Welcome to Susan Arendt's latest column on Pocket Gamer. In 2018 we've recruited the best writers and most experienced gamers in the industry and asked them to inspire us. Today Susan takes a look at Cooking Dash, and thinks back to a time before digital stores...
In the before time, when playing anything more complicated than Snake on your phone seemed like the stuff of science fiction and your Face had yet to be plastered all over a Book, if you wanted to play a video game, you had to go to a store and buy it off the shelf.
Games like Half-Life sat cheek and jowl (or crease and tuck, maybe) with casual fare like Bejeweled. And entire shelves were given over to a series of games starring a plucky young waitress/entrepreneur named Flo.
It's hard to overstate what a megahit Diner Dash was. It sold, sold, sold, and then it sold some more, and when it started to sell slightly less, there were sequels and spin-offs and Dashalikes (I was particularly fond of Dairy Dash, myself).
I can't say for sure that Diner Dash created the time management genre, but it sure became the gold standard for it.
In case you were born after this particular casual game boom (shouldn’t you be in school? Get off my lawn), the Dash games were the predecessor to games like Cook, Serve, Delicious: you have a bunch of tasks to do and must do them in the ideal order to make the most money.
Success was as much about a fast clicking finger as it was careful planning and on-the-fly triage of sticky situations, one of those easy to learn/difficult to master scenarios.
And then the gaming landscape changed and Diner Dash...well, it did its best, bless its heart. It tried to Facebook like the young kids, it hopped onto game consoles and websites, but it never really hit its stride.
It took it a while to figure out how to adapt to this new marketplace, but now with Cooking Dash, it's finally sussed it.
It’s basically Diner Dash all over again, as Flo runs around cooking various cuisine and serving it up to increasingly demanding and impatient customers.
Each restaurant has its own themed dishes - you'll roast chicken in one, roll burritos in another - and each "season" of the TV show you're shooting gets more and more difficult until nailing that 5-star rating on a level requires laser-like precision. There's a *ton* of game in Cooking Dash; hundreds of levels and I don't even know how many different recipes.
It's no small thing to completely change your monetization strategy. Back in the long long ago, you bought the box off the shelf and that was it, but that's not how consumers want to play games like the Dash series anymore.
Microtransactions are difficult to get right; desirable enough to make people want whatever your buying, but not so vital that your game feels pay to win.
Cooking Dash nails the balance beautifully. If you care about things like costumes and dog helpers (a dog in the kitchen? Ok, sure), then you might end up spending a bit of coin, but you can play forever without coughing up a single cent.
Even a spend of a dollar nets you hefty advantages, though, and after you've been playing for twenty hours, it seems reasonable to maybe spend another one.
Diner Dash was the gold standard for time management games back in the day, and while the gaming landscape has perhaps changed too much for Cooking Dash to earn that same kind of respect, it deserves it.
Read more of Susan Arendt's columns on Pocket Gamer, and find out more about Cooking Dash at the game's official site. If you're looking for more columns, then check out Harry Slater and Jon Jordan, who are always on-hand with sharp, tasty opinions too.