Diner Dash for mobile phones is a handheld version of the PC game of the same name. It's a deceptively simple game that's easy to pick up, but difficult to master. Diner Dash is essentially a test of your multitasking skills, requiring you to seat customers, take and deliver orders, clear tables, and more. It sounds easy enough, and, in fact, the earlier levels aren't too challenging. But the difficulty ramps up steadily as you take on more tables to serve with more customers to keep satisfied. The simplicity, combined with the increasing difficulty, makes Diner Dash a fun and addictive game for just about anyone.
Diner Dash is about a young entrepreneur named Flo, who decides to open her own diner. As Flo, you have to sling hash to picky and impatient customers as quickly as possible to earn cash, which you can then use to purchase restaurant upgrades and eventually open other restaurants. There are two modes available, but the basics are the same for both.
In career mode, you start out with a diner and work your way through shift after shift, eventually earning enough money to purchase a new restaurant. There are three restaurants in the game, each with 10 shifts to complete. Each shift has a minimum cash goal that you must achieve to move on. There's also an expert cash goal that you can try to achieve if you're feeling particularly dashy, but most of the time the minimum goal is a pretty respectable challenge on its own. As you progress through the shifts for a given restaurant, you'll also earn upgrades for that restaurant. These upgrades are added touches, like coffee machines and a maitre d' podium where you can chat with guests to keep them patient as they wait to be seated.
Keeping your customers happy is the crux of Diner Dash, and the best way to do this is to not keep them waiting. When a shift starts, customers will show up in groups of one to six, and you have to seat each group, take the order, give the order to the chef, take the food to the table, take the check to the table, clear the dishes, take the dishes to the dishwasher, and then seat another group to do it all over again. Each table and station has a key associated with it, so you'll make use of most of the number pad. The controls are tight and intuitive, although the small buttons on the Sony Ericsson S710a handset we used resulted in some wrong button presses. The challenge comes when you're servicing six tables at a time, and the action gets very frantic as you try to juggle so many tasks at once. If you neglect customers, they'll eventually get fed up and leave, which costs you a lot of money.
There are several different types of customers to be served, each with his or her own unique demands and characteristics. Senior citizens, for example, are very patient, but they're miserly tippers. On the other hand, business women are always in a hurry, but they're big tippers, so it pays to keep them happy. Most of the customers are color coded, and once you seat them at a table, the seats will take on the same color. If you seat subsequent customers in seats that already have their color, you'll get a cash bonus. This bonus cash is critical in some of the later levels of the game, so it's not as simple as sitting the next customer in line at the first available table.
You can also earn bonus cash by setting up combos. You get a combo when you perform the same action multiple times in quick succession. So if you deliver three orders to three tables in a row, you'll get bonus cash for each table you deliver food to beyond the first. This combo system is strictly for bonus earnings early in the game. However, in later stages, you have to maximize your combo bonuses just to meet the minimum cash goal, which adds yet another bit of strategy to the way you play.
If you want to skip the career mode, you can choose to play an endless shift to see how much money you can rack up. You start out with four stars in endless shift mode, and each time a customer leaves unhappy, you lose a star. You lose when you are all out of stars. As you progress, you also increase your level, and customers start to line up and get cranky faster. When you advance a level, you also earn an upgrade. When this happens, you can push a button to bring up a menu from which you can purchase things like running shoes to make Flo move faster, a radio to keep the seated customers complacent, and all the same upgrades you can earn in career mode.
The graphics in Diner Dash are colorful and clear, although the backgrounds are a bit sparse. That isn't a problem, though, since you have to remain so focused on keeping customers happy that there's no time to appreciate any fancy visual touches anyway. The sound is pretty much nonexistent. The only sort of noise you'll ever hear is a brief jingle when you start the game and a couple of nondescript chimes here and there that are completely unnecessary. Again, this isn't much of a problem, because you can play the game muted without missing anything and without bothering the people around you.
Diner Dash is a fun and addictive game that is perfectly adapted to the mobile phone. If you enjoyed the game on the PC, you'll definitely be satisfied with the mobile version, as it doesn't feel like a compromise at all. In fact, the simplicity of the keypad controls almost makes the game better on the phone than on the PC. Diner Dash won't blow your mind, but it's a good way to kill a few minutes or a few hours when you're looking for a fast and challenging diversion on the go.