Cooking Dash delivers time management with a heavy serving of strategy

Posted: August 30, 2009 in Strategy, Time Management

Time management games are prevalent in the iTunes store so it takes something different in gameplay to stand out. Cooking Dash is a game that goes beyond simply delivering items to customers, but gets you involved in the cooking process. If you think this is just another time management game, you’d be wrong. That added element in the gameplay brings a different yet fun challenge and more importantly, the frenzied intensity and strategy missing in most games in the category.

The story follows Flo and her grandmother who are suddenly thrown into running their diner because Chef Cookie has left to host his own cooking reality show. For many time management gaming veterans, Flo is a familiar character having appeared in other Dash games. Instead of just seating and serving customers, the difference in Cooking Dash is Flo and her grandmother must also do everything else from cooking and clean up to customer satisfaction and profitability.

The first thing you notice is that this game is predominantly focused on the kitchen and less so on the dining area which is more of a diner counter set-up with limited seating. The graphics in Cooking Dash are polished and what you’d expect from the devs at PlayFirst. The animation runs smoothly on my iPod Touch 2g 3.0.

The game follows the storyline which is presented in a comic book format and has 50 levels presented through 5 different restaurants each with different cooking appliances and menus. As I mentioned, the game involves more of the cooking process so rather than just assembling something and delivering it, time management and strategy is more crucial. Cooking a steak, for example, requires selecting the meat, putting it into the oven, and allowing it to cook before serving which takes a few seconds. In addition, you also need to take it out of the oven quickly after it’s done cooking because leaving it in the oven too long will burn and ruin it. Once ruined, not only does Flo have to begin again, it also impacts the daily revenue since ruined food counts a monetary loss. The cooking process is illustrated by a green circle when cooking and turns red when the food is on the verge of burning.

Besides the cooking, the other elements are in play including seating and serving customers, and then clearing the counter of plates before the process of seating and serving new customers can continue. Other food items actually require giving Flo’s grandmother the order to make such as sandwiches and hamburgers for example, and of course all of this takes time.

The entire game is controlled via tap controls which work extremely well, although in this game, you’ll need to be careful of where and what you tap. It’s relatively easy to accidentally tap on the wrong items and in that case, you’ll have to trash it resulting in a monetary loss.

Each level requires meeting a minimum scoring requirement before progressing to the next level. While the initial levels are easy, the game does offers a balanced increase in difficulty and builds on skills learned in previous levels. Diners are color coded and placing diners at seats that match their color provides bonus points. And just because no customers are lost due to bad service doesn’t necessarily mean advancement to the next level. In fact, perfection and even planning ahead will increase the ability to earn additional points needed to move on.

In-game play has a lot going on, and as you move to other restaurants since Flo and her grandmother will be asked to babysit other restaurants while their owners are away, different foods and appliances add to the challenge. Foods are varied from burgers and submarines to sushi and salads in later stages, but there is plenty of variety involving different cooking steps and processes. Even something as simple as a fruit smoothie involves a few steps from choosing the fruit to bringing it to the blender before it can be served. Other dishes incorporate multiple foods such as steak and fries for example so cooking them in the right order and picking those up before they burn are essential. Flo can also handle two items at a time, and she’s intelligent enough to know which item goes to which customer.

Cooking Dash also has upgrades that can be purchased. Upgrades can be purchased in between levels for each restaurant that span the spectrum from practical to cosmetic. On the practical side, higher-quality and faster cooking appliances can be purchased to serve more customers. From a cosmetic perspective, you can upgrade the look of the restaurant such as better tiles, counters, and brighter paint. Honestly, I choose the better appliances whenever possible because they improve performance while the cosmetic improvements really don’t impact performance in any way. In many ways, it would have been nice to include more performance-enhancing upgrades rather than cosmetic ones, but this is subjective of course.

While the customers aren’t the most varied (10 different types each with their own attributes), another nice touch is that they can impact each other. Especially in the later stages, customers will lose their patience quicker when seated next to the wrong type of customer. As I mentioned, customers are color coded, but if you seat older customers next to younger ones, there is a tendency for tempers to be shorter and thus require faster service.

Cooking Dash isn’t your typical time management game because it involves strategic thinking. Going beyond the tap to serve concept, the cooking component makes this one of the more difficult time management games and adds significantly to the challenge. The fun gameplay is addictive and should provide time management novices and advanced players enough to keep them engaged.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (solid time management game with a cooking component that differentiates this from others in the category; gameplay is challenging yet highly engaging even if you don’t know how to cook; smooth graphics and decent controls)

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