One by one, storied casual gaming franchises have made their way onto Facebook. Diner Dash, by PlayFirst, is the latest, with a Facebook rendition that keeps the fast-paced time management of the original games with a layer of gameplay additions that take advantage of the social platform.
For those not familiar with the original, Diner Dash is all about well-timed clicks. You play as Flo, a down-to-earth waitress who’s usually faced with some greater challenge than just waiting tables — more on that in a moment. While Flo is doing her job, she must satisfy an entire restaurant full of customers, all with their individual habits and quirks.
Each customer, or group of customers, follows the same four steps: they must be seated, have their order taken, be served, have their check delivered, and then their table cleaned and bussed. The problem is that each set of customers moves through each step at a different pace. They also have a heart rating that determines their tip. For the most part the number of hearts they have at the end is determined by how fast Flo can meet their needs.
After a couple easy rounds, the starting restaurant — Darla’s, named after a San Francisco diner — starts to fill up with tables, encouraging flurries of clicking that would rival any arcade game. Aside from graphical differences this part is much like other Diner Dash games, except that you aren’t directly paid your tip money; instead, you receive a set amount based on a tiered ranking system at the end of the “shift”. You also get a second character besides Flo, meant to represent yourself, who works in the kitchen.
Around this core, PlayFirst has built up the standard elements of social gaming. Working a shift requires energy: for Darla’s, five energy each shift, which runs out quickly since you only have a total of 10 energy to start.
A partial solution to this energy shortage is the park. An ongoing Diner Dash villain, Mr. Big, has filled the park with trash, toxic waste and construction equipment, which, at least according to the story, is driving potential customers away. Flo’s earnings go toward cleaning and beautifying the park.
The typical energy mechanic is flipped around here, as you actually gain energy from cleaning up the park. Each bottle, construction cone, or bulldozer you “clean” gives you one energy. In the beginning of the game, this gives a seemingly endless source of energy, allowing shift after shift at the restaurant.
This bounty is short-lived, though, as we found out after just a few minutes of playing. Once you’ve put Mr. Big’s exploits to shame by rampaging through your initial trash resource, only the occasional piece will appear, resulting in a sudden and drastic slowdown in play. Placing decorations doesn’t seem to reward any energy, either, even though some cost a substantial number of Credits.
It’s reasonable that PlayFirst should try to find some way to monetize its players, but in its current state the park feels tacked-on. This could be corrected with a more generous allocation of energy, which seems to work fine for PopCap with its two arcade titles on Facebook, or a clearer way to earn more energy in the park, even if that meant buying premium currency decorations. For now, if you want to pay for anything, it’s best to just direct your money toward energy refills.
The last part of the game to note are the additional restaurants. Five are shown on screen, with only Darla’s available at first; Tony’s Ristorante can also be unlocked for 30 Credits, while the other three are yet to come. To repeat a point, players might feel short-changed if they buy Tony’s, since the six energy required for shifts will quickly run out.
Diner Dash is still small for now, with only about 26,000 monthly active users. But PlayFirst is almost certainly aware of all the issues, including the numerous technical glitches that currently plague the park, and likely hasn’t orked to promote the title yet. Luckily, the core gameplay looks and feels great. Once Diner Dash is more polished, it will have the potential to reach millions of players, just like its previous incarnations.