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Publisher: PlayFirst    Genre: Action
Min OS X: 10.4    CPU: G4 @ 800 MHz    RAM: 256 MB    Hard Disk: 44 MB    Graphics: 800x600

Diner Dash: Flo Through Time
February 2, 2009 | Richard Hallas

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Flo Through Time title screen
Have you ever wondered what might happen if your grandmother tried to make a time machine out of a microwave oven? Would it be a recipe for success or disaster? The latest episode in the Diner Dash series, Flo Through Time, attempts to answer that question.

I usually disparage the stories in games like this one, as they generally seem to specialise in crossing the humdrum with the preposterous to produce something fatuously banal that makes me wonder why the producers even bothered trying to think a story up. However, in this instance, I won't. Why? Because the story in Flo Through Time is sufficiently whimsical that it actually made me smile; so there! Flo's Grandma makes a time machine from an old microwave oven, it transports the two of them back to the Stone Age, and then it breaks down. It's all predictable stuff, of course: the solution to the problem is to open a restaurant in the era in question, raise enough money to buy a new part, then have another disaster with the time machine... and repeat. It's hardly a plot worthy of Tom Clancy, but at least it has a certain comical charm.

So what we have here, then, is yet another instalment in the Diner Dash series in which the gimmick is having each set of levels take place in a different period of history: the Stone Age, Ancient Egypt, Mediæval England and so on.

Gameplay: Time and time again
If you've played any version of Diner Dash before, you already know exactly what to expect. Within each locale, you must seat colour-coded customers at tables and serve them with the food they order, taking care to keep incompatible customer types as far apart as you can: iPhone-wielding chatterboxes and bookish academics, for example, do not mix. (Mobile phones do exist in all ages of history according to this game, incidentally. Perhaps the time-line got corrupted by Grandma's microwave.) Neglect any customer too long and he or she will become unhappy and leave, taking part of your score away too. All the elements of the previous games are there, including the ability in some levels to push tables together to seat larger groups, though this new instalment doesn't really add any really significant gameplay elements. There's just a little extra tweak here and there, such as a massively irritating dinosaur that has to be kept happy in the first set of levels, and a moat in the middle of the levels in the third group, which restricts Flo's movement between tables.

If you've played previous games in the series before, though, the one thing that's likely to surprise you about this one (well, it surprised me) is just how difficult it is. If you are a newcomer to the series, DO NOT start with this game! I've played a few of the Diner Dash games through to completion, now, and thought I was pretty good at them. Flo Through Time has demonstrated to me the full extent of my arrogance. In fact, I'm ashamed to say that I'm writing this review having seen only 58% of the levels, because level 9 in the third group of ten (the mediæval All Knight Diner) has defeated me. Its pass requirement is 19,000 points and, try as I might, I haven't as yet managed to get more than 18,400; so I have yet to discover what the last two historical settings are like.

If I have one criticism of Flo Through Time, it's that its difficulty level is a little uneven. Overall it really is surprisingly tricky, and several of the levels are a fair challenge even to get through, let alone at Expert level. Yet the difficulty level doesn't seem to be graded throughout the game. In the first set of levels, Caveman Café, I was initially surprised to find that many of the features I'd expect to appear quite late on during one of the previous games in the series were there right from the start. In other words, you're really thrown right into the thick of the action, with all the 'optional extras' in play right from the start. But then, the second set of levels, Pharaoh's Feast, seemed no more difficult, and maybe even a little easier overall. Then the third set of levels, All Knight Diner, again seemed no more difficult overall, but contained some comparatively easy levels and some stonkingly difficult ones. Level 7 was very tough, and took me several goes to beat. Then level 8 was so easy that I got an Expert score in it on my first attempt. And then level 9 proved so ridiculously difficult that, after numerous failed attempts at getting past it, I admitted defeat and decided I'd have to write the review without the benefit of seeing the rest of the game. So, to me, not only is the difficulty level in Flo Through Time on the high side, but it also lacks fair gradation.


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