If you've never played Diner Dash before, porting it over to Xbox Live Arcade is just another opportunity that you probably didn't need. If you haven't played it yet, it's probably because you didn't want to. Regardless, I'm sure there's an untapped gamer or two for this granddaddy of casual gaming, and it makes the port from PC to console quite well.
If you've missed out on the series up to this point, I'll try and give you the basic rundown. In Diner Dash, you control the character of Flo, a former businesswoman who grew tired of the corporate world and decided to go into business for herself, creating a number of themed restaurants along the way. You control Flo as she busies herself from table to table, waiting on an ever-increasing stream of customers throughout each business day and trying to reach certain goals to at least break even. To do so, you need to greet and seat customers, take their orders, deliver their food and their check, all in that order. Along with that, you'll need to clear off seats for new customers and occasionally play a little bit of color-matching to increase your multiplier and make your customers a little happier. I never realized that having someone in a blue shirt sit in the same seat as a previous customer with a blue shirt would make him or her happier, but in the world of Diner Dash, it totally does.
Whereas the computer version is tailor-made for mouse-only control, a couple of changes had to be made. The control scheme remains pretty simple, but there are a couple of additional steps in between. For starters, default movement of Flo is delegated to the left analog stick, so the player takes direct control over her movement. This is changed from the point-and-click setup of the PC, where you would just click on customers, tables or plates of food to control where Flo would go. The right analog stick controls placement of customers, so when you get a group of four red-shirted customers to sit, you need to move them to the appropriate table by using the right stick and ideally matching them up with as many red seats as possible. When you approach customers, orders or tables that need to be bussed, you simply press the A button to activate the desired action.
I don't think you can match the speed of the PC version here, so if you're a score hound, you'll probably see a drop in your performance between the two versions, but I think this is probably the best console setup you could hope for. There is an option to play the game with a pointer controlled by the right stick, but this feels a little inaccurate and cumbersome when compared to controlling Flo directly, so I don't think it serves as a proper substitute for a mouse-only control scheme.
That main gameplay of the original title remains intact. When you begin the game, you're in a basic representation of a standard diner, but as the game progresses, the restaurants become bigger and have classier themes. Of course, the challenge increases along with this as well, with quick-to0anger customers, more knickknacks to make them happy (like free coffee while they wait), and more tables to keep track of and manage. It's certainly a difficult game, and while I think the title of "casual" applies to this particular title, it has a really steep learning curve once you hit the last set of customers and the final restaurant.
Big components of success include color-matching, being able to predict the types of customers you'll encounter, and not tying up tables by putting two customers at a four-person table. Speed is also a big factor, and like I said, you're going to have a tough time being as quick on the Xbox Live iteration as you can be on the PC version. Thankfully, this version is also pretty generous with save points; you pretty much get an automatic save after every group of customers is finished. Each restaurant takes about eight groups of customers to finish, so the lenient save system is very nice.
This iteration of Diner Dash features a pretty hefty selection of modes, including the classic Career mode and the Endless Shift mode. Career is the main single-player mode and pretty self-explanatory. Endless Shift is exactly that, an endless stream of customers, and it acts like a score attack mode wherein you try to reach as high a score as possible before failing out completely. The big draw for the Xbox Live version of the game comes from the multiplayer and co-op modes, allowing two players to take on the challenges of running a restaurant together or go head-to-head in teams against eight players online. When I played over the past couple of weeks, though, I had some trouble finding many people to play with. Although the title hasn't been out that long, it seems like the online community has already faded away. That's definitely a disappointment, and if you're a big Achievement person, then it's doubly so since most of the Achievements are tied to online play.
The game hasn't seen much of a visual overhaul from its PC days, just a slight refinement to make this work on a 1080p display. The visuals have a cartoon-like appearance that's very crisp, colorful and perfect for this particular format. There's not a great deal of need for any kind of overhaul, so I'm glad to say that it looks just as you remember it. If you're new to the game, it still holds up in design after six years, which is really saying something, in my opinion.
I still like Diner Dash, even if I've played it to death over the past few years in different formats. It was only a matter of time before it made its way over to XBLA, but I'm happy to see the game represented again for people who might have missed out on it. The port's biggest hurdle of overcoming the lack of mouse support seems to be handled pretty well. It doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to Diner Dash, but the gameplay is so addictive and fun that it doesn't really need to. I wish the online mode still had some player support; from what I was able to try out, it was really fun so if you plan on picking up this title, try to talk a friend or two into doing so as well.
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