When one looks back on the big hit games that helped define what we call "casual games," one game that deserves to be on that list is Diner Dash. It may not have been the first game to deal with time management, but it is certainly one of the most memorable and easiest to pick up. The formula set up by the team works so well that other games in this genre have used it as a blueprint for their own success. When the game was brought to the Nintendo DS two years ago, it retained enough elements that made the PC version such a hit, and it also became a hit in its own right. After a long hiatus, we finally have the sequel, Diner Dash: Flo on the Go. Was the wait worth it this time around?
The premise of Flo on the Go is a little different and, some might say, farfetched. After running a successful set of restaurants and helping her friends out of their financial jams, Flo has decided that she deserves a vacation. However, on her first vacation stop with her friend, she manages to lose her luggage, leaving her with nothing but the clothes on her back. Luckily enough, the vacation spot needs help with its food services, and she seizes the opportunity to work for money to buy clothes and continue her vacation. Interestingly enough, every location you visit has Flo manage to lose her luggage over and over again, making the story preposterous enough for any game to handle.
The basic gameplay elements from the first game are the focus here once again. As Flo, your job is to make sure the eating establishment gets customers fed and out of there swiftly. Customers must be seated, orders must be taken, food must be served, checks handed out and dishes must be cleaned off of the table so the process can begin anew. Players will be dealing with multiple customers, so handling multiple tasks is important. Players will also be fighting against the patience of customers as well as the time clock. Customers who have been treated well tip well, giving you higher score bonuses while those who haven't been addressed in a timely manner may leave the establishment, taking their points with them. There is a set score that must be reached within the time limit in order to progress to the next level and an expert score.
There are a few more elements this time around that complicate things a bit. For one, the spills that occurred in the first game can now happen because of the environments as well as the customers. Because every place at which you're serving is a vehicle, bumps in the environment will cause spills to happen when people are eating, giving you one more thing to worry about during your shift. There are also different people types in addition to the ones from before, giving you more to think about; the idea of certain people not wanting to sit next to each other still applies here. Finally, you have the ability to combine smaller tables into larger ones later in the game. It may seem like it'll help tremendously, but the strategy involved with such an endeavor definitely adds to some stressful situations once you have too many people waiting and realize you just wasted your combos on smaller parties.
Flo on the Go has a few issues. Some of them are minor, but one can be considered major. Unlike the first game, there's only one save file here, and you can't simply make up a new save for those who want to try out the game. Depending on how good of a player your friend may be, you may miss out on some levels because of this or getting stuck on a level for which you aren't prepared. Another missing element is in the customization. You gain the ability to customize Flo, but you can't decorate your eatery. This makes sense since it isn't really your own establishment, but the trade-off doesn't feel very significant. Finally, the upgrade system is linear in comparison to the first game. You can't pick and choose upgrades anymore; the game gives them to you at certain intervals, whether you like it or not. You can still pick customization in Endless mode, but not in the story mode.
Multiplayer is new to the Nintendo DS version of the game and carries with it a few modes that prove to be fun for series veterans. Highest Score simply has you and a friend racing to reach the target score. First To Serve is similar, except for the fact that your target isn't a point total but the total number of customers you can serve first. Finally, there's Survival, which has you trying to outlast your opponent for as long as possible. Out of the three modes, this proves to be the most fun for seasoned veterans, as matches between two good people can last for quite a while. All of these modes are fun in their own right, but the game is missing a cooperative mode that was present in the recently released Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. With the portable game having already taken the step toward multiplayer, it would have been nice to see the developers go with something more than competitive modes.
While the graphics are good, they aren't as memorable as they were in the first title. Environments look simple but are pretty colorful and fit the overall art style well. The same goes for the characters, as their faces display a good range of emotions. It's not hard to see some of the objects in the game that count, like dishes and mops, and it's interesting to see that the developers bothered to put food on the dishes and make said food disappear appropriately. What will bother people about the graphics is the scale of everything involved. Environments are only as big as a single screen instead of being scrollable. This makes it easy for players since they can keep track of everything at once, but it also causes a claustrophobic feeling since the establishments seem smaller than before. The smaller screen also means that although you can see the various emotions on characters' faces, you don't see too much detail on the overall character models. This becomes problematic since you can now dress up Flo in different costumes with different accessories. You can see some of the costume changes, but you won't get a better appreciation of said costumes simply because you don't see as much detail as before. Something had to give in order to show more people on one screen, but it feels like a step backward for series fans.
Very little has changed when it comes to the sound between both games. The music still has a lighthearted flair to it in every level, though it isn't exactly very memorable. The sound effects remain unchanged but still fit with the game's actions rather well. As for voices, you have those of the customers coming in and grumbling when things go wrong but nothing more. Like the first game, the sound doesn't really add to the experience but doesn't detract from it either. It's simply there.
Diner Dash: Flo on the Go is still a treat for both series veterans and newcomers alike. The core gameplay mechanics remain fun, and the few additional elements make it challenging enough that you won't be able to beat all of the levels in one take. The lack of customization and only one save slot are definite shortcomings, but the addition of competitive multiplayer makes up for this. Gamers looking for their next casual time management fix would do well to find it here.
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