This review is on Cooking Dash 2016, a freemium mobile game published by Glu. While I played the original Diner Dash before, it’s interesting to look into its freemium adaptation. I’m going to focus on the level design and core game experience. And monetization will come in future posts.
Cooking Dash 2016 is a real-time point-and-click restaurant simulation game. Where the player prepares food for the customers, to win currency and reach the level goal. Compared to the original Diner Dash, Cooking Dash focuses more on the process of preparing food instead of seating and delivering food to the customers. With that said, Cooking Dash still delivers the same game experience. For me what made those restaurant games work is the multi-tasking that is required of the player. For example, getting the steak cooking on the stove while asking your partner to start chopping the broccoli (And somehow you never needed to flip the steak, jk.). The game will be a linear and predictable click sequence if there aren’t any delays in the prepping. The mastery of game was coming in sneak in an extra task while other tasks are going on.
I played through first 20 levels of the game and enjoyed the progression. It has 15 levels as one cycle, and a big new feature is added to the game while old mechanics are slowly reintroduced. The first level introduces the dish, Grilled Steak. It’s the most simple dish in the game, but it’s also important for the player to get used to the process. (The scoring process for Grilled Steak is: Pick up the steak -> Put it on the stove -> Wait ->Pick it up -> Deliver it to the customer. ) The second dish is Grilled Broccoli. It introduced another important aspect of the game: some raw ingredients need to be processed by Flo’s partner to be cooked. (The scoring process for Grilled Broccoli is: Pick up the steak -> Give it to your partner to chop-> Wait -> Pick it up -> Put it on the stove -> Wait -> Deliver it to the customer. ) The game keeps a pretty enjoyable pacing. Where on average, a new dish or other mechanics is introduced to the game every other level. The second level in the sequence is usually a more intense version of the last level, to give players a chance to master the mechanic combinations from the last level.
I felt a decrease in engagement with the game around Level 16 to 18, where the fryer is introduced to the game. At this point, there are 5+ ingredients on the prepping station, but the only dish I could make was Fried Steak.The scoring process for Fried Steak is: Pick up the steak -> Give it to your partner and bread it-> Wait -> Pick it up -> Put it in the Fryer -> Wait -> Deliver it to the customer. ) I will go as far as saying those levels will be better if they only provide the ingredients that needed for the level. Meaning that for Level 16, the only 3 functional items should be 1) raw steak, 2) breading station, and 3) the fryer. Also, if you compare the scoring process of a Fried Steak and Grilled Broccoli, you will find it’s the same process. And in fact, another dish Fries was introduced to the game in Level 17, so we are good here.
The reason that I think redundant interactable elements shouldn’t be in the game is that they create confusion for the player. Games like Cooking Dash are about combining each action in the game in interesting ways to score high scores in a set amount of time. If there are redundant interactable elements in the game, I felt I was setting myself up for disappointments. I was disappointed because I kept expecting certain dish may come up, but it never happened in the level. Everyone knows that disappointing a mobile player is a bad bad thing. If I need to choose between not giving players (false) actions in the game and frustrating the player, I will choose the first one.
The mastery of time management played an important part in my experience with the game. I do enjoy feeling clever when I figure out how to squeeze all the productivities out of the process. The cleverness fades away when there are no new situations added to the game. The later game added another layer of engagement when there is a risk of the customer leaving the restaurant when unsatisfied. The active choice of prioritizing higher cash valued dishes creates fun. However, starting the process of making a dish in delivering it to the customers takes so long in the later game. Once the player identified there is a customer is running low on patience, it’s already too late to do anything about it.
One additional mechanic that I think of is allowing the player to position the avatar Flo in the station’s position to speed up the process in the particular position. While it decreases the difficulty in the game, it gives the player another set of choices: do I stand here and fasten the current process, or do I move and start another process. Ultimately it’s fair because both are the opportunity cost for the player. When situations are created when the player is racing against the clock to make the most critical delivery, the fasten mechanic will come in handy.
Diner Dash provides a window for examing the restaurant management games. Following the model of viewing gameplay as a sequence of choices, I made a few suggestions for improvement to avoid frustration and make choices in the game more interesting. Feel free to let me know what you liked in Cooking Dash and similar games and how you would make them better!