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'Diner Dash' dishes out offbeat fun

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

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"Diner Dash" lets you unleash your inner restaurateur.

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The latest heroine on the video game scene isn't a scantily clad, acrobatic adventurer who blasts away bad guys with a ridiculously powerful arsenal of weapons.

Instead, Flo wears a plain blue apron, relies on a pen and paper instead of a pistol, and her spatula-wielding sidekick sports a dirty undershirt.

Introducing "Diner Dash," a popular online game that lets you unleash your inner restaurateur. You assume the role of Flo, an ex-stockbroker who has ditched her cushy office career to turn around a dilapidated diner.

Developed by gameLab and published by PlayFirst, "Diner Dash" combines elbow grease and grill grease.

The game challenges you to multitask by seating customers; giving them menus and coffee; taking their orders; delivering food to tables in a timely manner; and then dropping off the bill and busing the tables to make room for new customers.

While managing the diner might not sound as daunting as infiltrating a secret military base, you'd be surprised at how challenging it is. And you'll discover newfound respect for overworked restaurant servers.

The goal of the game is to keep the diner's customers happy so that you can make enough money to fix up the joint with a fresh coat of paint, new tables and a larger entrance, for instance.

Eventually, you'll want to earn enough to help Flo open new restaurant locations.

Many of the title's 50 levels add new challenges such as elderly customers who take longer to order and eat (which is particularly frustrating when there's a line at the door), teenagers who don't tip well, food critics who require extra attention, and later on in the game, bonus points for matching the colors of the customers' outfits with the chairs, such as yellow, green, red, purple or blue.

You also can rack up bonus points when Flo handles two tables at once. For example, if the customers at two nearby tables put down their menus at the same time, Flo can take both their orders before dropping them off together at the kitchen. This will yield more points than taking their orders to the kitchen separately. Likewise, for a similar bonus, you can carry two trays of food at once or bus two tables in a row.

Delivering a speedy dining experience -- by seating customers, taking orders, serving food and busing tables all in a timely manner -- is the goal to winning "Diner Dash."

The faster you serve, the bigger your tips and the more glorious your restaurant becomes. However, if you take too long, they'll get up and leave (watch for frowns on their faces). If you fail to earn tips, you lose a star. Lose all your stars, and the game ends.

"Diner Dash" is a cinch to learn. Simply use the mouse to drag and drop customers from the doorway to the tables, then click on the object that requires attention, such as a table with dirty dishes, coffee machine or the food waiting to be served at the kitchen counter. A handy tutorial guides first-time players.

This family-friendly game is free to play online at Web sites such as at www.playfirst.com or www.shockwave.com, while the downloadable version (for both Windows and Macintosh) offers 60 minutes of game-play before you're asked to pay $19.95 to keep playing.

Give "Diner Dash" a spin before you dish out $50 for the latest console or PC CD-ROM game.

It's easy to learn and the game play is highly addictive. No wonder it's one of the most talked about digital diversions this summer.

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