I thought it should be best to open this review by saying quite clearly that I’ve never been a fan of time management games. The only games that fit into the genre (if it can really be called a genre) that I had seen played were very unappealing Flash games, so upon watching the trailer of Dead Hungry Diner and actually feel excited to play the game, I was awfully surprised. Because Dead Hungry Diner is a time management game. Okay, I probably should have said that first…
Now, I don’t mean to say that Dead Hungry Diner is on the same level as these boring flash games, because even though if you stripped the title down to its core the observable formula would be identical to the aforementioned boring things, it brings out so much character and shows off such great production values that it feels more on par with a PopCap game. For the uninitiated, that’s a compliment–PopCap are the team behind such fantastic games as Plants vs. Zombies.
At the core of Dead Hungry Diner are very basic gameplay mechanics that have been used a plethora of times–there are plenty of diner-themed arcade titles in which players take on the role of a waiter, attempting to achieve high scores through speed and accuracy. If this was the entire game (as is the case with some of those other titles), it wouldn’t be getting a positive review, but strangely enough, it is.
As suggested by the title, Dead Hungry Diner is a Halloween-themed game, in which you play as Gabriel and/or Gabriella, a twin brother and sister combo who find themselves opening a restaurant dedicated to serving the undead (and other monsters of the night). Starting off with zombies, levels will become more difficult as vampires, werewolves, banshees and more are introduced and need to be accommodated for. This is necessary, as certain types of customers will protest to being seated near others (such as werewolves, who hate vampires. Who knew?), and are liable to start a fight unless players intervene. A bar beneath each group of customers shows how low their patience is running, and if this is emptied the fight is on, or they may just leave the restaurant.
Although self-appointed bouncer Frankie can be relied on to break up the brawl, it’s more challenging and fun to try and prevent such souring of emotions by using spells purchased from the suitably-titled Shady. These spells include Patience, which refills the patience-meter of one group of customers, and Zombify, which turns all monsters seated at a chosen table into zombies–the best way to stop a werewolf getting angry at a vampire is to turn that vampire into a zombie (because apparently everyone loves zombies! I really need to catch up on my horror character prejudices).
I’m unsure if it’s coming across, but everything mentioned above makes me enjoy this game so much. Despite fitting a number of stereotypes rather well, the characters have been written with plenty of tongue-in-cheek, and a healthy (yet not overpowering) dose of comical banter keeps them interesting, yet they don’t get so much screen time that players become irritated at their appearance. Dead Hungry Diner spends an appropriate amount of time on its characters, with a straight-to-the-point storybook-style narrative that, very surprisingly, actually made me want to keep playing just to find out what happened next.
Dead Hungry Diner somehow manages to provide a butt-tonne of fun while very much remaining a diner-themed title, which, as I mentioned previously, have never before impressed me. Players must select tables appropriate for the type of customer and group size, then collect orders, take out food, take payments, and clean tables before the next customers can be seated. Bonus points are awarded for performing each of these actions in groups (taking all of the orders, then taking out all of the food etc.), and this forces players to think strategically in terms of who to serve first and what spells to use when. The fast pace maintained by the diminishing patience-meters and time limit makes this much more challenging. This can become overwhelming to the point of frustration–a few times I totally lost my rhythm and blanked out on how to play the game, needing a quick break to understand what was happening. It doesn’t help that the screen is fairly clustered and the hit-boxes for each target seem inconsistent, leading to accidental mis-clicks being plentiful, sometimes bringing my bonus streaks to a premature finish (which is never a good thing).
This constant pursuit to maximize bonuses precedes a feeling of disappointment when players realized they’ve messed something up, but more often provides an arbitrary sense of satisfaction; I don’t know how this game does it, but it makes me so proud each time I get all three stars on a level. To any completionists out there, a desire to get three stars on every level will add some replayability.
Oh, and I’ve just realised I haven’t mentioned the look and sound of the game. Well, don’t worry, no issues here! The aesthetics are simple and cartoon-y, and the music is pretty standard–not below average, which counts as being okay in my books. You won’t be blown away, but everything works well together to benefit the real experience on show, which is the combination of characters and gameplay.
I have a couple tiny issues with Dead Hungry Diner that make the gameplay feel less intuitive, such as being only able to select customers from the front of the queue (it takes way too many clicks to select someone closer to the end of the queue, which is sometimes necessary), but these are almost too insignificant to mention. A quick look at the Steam News for this title shows that it is being regularly updated, so I rest confident that Black Market Games will be continually improving the experience of Dead Hungry Diner, and there is also a hint towards a sequel at the end of the story. If this is the case, I am definitely looking forward to this next instalment. This game is so good I would play its sequel–that’s about as good as a recommendation can get, right?