Diner Dash Review
Posted by Sean Aaron
From the description you might think Diner Dash is a throwaway mini-game: guide office block refugee Flo through her dream job of running her own chain of restaurants with gameplay centred around seating customers, keeping them happy and getting big tips. It's best not to write it off as it's actually quite a fun game (think Tapper on steroids) that has enjoyed success on PCs for quite some time. Whilst it would seem a natural fit for the Wii, it's sadly let down by controls and graphics that appear to be the result of porting the game from another console rather than playing to the Wii's strengths.
After a brief comic-book style intro showing our heroine getting fed-up with office life and deciding to take her chances opening a diner you can get right down to the game itself. You'll need to play through Story Mode to unlock extra restaurants for play in Endless Mode: playing through 10 levels of increasing difficulty in each premises before moving on to the next.
Each restaurant starts out slow with a few small tables seating either two or four patrons. Customers come in, you seat them, they order, you take their tickets to the kitchen, the chef cooks up the food, you take the food to the tables, customers eat, settle up and you clear the plates in an effort to meet the target takings for the day. Sounds pretty simple, but it actually gets challenging pretty quickly and is complicated by the fact that you have a diverse clientele with varying levels of patience and generosity.
Diner Dash isn't shy of stereotypes when it comes to the kinds of customers you'll have passing through your doors: seniors are more patient, but tip less; business people are bigger tippers, but always in a hurry; young people fall in-between and there's also the odd restaurant critic coming in to give you a boost if you treat them right. If you don't get any stage of their dining experience completed in a timely fashion they can get rather annoyed, losing a heart from the metre above their heads. If they completely lose their rags they'll leave and with a finite number of diners passing through your doors on each day you can't afford to let that happen too often; after a few failed attempts to bring home the bacon your game is over.
Thankfully there's help in the form of restaurant upgrades which are introduced at every new stage thanks to re-investing your earnings to expand your trade. Extra tables means fewer customers wait to be seated, drinks are made available to make the impatient a little less grumpy and a podium where you can chat up the waiting would-be diners adds that human touch to mollify people who continue to queue up to chow down on your wares. There are still more upgrades that appear later in the game adding further complexity or giving you more tools to satisfy your growing trade.
You get bonuses for performing similar tasks, so there's a decent amount of strategy in seating your customers as they all order and eat at different speeds. Ideally you'll want to be taking all orders, bringing food and collecting cash from each table at the same time. The owner/proprietor can only carry two things at once and less satisfied customers can tip less, so you'll sometimes have to make a choice between a lower tip and a bonus multiplier or worse, risk someone leaving the premises altogether. In the upper stages multipliers are essential to meeting the increasing daily targets; especially if you're unable to juggle the various tasks effectively and people start walking away.
Endless Mode is essentially the same as Story Mode, only you choose one of the restaurants unlocked in Story Mode and stay there the entire time. Upgrades are made available to you as you reach earnings targets. Every time an upgrade is available you'll see a flashing bar at the top of the screen and pressing the Plus button will present a choice of three to put into play. Some of the upgrades have better versions available which are exclusive to Endless Mode, such as better cookers to speed up food preparation or improved stereo systems to make diners a little less impatient, but you'll also have access to all the upgrades from Story Mode like extra tables and drinks stations.
A bonus for the console version of Diner Dash is the inclusion of multiplayer modes you can play locally against a friend or online with up to six other players (four teams of two at four different Wiis). There are local options for co-op or versus play with full access to all the restaurants (no need to have previously unlocked them in Story Mode) with players competing to either reach a set earnings target or be the one with the most money at the end of the shift. We weren't able to get into any online matches, however there's no lobby area evident and we expect that use of friend codes and offline match arranging will be needed to participate in team play via Wi-Fi Connect, as seems to be the case with many online Wii games. Whilst online will be the main temptation for fans of the original game, they might be in for a rude shock thanks to some rather lacklustre controls.
Given the original version on PCs is a simple mouse-driven point-and-click affair, you'd think the developers would take advantage of the Remote's IR pointer as the natural analogue for the same kind of input, but sadly that's not the case. Instead, for reasons we cannot fathom, Wii owners are saddled with the same clunky interface as players of the Xbox Live Arcade version. You move Flo with the Nunchuck's analogue stick and click A to perform actions, whilst different directions on the D-Pad are used as "hot buttons" to direct Flo to the ticket counter, customer queue, or dish cart without manually moving her.
The promotional literature indicates that there's an optional "point-and-click style" control scheme, but this is grossly misleading if not an outright falsehood. The "third" control scheme offered (there are technically two using direct control of Flo with the Nunchuk, but other than one missing a hot button for the queue we couldn't see any difference between them) is called "Cursor Control" - a slight misnomer since there's actually no cursor used. Instead of moving Flo directly you move the stick to highlight different areas on the playfield, pressing A to make Flo run there. Whilst this is supposed to appeal to people used to playing with the mouse on their computers, it's actually more awkward than directly controlling the character since you have no cursor or point of reference. It's sure to be a big turn-off for players used to the ease and precision of the mouse-based controls of the original and just makes us even more frustrated and confused over the lack of pointer support.
The analogue stick control works well enough generally, but when things start getting hectic, it's all too easy to get hung up on a table edge or be slightly off from the trigger point for picking up a customer order. The "hot buttons" aren't terribly useful since Flo doesn't move any quicker and you're more likely to hit the wrong button than steer Flo wrong with the Nunchuk, making us wonder why the attachment is needed at all. We're left feeling like we were given a downgraded port of the Xbox Live version of the game, so much so that we wouldn't have been surprised if the game required use of the Classic Controller for play. The "downgraded port" feeling is only reinforced when it comes to the game's visuals.
Whilst the artwork in the intro and menus has a decent, if simple, cell-shaded look, the game itself is a bit lacking in detail. You can readily tell the different patron types from each other and what other objects are, but the cracks start to show when the pace picks up. The isometric perspective and close grouping of tables in later stages can make it difficult to quickly spot the difference between patrons looking at menus and holding them up to indicate they want their orders taken. Even worse is the tiki lounge where the light coloured tables are the same shade as the plates resulting in situations where you may have missed a table during a rush; later wasting precious seconds attempting to seat people and being blocked because you haven't cleared the old dishes yet. It feels like the developers failed to put any effort into making the game look its best on the Wii and simply turned down the resolution on the Xbox graphics.
Diner Dash is a fun game and a well-executed concept on the PC which could have been faithfully ported to WiiWare simply by swapping mouse for Remote and adding NES-style control for a manual alternative. Instead we have unnecessary use of the Nunchuk and visuals which certainly could have been better rendered on the Wii than they are. Whilst we're able to work around these faults and enjoy the game, we feel they're significant enough problems that we cannot recommend Diner Dash on the Wii without reservation. Fans of the PC game may be drawn to the availability of online play, but swapping a mouse for an analogue thumbstick will likely prove a significant barrier to enjoyment for many.