Diner Dash is a six-year old casual PC game with plain Jane visuals and simple time management challenges. It can be fun — Diner Dash has sold millions of copies since its release and you don’t usually do that unless you’ve got something special. But WiiWare might not be the ideal place to play these sorts of folksy PC games. They seem to make more sense in short bursts as you kill time at work rather than something you settle into your couch in your living room to play.
Is “multitasking” one of the skills on your resume? If not, then it should be after you’ve spent some time with Diner Dash. Flo has left her corporate gig to open a diner and you’ll need to help her get customers seated, get them fed, then get them out the door quickly before the people waiting in line get too upset and leave. Ech level has a monetary goal that needs to be reached or else you’ll have to try it again. It’s the same design you’ve probably played on PC but some precision of control has been lost in the translation. Now that you’re controlling Flo with a Wii remote and nunchuk instead of a mouse it can be a little tricky getting her to select the right people or items. There are hot keys for most of the diner areas, though, which helps a bit.
Whereas many videogames indulge our fantasies by giving us supernatural powers or allowing us to explore other dimensions, Diner Dash is planted right in the middle of our reality. What could be more ordinary than waiting tables? But there is a part of the design that doesn’t make a bit of sense. Customers are color coordinated and you’ll earn more tips if you continually seat people of the same color in the same seats. So, basically, Diner Dash is an exercise in segregation. Why else would the player be concerned with what color people are sitting where?
There are six types of customers, each with their own behaviors: senior citizens aren’t impatient but they’re not great tippers, for instance. I could definitely use more variety in the patrons’ appearances. There is only one old person, one business woman, and one college student, so your restaurant is filled with clones. The same problem appears in the multiplayer game, where Flo’s twin sister shows up to help out. All of these doppelgangers, along with the drab restaurant interiors, make for a bland visual experience. Diner Dash actually looks better in the 2D original on PC and iPhone.
As you reach your monetary goals Flo will purchase upgrades to her restaurants that give you more options for keeping customers happy. For example, once you have a coffee pot customers will be willing to wait longer for their food if they’ve got a cup of Joe to sip on. But these upgrades are all automatic and it would have been more compelling to let the player customize their restaurant and decide which improvements they want to purchase. You can do so in the multiplayer games, but not the single-player career.
Even though Diner Dash is the epitome of what we consider to be casual games, it does become wickedly challenging. The most impatient people on the planet tend to visit your restaurant and scarcely five seconds will have gone by before they’re wondering where their food is. There are a variety of strategies you can try: should you focus your attention on the demanding business women? Should you linger at the hostess station and chat up guests that are waiting in line? Is it worth it to run coffee to that table that is about to leave? Chaining one particular task gets you a higher score, so should you wait for the next table to be done or just go ahead and take a few more orders? It’s a lot for one person to handle, which is why I particularly like the two-player co-op mode. Here, you have to communicate and divvy up tasks with your co-worker — just like a real restaurant. This mode is particularly satisfying and it’s a shame two people can’t play through the regular story together. You can play cooperative and versus games online, though.
There is a reason Diner Dash is so popular — the simple time management exercise is addictive and it can be very satisfying when you get an efficient restaurant up and running. But what makes for a perfect casual PC game doesn’t necessarily translate well to the living room. This is a six-year old game that millions of people have already played, so it’s not the most exciting WiiWare release. The visuals are also pretty bland and the controls can be finicky. There is fun to be had, though, particularly with the cooperative multiplayer mode (which is available online). Diner Dash on WiiWare will best be enjoyed by people who haven’t played the PC original or its many sequels and are in the mood for something light.