It could be said that waitressing isn’t one of the most desired careers when choosing the relevant degree course. Ungrateful customers, dirty dishes, poor pay, worthless tips … these all come with the job. At this point you’re probably questioning why you’d want to play a game based on this hard and tiring vocation. The answer is a fun and fulfilling XBLA title, with more under the hood than might otherwise be expected in this cartoon world of catering.

To place this game in context, the player takes on the role of Flo, an overworked yet seemingly contented owner of an expanding diner empire. Her job is to keep the punters happy, obtained by seating them, taking their orders, serving their food, clearing their plates and sending them on their way, all before they get tired and miserable. This sounds like a very simple idea, but the execution has hidden depth, and to really succeed at the game requires an understanding on the more complex ideas, especially as things progress.

Initially the set-up is fairly simple; things start with four tables, some with four seats and some with two. The diners will turn up sporadically, never overwhelming the capacity, allowing Flo to cater for all her client’s needs.

Where things start to get exciting and involving is juggling all the tasks Flo has to do; yet there’s more to it than the simple ABC of seat, order, serve and clear. On the first few levels it’s possible to breeze through the proceedings, dealing with customers as they walk through the door, but in order to win on later and more demanding assignments, it’s better to perform the same task for numerous patrons at the same time; that is, seat everyone together, take orders together, serve food together and clear together. Often this requires keeping a number of people in the queue or sat at their tables, until the current diners have finished their meals.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds however. The longer people have to wait for service, the unhappier they will become. Each diner has a heart score above their heads; the more filled the bigger the tip. Ignore things for too long though and people will leave, snatching away vitally hard-earned points and making passing a level all the more difficult. High-scores are a matter of balancing chaining and customer satisfaction. The problem is Flo only has two hands and therefore can only balance so many tasks at once. It’s possible to grab empty plates and ordered meals at the same time, but get things in the wrong order (that is, visit the bins before the tables), and the chef will have to cook dinners all over again.

As thing progress, the game introduces different establishments, more tables, bigger groups of diners and fussier customers. Business men and women will give bigger tips, but they expect faster and more efficient service for their troubles. Further bonuses are scored for seating punters of different parties with the same colour clothing in the same chairs as previous patrons – consider it a keep-the-seat warm multiplier.

If things get boring on the single player side of things, there is the option of sharing the fun with others. Sadly, Diner Dash is yet another XBLA game that seems totally devoid of multi-player activity. It’s possible to sit at the lobby screen for an hour or more without seeing any action. It’s a shame because the multi-player aspect of the game has numerous modes that would surely provide good entertainment value; both co-op and competitive.

Given the rather simple concept Diner Dash represents, there’s a surprising amount of depth and strategy hiding beneath the dirty dishes. Whilst there is a somewhat repetitive nature to the gameplay, the frantic and hectic nature makes this game like Tapper on steroids. Despite being able to play this game for free on alternative platforms, it’s well worthy of the 800 MSPs asked – definitely one to check out.

Marty Greenwell

Marty has been gaming since the heady years of the ZX-81 and still owns most of the gaming systems purchased since those days, including the Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum, SNES, Jaguar, Dreamcast and GameCube. Being a collection junkie (or more accurately, hoarder), he buys more games than he can possibly play, far too many of which are still sealed in their packaging. Marty favours RPGs and Driving games when it comes to genres, and is possibly a little bit too addicted to Disgaea. When not gaming he’s out frightening OAPs on his motorcycle, clad in black leather.

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