For a long time, I didn’t get the Diner Dash craze. I hadn’t played the game and I didn’t really care for a game in which – I thought, at least – I was experiencing the mundanities of working at a diner. But at the recommendation of my girlfriend, I gave it a go and found myself having some real fun. It’s the kind of experience that you just tune in to, clicking or tapping here and there and watching the game’s quick actions. It was an incredibly fun and downright addicting game, but I always thought it had its limits. After a while, you would probably turn the game off and stop playing – especially when you weren’t competing against friends’ scores.
Black Market Games’ Dead Hungry Diner is extremely similar to Diner Dash, but its quirks and variations to the popular casual time-management formula are what make the game a cut above its predecessors. In Dead Hungry Diner, your customers are monsters. That means they can be zombies, vampires, and the like, but you’ve got to accommodate to their tastes accordingly. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do as they all seem to enjoy brain berries – the food you’ll be feeding the surprisingly well-mannered undead and their counterparts. You’ll get customers who dine alone and others who are in groups and you have to sit them accordingly, take their order when ready, and serve them as quickly as you can to maximize your potential score.
Of course, the key here is to ensure you keep up with the combinations. When you perform the same action back-to-back, you’ll start up a combo multiplier. For example, if there are five tables and you sit five customers/groups of customers one after another, your combo multiplier will be at 5x. Likewise, if you take the customers’ orders in a similar manner, your combo multiplier will be the same. So, essentially, you want to group your actions accordingly so as to maximize your point-total. It’s easy, it’s fun, and it can be excruciatingly addicting.
What Dead Hungry Diner does exceptionally well, beyond just its casually engaging gameplay, is that it provides you with a far-fetched and fantastically quirky story. Every night, zombies rise in the town of Ravenwood and scare the hell out of townsfolk. A monster hunter named Vanda Helsing, treated as a hero by townsfolk and their children alike, has apparently gone missing, leaving the town with no one to protect it. However, two orphans named Gabriel and Gabriella, discover that the zombies seem to enjoy brain berries, which are plentifully available on nearby trees. In short, they open up a diner to feed these zombies in hopes of keeping them from eating the townsfolk. The story seems to be a parody of sorts, an amalgam of several tropes and horror stories of the past. Most importantly, though: it gives your actions a sense of purpose, albeit extremely light-hearted and rarely, if ever, heart-pounding and suspenseful. Where urgency does play a role is in gameplay, where you’ll have good honest fun trying to get a high score and progressing to the next level.
Dead Hungry Diner holds a couple more surprises in the way it handles power-ups you can purchase with the money you earn from customers. A strange hooded fellow will sell you power-ups/spells before each stage. These will allow you special perks: you can buy one that gets you a rain check on a particularly annoying customer or another that may calm an impatient customer, among a number of other helpful spells. You can also level each of the 5 spells as you wish. They will be especially useful in later levels as there are more customers (and more impatient ones too) as well as more of a variety of customers – zombies, angry zombies, werewolves, vampires, banshees, and ogres. There are 5 different worlds, each with 10 stages of its own. As you clear a world, it will be available in the “All-You-Can-Eat” mode which is, basically, a challenge or survival mode.
For a little under ten dollars, Dead Hungry Diner will keep you busy for a few hours. It’s easily accessible for kids and adults, intuitive enough with its controls, and innovative enough to keep things fun and fresh in a familiar formula. It’s a lovely little game to tune out with a cartoony (kind of Plants vs. Zombies) art style. If you think that a light-hearted restaurant time-management game will entice you even the slightest bit, Dead Hungry Diner should be your first choice. That being said, I played the game on PC and I just can’t help but shake the feeling that it would work and feel even better on an iPad, which is something the developers are working on.