Joe's Diner sounds compelling on paper: you're a new employee at a lonely diner on an abandoned stretch of highway. The diner is set atop an Indian burial ground and is rife with other-worldly activity; your goal is to survive through the night and by keeping the spirits at rest. Unfortunately, ideas don't always come out the way one might expect, and we're afraid Joe's Diner is a study in that fact.
In each of Joe's Diner's 30 stages the goal remains the same: work through your shift until 6am. During each shift you must keep the noise to a minimum or an angry spirit of an Indian Chieftain will kill you. Of course, it's not quite as simple as that; the mischievous spirit of a rival chief is bent on disturbing his arch enemy's eternal slumber, and will mess with you in order to ensure he gets his way.
The game consists of two tasks, bussing tables and turning off noisy devices turned on by poltergeists. Bussing tables is an irritating process as you are only able to carry a single item at a time, which you must deposit in the trash can in the back of the kitchen. Joe's Diner is presented in first-person, with the standard dual analogue setup used in most FPS titles - the gamepad's ZR button will make you run, while the A button is dedicated to picking up objects. Those are the only two functions in this game. There's no music to speak of, and the sound effects are often hard to discern, which can make keeping the place quiet more difficult than it should be.
Each shift takes a set amount of time, though it's not possible to tell exactly how long they are as there's no timer or clock to refer to. Shifts seem to take around five minutes apiece, making the entirety of Joe's Diner clock in at about two-and-a-half hours. Beating one shift opens up the next, and you can select any shift you've unlocked from the Load Game menu on the title screen, though the differences between each of them are minimal. The objectives never vary, nor are any new variables introduced at any point in gameplay. Distractions simply become more frequent and tables become dirtier.
The use of the word distractions is a deliberate choice. From the onset it's clear Joe's Diner is striving to be something akin to the popular PC franchise, Five Nights at Freddy's. For those unfamiliar with the series, Five Nights at Freddy's is a horror title set in an abandoned pizzeria, littered with creepy animatronics waiting to give you a good scare.
Unfortunately, Joe's Diner just is not scary. Should you fail and get killed by an angry Indian spirit you'll see a black and white drawing of the chief appear briefly on the screen. The accompanying sound effect doesn't hit hard and won't leave a lasting impression. The scariest thing about Joe's Diner, sadly, is its performance.
Visually, Joe's Diner is unremarkable. The diner itself is passable, with a few lights hanging overhead and textures that aren't bad, but nevertheless fail to impress. The objects all over the diner, however, look like they came straight out of a Nintendo 64 title; they're geometrically simple shapes with incredibly blurry textures wrapped around them. The visuals would be passable were it not also for the game's terrible performance.
Often while playing Joe's Diner we noticed the frame rate dipping considerably; it's puzzling as to why this would occur given the game's low-quality graphics. All the action in-game is also mirrored to the Wii U GamePad, which seems like a poor choice as the game is not well optimized. Other Wii U features are absent from the title.
Joe's Diner is a bad game with a good premise. What could have been a spooky supernatural thriller is instead a time management game trying to be something more. Bland graphics mixed with poor performance and failed attempts to induce fear make Joe's Diner a game that isn't worth playing. Save your hard-earned cash for a truly spooky Wii U game folks, because this one isn't it.