reviews\ May 26, 2012 at 11:00 am

Dead Hungry Diner review


Black Market Games’ first release is an undead restaurant management sim with a slight puzzle element. Dead Hungry Diner, which recently dropped on Steam, requires you to feed hordes of insatiable and rather impatient monsters, but you won’t be serving up a delectable smorgasbord of meals. Your humble diner’s management — two orphans, Gabriel and Gabriella — don’t run around chopping up innocent people for garnishes. Instead, organic brainberries keep the nocturnal coming back for seconds, but your meddling does earn you one nasty competitor: Vandra Helsing, monster hunter.

Narrated in storybook form, Gabriel and Gabriella’s cooking adventures lend charm to what is a simple, routine type of casual game. The sleepy Frankenstein hulk, Frankie, will toss out Vandra when she crashes your shift, casting spells on your patrons, or separate customers when they pick a fight with the wrong sort of folk sitting next to them. Vampires and werewolves don’t mix, and neither do banshees and ogres. And no one likes a certain grim fellow except for the zombie crowd, who seem to be the most peaceable of the lot.

Vandra will chase you from place to place, allowing a natural progression through the different locales around Ravenwood. Your entrepreneurial days begin in the graveyard and expand to a church, mansion, theater, and finally a castle. These settings bring new challenges, better spells to combat the pressures of good business, and a fresh arrangement of tables.

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Dead Hungry Diner is what you might expect from the genre, but its personality and story help distinguish it from others of its kind. It’s not an ambitious title, but sometimes the alternative can lead to a better experience — one where careful and friendly design rules, and the gameplay keeps clear of troublesome baggage.

Clicking on different objects or customers is easy enough, but it becomes trickier when the game starts implementing double queues, splitting those waiting to be seated into two lines. Moving them where you want them causes a little fuss with the mouse, but it’s not obtrusive enough to hinder you for long.

To master gameplay, players must demonstrate their multitasking skills, optimize the tools at their command, manipulate the queue(s) prudently, and most of all, think fast. Fail to attend to a monster in a reasonable amount of time, and he’ll leave, taking precious points with him.

When you’ve settled the stomachs of these nightly creatures, you can take orders for an all-you-can-eat buffet: an endless mode set in any of the five worlds that offers mild replay value. Unfortunately, these games tend to stretch on forever, and it’s more a way to compete for scores than fatten your purse for those beefed up spells you never bought.

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Dead Hungry Diner isn’t quite the momentous achievement for casual games as, say, Plants vs. Zombies is, but it’s hard to dislike what’s there. Even the most wretched, evil fiends of darkness start to grow on you as the game goes on, and Gabriel and Gabriella are lovable themselves. It feels silly to root for children who’d rather cook for monsters and send them to their graves and coffins happy than rid the Earth of their scourge, as Vandra would have it, but that’s part of the fun. For $10 (or less if you buy now on Steam), Dead Hungry Diner is the perfect investment for any peckish gamer looking for a quick and meaty bite.

A Mac version of the game is coming soon.

Follow @wita on Twitter for tales of superheroes, plumbers in overalls, and literary adventures.


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Stephanie Carmichael Twitter: @wita
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