color of their outfit to distinguish them. A bookworm looks like every other bookworm and a baby looks like any other baby. It makes a degree of sense in terms of gameplay. You need to be able to differentiate between types and all. Still, it doesn’t add up to an interesting looking cast.

Overall, the game looks just a bit drab. The colors aren’t very bright and the restaurant doesn’t look all that inviting. True, it gets better when you upgrade it, but even then it just isn’t very interesting to look at.

There is some charm to be had though. The facial expressions each character makes throughout the dining experience are detailed and recognizable. When customers get upset, smoke comes out of their ears. It’s not pleasant to see in terms of your score, but it’s kind of cool to look at when you’re playing. So while the graphics in the game aren’t very good at all, there is still something good to write home about.

Audio

There is one music track per themed restaurant. These aren’t too bad the first time, but they get real old real fast. I don’t know if I ever want to hear the train theme again. Also, for some reason, the audio is really quiet. I had the volume on my DS cranked all the way up and I could barely hear the game even though I was in a quiet house by myself. Headphones barely even helped.

There are only a few sound effects in the game. There’s the sound of crowd chatter when new customers come in, the sound of water spilling on the floor, babies crying, and occasional ding for when an order is ready. It’s a bare bones setup, but it gets the job done enough. Still, I hope never to hear the sound of multiple babies crying at once because I accidentally seated the family in a two seater and I can’t bring them a damn highchair to sit in.

This just isn’t a particularly good use of the DS’s capabilities.

Gameplay

Diner Dash hasn’t really changed, and that’s probably for the best.

Utilizing the stylus, you’ll seat customers, pick up order, deliver food, get the check , and bus the tables. It’s a simple setup, but there’s a lot more depth than you might realize. When the game starts throwing deserts, specials, high chairs, mops, drinks, color variations, and of course, different customer types your way, you’ll see there’s a ton of strategy required in addition to the reflexes.

ddash2Each level has a point goal you need to reach in order to complete it. If you finish below the goal, you’ll need to do the level over again. You rack up points by completing the various tasks I described earlier. What makes the game interesting is that you can score combos by performing the same task multiple times in a row with different customers. For instance, you get extra points if you deliver everyone’s food at the same time. Without the combos, you won’t make it far in the game.

Each customer has a color outfit on. When they sit in seat, that seat becomes that color. If you sit a new customer with that same color in that seat, you get a bonus. These bonuses stack, so if you keep putting a red customer in a red seat over and over again, the bonus points become extremely high. It does appear that the limit is four though. If you put a different color person in the seat, the color will change and the multiplier will reset.

There are a bunch of different customer types to manage. Couples will only sit in tables for two, the elderly are slow to order, families will need high chairs for the little ones, cell phone users will annoy the crap out of just about anyone, and tourists require special attention. Each customer type has a quality that sets them apart from the rest. Some are more patient, some will tip better, and others are best used as buffers. For instance, those wearing headphones are great to put between the cell phone user and the bookworm. Each group of customers has a heart meter that drops as they grow impatient, and raises as you serve them quickly. If the heart runs out, the customer leaves and you take a huge hit to your score. Customers that are waiting in line need to be watched for this reason.

Overall, the gameplay is nice. You can tap multiple things to set a flight plan of sorts for Flo to follow. You can tap several things in order instead of waiting for her to move from one table to another before you instruct her on where to go next. Not only is this a great time saver, but it gives you time to plan ahead even further.

The problem comes with the DS itself. The screen is simply to small to contain all of this action. It’s hard to be precise with the stylus when your tapping on something barely bigger than the head of a needle. Also, if there are large groups of customers near each other, it can be hard to touch the customer or table you intended. Apart from these issues, the game is pretty fun to play, though at times frustrating. This is a game clearly intended for the PC.

Replayability

Once you’ve worked your way through the game’s fifty levels, there really isn’t all that much to do.

Sure, you can compete again to try and get the expert scores, but there really isn’t any incentive to do so. There’s no leader board either in game or online to post them to. The only person who’s ever going to see them is yourself.

The extra modes will give you a good amount of extra time spent on the game, but don’t expect it to last you more than ten hours or so in total. Since each level will be the same every time, and there’s usually one best way to handle it, beating it once is good enough. This isn’t as good as something like Desktop Tower Defense where you can change strategies and use completely different tools. This will be the same experience for anyone who plays it.

You’ll get some fun, but you won’t come back to it anytime soon.

Balance

If you don’t use the chains and color combos properly, you will never win at this game. If you don’t plan ahead, you will get your butt handed to you repeatedly. If you sit a cell phone user in the middle of a group of bookworms, they will all get up and leave. This is not a particularly easy game.

However, once you get the podium, you can exploit it to create a powerful advantage. The podium allows you to refill the heart meter of those in line. You can use this to create a large line of people that you can sit all at once. This will usually allow you to create the kind of combos necessary to continue. However, once you get to about halfway through the fourth world, this trick alone isn’t able to save you.

Overall, this is a pretty tough game that you need to get good at before you can really get far.

Originality

This is the same old Diner Dash you’ve played before except now the scenery changes more often.

Addictiveness

I must say that the chaotic nature and the fact that you never get a moment’s rest is pretty enthralling. I would play the game several levels at a time and would usually only take a break when I got stuck or my wrist started to hurt. Even when I got stuck, there was a strong incentive to try again because I knew my strategy could work as long as I was able to execute it.

ddash3I was surprised at how much fun I ended up having with the game. It definitely has the secret power that causal games have. It sucks you in and you can be playing for awhile before you realize how long its been since you started. It’s not as strong as I’ve seen in other games, but it is definitely there.

Appeal Factor

The hardest sell for this game is that it is priced at an obscene thirty dollars. Given the nature of the game, it should have been no more than twenty. Even then, the PC version is only ten dollars and is better at pretty much everything this game does.

It’s also hard to recommend this game to anyone who’s been playing these games for years now. The series really hasn’t done much to bring in new players or entice old ones to keep playing. It’s nice and all that we can dress up Flo, but is that really enough to spend hard earned money on? I don’t know.

If you haven’t played a DD game yet, and you’re willing to spend that kind of money, this game has a pretty broad appeal. The chaotic and addicting nature of the gameplay will hook just about anyone. After all, that’s what it was intended to do.

Miscellaneous

Overall, I enjoyed this game, though it won’t be taking the place of anything in my DS carrying case for long. Like any casual game worth its salt, this game has a simple hook and a surprising amount of depth and strategy involved in its gameplay. It can also be addicting as hell.

I’m a bit bummed that there wasn’t some sort of single cart play included though. Even being able to pass the DS back and forth would have been welcome. I personally don’t know anyone who’d be willing to spend thirty bucks on this when there are so many great DS games on the shelves for the same price or less. This game just can’t compete with the overall quality of something like Kingdom Hearts or Mario and Luigi.

For my first ZOO game, this turned out pretty well. It’s obviously a better deal and a better time on the PC, but this could have been a lot worse.

The Scores

Modes: Above Average
Graphics: Poor
Audio: Poor
Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Decent
Final Score: Mediocre Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
diehardjackDiner Dash: Flo on the Go is a typical Diner Dash experience. The gameplay is fun and addicting, but there isn’t much else to the package at all. The presentation is poor, the bonuses are a wash, and it doesn’t have the legs of other games in its genre. That being said, the gameplay is good enough for you to try. If you’re willing to make a few sacrifices because of the DS’s limitations, then go for it. Otherwise, you can pass on this and grab the PC version instead.

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