Worn down by stress, an overbearing boss, the daily grind of a 9-to-5, or a combination of all three, many people have fantasized about quitting their jobs and setting out to do what they love. Such is the premise of Diner Dash, where you control Flo, a young woman who quits her desk job and opens a restaurant. Diner Dash's premise is quite simple, but the gameplay is fast-paced and fun. Unfortunately, though, the game is short on depth and there's little to keep you coming back for more once you've finished the main course.
Diner Dash starts off with a tutorial level that teaches you the basics of running your restaurant. At the beginning of each day you're given a monetary goal that you must reach or otherwise do the level over. When customers enter the restaurant, you take them to a table. When they're done reading the menu, you go to their table, jot down their order, and deliver it to the kitchen. When the order is ready, you take it to the table, wait for them to finish, take their payment, and bus the table. Customers' satisfaction is conveyed by a heart-shaped meter that empties every time they're disappointed. If it's completely empty, they'll walk out and you'll probably fail the level. Conversely, the fuller the meter, the more money you'll earn.
This sounds easy, and at first it is, but things quickly get hectic. You'll have to juggle multiple tables at the same time, and the eight different types of guests each have their special needs. Families will need a high chair; patrons with reservations will need to be sat at specific tables; and any finicky restaurant critic who comes by will require extra-close attention. Seniors are slow eaters and bad tippers; bookworms are patient but hate noise; and the mobile-phone addict eats fast and is noisy, but is a good tipper. You can improve customers' moods by bringing coffee to the table or by hiring entertainment, but the true path to success--and the challenge--lies in staying organized and chaining tasks together. For example, rather than taking one plate of food from the kitchen at a time, you'll want to take two plates and drop them both off while you're out on the floor. Once you've dropped those off, you might want to bus two tables simultaneously. You don't necessarily save a whole lot of time this way, but you do earn a bonus, which is sometimes the difference between passing and failing a level.
The PSP and DS versions control differently, but the objectives are the same. On the DS you simply use the stylus to tap an item or person and Flo will go there. It can be difficult to seat guests on the DS version, and the screen is so small you'll sometimes mistap something, but for the most part the DS controls much better than the PSP. On the PSP you use the D pad to maneuver a cursor around the restaurant and then press X to select the highlighted person or item. The basics are easy enough, but having to tap the D pad until you highlight the appropriate item wastes valuable time. Holding down the L or R buttons to seat people or clear dishes isn't exactly difficult, but it makes the controls a little more complicated than they need to be.
While it lasts, Diner Dash is enjoyable, even if it is repetitive. Trying to juggle a seemingly endless number of tasks and then successfully finishing a day is personally quite rewarding, and you really get a sense of accomplishment from doing so. Unfortunately, there's not much to do once you've beaten the game's six restaurants and approximately 70 levels. You can play endless mode, and there are a few multiplayer game types where you can try for the highest score, serve a certain number of customers first, or see who can go the longest before losing three customers.
Diner Dash's simple visuals get the job done, but just barely. The restaurants aren't very detailed, and you've got limited customization options to work with. When all your tables are full it can be difficult to see what individual customers are doing or even discern what type of customer they are. The DS version makes poor use of the system's dual screens, and it's tough to keep an eye on patrons waiting to be seated because you have to scroll the screen to see them. The PSP version looks the best thanks to its larger, clearer screen. The audio doesn't offer much to get excited about. There are some helpful sound effects here and there, but there's not much variety to them. Nor is there much variety to the music, which is simple, not all that catchy, and super repetitive.
At $30 it's difficult to wholeheartedly recommend Diner Dash on the PSP or DS, especially when you can play a limited version of the game for free on the PC or get the full version for just $20. Sure, it's fun while it lasts, but once it's over there's very little here to get you to revisit it.