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Diner Dash: Sizzle & Serve
Score: 93%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Playfirst
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1; 1 - 2 (Ad Hoc)
Genre: Action/ Arcade

Graphics & Sound:
Diner Dash: Sizzle & Serve looks pretty good. This game has its roots in an older PC flash game, but this new and improved version looks just right on your PSP.

Flo is your main character and she has several different animations that she'll do just while she is waiting to take customers orders. You can unlock different outfits that she can change into based on completing restaurants. And of course, there are the restaurants themselves. There are a total of 5 restaurants to unlock. You'll begin with the standard Diner, then open the Mexican restaurant, then the Seafood restaurant, then the Retro and finally the Goddess restaurant. Each has its own unique style and you will be able to decorate it to your liking. Each time you make progress in a level within each restaurant, you'll be given a choice to make on your decor. Do you want this rug or that? How about this pillar style or that one? I liked this feature as it gave the player the ability to insert their own flair into their restaurant's design.

Each dining establishment also has its own style of music that corresponds to that restaurant's theme. My favorite is the Arabic-sounding tunes for the Goddess restaurant. If you want to know what a Goddess restaurant is, you'll just have to play the game. As for other sound effects, you'll hear strange chatter everytime someone enters the restaurant, you'll hear orders being scribbled on notepads, children crying, food being whipped up in the kitchen and dishes being picked up. It all works really well.

Your customers each have their own distinctive look and attitude and it comes through in their design. The business women order and eat very quickly and get a really angry look on their faces if you delay. The bookworms get really mad if you seat them next to the aggravating cell phone addicts or noisy children, and so on. All are amusing.

You begin Career Mode as Flo, an office gal fed up to the brim with spreadsheets. One day, she quits her job and decides to open her own restaurant. She starts off with only a couple of tables, but soon the word spreads and the customers and money start rolling in. So how do you play the game? It's easy, at first. Customers walk in. You seat them, wait for them to be ready to order, pick up their order and drop it to the cook, he preps the food, you bring it out, then take the money and bus the table when they are done. Simple, right?

It may seem simplistic, but a lot of thought went into this game's design. First off are the customer types. Slowly, new customer types are introduced. Some are fast to order and eat, others are very slow. Some make a lot of noise, some don't mind noise and some hate noise. Some tip well and some don't. You have to keep all of this in mind as you seat people around one another.

You'll have a monetary goal in each of the 10 levels per restaurant. If you don't make your goal, you need to redo the level. You can increase your tips by giving extra special service and being really fast, but you can also boost your money by seating customers in the same color seats as their apparel. These are called multipliers and there will be a tiny number on a seat with a multiplier. Every time you seat the correctly colored person at that chair, the multiplier increases by one. You can bring in some serious bucks this way.

You will get upgrades as you progress like more tables, a drink machine to placate customers, snacks to give to them, a bench where they can wait until a table opens up, etc. Each customer or group has a heart icon and that is their attitude. If the heart drains completely, they vacate the table and you lose money. So keep those drinks filled and those bellies happy!

In addition to the Career Mode, there's also a frantic mode called Endless Shift. Here, you select a restaurant and then you serve as many customers as you can for as long as you can. You begin with 5 stars in your HUD and each time a customer gets mad and leaves, you lose a star. Lose all 5 and it's game over. The great thing about Endless Shift is that you get better upgrades than in Career Mode. There's a radio that plays and increases the customers' moods with every play. There are energy bars to speed Flo up. You can get super fast ovens to prep food almost instantly... and on and on. And if you have a friend with Diner Dash, two can battle it out on multiplayer.

The difficulty in Diner Dash: Sizzle & Serve is a weird thing. It starts off easy, then kind of ramps up a bit, then gets really tough, then levels off and is just hard and fun after that. Basically, I got stuck on one level for 2 days and then I got past it and didn't put the game down until I had beaten it... some time around 2:00 a.m.

In Endless Shift, there's Easy, Medium and Hard. Easy is just that, really easy to play. Medium is a perfect level if you just want to really go the distance and see just how many points you can earn. Hard is tough, and ramps up. It doesn't start out crazy. If you have beaten the game and know the ropes, you can play on Hard and last quite a while.

What accounts for Diner Dash's difficulty is the large number of tasks you have to do all at once. If a family comes in, you had better grab them a highchair or the baby will scream until you do. If a baby is crying, people will leave the restaurant. Sometimes the kids make a mess and you have to grab the mop and clean it up quickly. There are a lot of nuances that went into the game's design and I really liked that they keep you on your toes at all times.

Game Mechanics:
Fortunately, you don't have to use the analog nub in Diner Dash: Sizzle & Serve, since I am a nub-hater, myself. You'll use the (L) shoulder button to select a customer or group of customers, then (X) to seat them. (X) is also used to pick up orders and drop them on the line, pick up food and drop them at the table, and also to bus the table and grab the money. The (R) shoulder button is used with (X) to select the highchair, the mop, or the phone to call for help. Once an item or person is selected, you'll use the D-pad to navigate where to send Flo or the object she is holding. As I mentioned earlier, to seat people according to their colors, you can rotate them around using the (L) or (R) buttons.

You can queue up your actions or chain them, if you will, by rapidly pressing the correct buttons. It might take Flo a few seconds to do the processes you have selected, but playing it this way seemed to be the only way to truly wail through the levels.

I will make a few interesting notes. I first played this game on a 12 hour roadtrip and I should have been more considerate and brought headphones. The cute music and sound effects didn't hold the same appeal for those traveling with me. Also, J.R. Nip was watching me play and commented that I looked like an example of someone on TV "playing" a game. In other words, there was no way I actually needed to be pressing as many buttons as I was. He said it looked fake. Then when he came over and watched what I was doing, he was suprised at how much went into playing the game.

This game is an absolute blast. I have beaten it and am still playing it ferociously, leading to badly bruised thumbs. If you are a fan of games like Cake Mania, Burger Island and the original Diner Dash, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. You won't be sorry.

-Psibabe, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ashley Perkins

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