Overall Score 80%
Grub Burger has its sights set on Dinertown! Will all of the population fall for this ghastly junk food in favour of old home-style cooking? With its insidious Ingredient X sauce, will Grub Burger run all of the other diners out of town? With you at the helm, hopefully not. Starting out small with just one diner in Squid Row, you'll have to work hard to analyse trends, cater to demand, and offer a wide variety of mostly wholesome home cooking to appease the taste buds of Dinertown's citizens. If you can make enough of them come to their senses, and see Grub Burger for just what it is, then you might just have a chance to take even the top end of town back.
Unlike the original Diner Dash game from PlayFirst (of which this game is more of a spin-off than a sequel) the gameplay in Dinertown Tycoon has nothing to do with time-management or twitchy reflexes. It's more of a strategy title, and the play progresses only when the player is ready, which leads to a thoughtful and somewhat absorbing experience.
Basically, every in-game day is split up into two distinct periods. The first period is the planning stage. After consulting the morning paper to find out how many customers can be expected, what is in demand that day, and also checking on any daily challenges that are present, the player can buy new properties, fresh ingredients, new recipes, advertising space, and restaurant fixtures. Depending on any number of factors, the menu price of each dish at each diner can be set independently from a bargain basement sale price, to a premium price that will leave customers wondering if they shouldn't go somewhere else for lunch. The day to day price of the various ingredients used in the dishes will vary, as will the desirability of components used in different dishes, so simply leaving your diners on cruise control is a recipe for disaster.
Even though there's no actual cooking to be done, the choices available to the player each day in this planning stage are numerous, and no one strategy seems to be overly effective. In turn, this encourages some experimentation with the mechanics of what is driving each customer to the restaurant of their choosing and what they eventually decide to order.
That brings us to the second stage of each day. The selling phase. During this period, anywhere from about 20 to over 100 hungry citizens are let loose on the map and are left to themselves to decide where to go and what to eat. There's some very limited interaction required by the player here, but generally the day's success or failure has pretty much been decided during the planning phase. Even though each different type of customer has a hidden preference for specific ingredients, they will always find the Ingredient X sauce in Grub Burger's fare amazingly tempting. By spending money on market research though, you'll be able to tempt tham to stay away from the evil empire with their favourite, freshly cooked and nutricious offerings.
Over the course of many days, if the player succeeds in feeding each variety of customer a specified amount of times, they win the level. If Grub Burger's progress allows them to push enough Ingredient X onto the streets, then the player loses the level. Grub Burger's progress can be slowed however, by the player successfuly completing a daily challenge. This might be simply buying an advertising billboard, or increasing a particular item's stockpile by a factor of 2. More difficult challenges make the player attempt to sell a certain number of dishes at a premium price, or try to serve a specified number of a particular group of customer, like students, or businesswomen, for example. It seems quite tricky to beat a level without completing at least a few daily challenges. I like the level of strategic involvement; it really feels like that the decisions I'm making are affecting what's happening each day and that I'm not just playing along in a linear fahion.
There are 5 regions of Dinertown that all play as their own separate levels with unique restaurants, customers and menu items. In all I would suppose that there'd be 4 or 5 hours of play here. I'm currently up to the fourth zone, and have been playing for just over 3 hours. An in-game tutorial will take new players through the basics without being too obtrusive and can be turned off if you decide to replay the first level. In fact, any level can be replayed after being unlocked the first time around, and the player can attempt to better their score before uploading the record to an online high-score list.
The game looks and plays as smoothly as you have come to expect games released through a well established casual games portal will. Graphics are not show-stealing, yet are attractive and efficient. Sounds and music are unobtrusive and complementary to gameplay. My favourite is the cha-CHING sound as another happy customer walks out the door! If you can manage to chain up a whole street of satisfied patrons, it sounds awesome.
I suppose that there might be a bit of a question over the longevity of the game. I'm not sure that I'd be all that tempted to go back and play previously beaten levels again. Also, one of my pet hates is games that don't let me choose where I want to install them - this game is guilty of that. Still, the presentation is slick, the control is simple, and the concept is fresh. I can definitely recommend this game to younger players who might learn from some ideas that the game presents; supply and demand, budgeting, the power of advertising, simple arithmetic and the value of making wise decisions about what we choose to put into (and don't put into) our mouths.
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