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Wedding Dash (demo)

An Acer GameZone demo played just after Dream Day Honeymoon and a disappointment, because it does have to do with the mechanics of planning a wedding, rather than finding objects. Guests have to be seated as they arrive, refreshments have to be brought to the tables, and small disasters must be resolved (by lots of clicking), before they all hop off to the dance floor to boogy down. The introduction comic tells how Quinn, the main character, accidentally volunteers to be someone's wedding planner, then stresses out in the same yoga class as Flo (of Diner Dash and Cooking Dash fame) and gets a pep talk that prepares her for her task. The game graphics are "Flo" quality, ie. simple and ugly. The background music is the solemn "walk to the altar" tune when the game opens, and jazzy once the wedding is underway.

This is one of the many "Dash" games, mostly by the same company, that are basically adaptations of the "dashing waitress" game: seat customers (who are one of a set of types), serve customers, collect tip, clean up; it starts simply but becomes more complicated as more seats and customers are added, the number of possible dishes multiplies, and some need multiple steps to prepare. What the customers want is generally shown by a balloon above their heads. The customers' patience decreases steadily, and the longer they have to wait, the lower the reward will be. The game allows several user profiles, as is standard in casual games these days. There are two standard play modes, "story" and "endless". In story mode, there is a closing time, the player has to achieve a minimum goal (and an optional expert goal) per day, and each day brings new complications and the possibility of buying upgrades, like objects of amusement that will increase the customers' patience, or decorations to make the game less bare and ugly. The routine of serving may also be broken up with minigames. When the last day is finished, the game is over and won. In endless mode, there is no closing time, although as time passes complications may be added as in story mode, and the player is just trying to keep up with the flow of customers.

In this game, the customers are the wedding guests who want to be seated at a certain table or (not) next to a certain person, the waitress's job is to take their presents to the happy couple and serve them three courses in succession, after which they go to the dance floor, the interim mini-game is the guessing game before each marriage of which foods and honeymoon location the couple want, based on a short description, and the complications are more guests, more tables, and little snags that need smoothing over, like fighting bridesmaids and aunt Ethel who always starts crying at weddings. In tune with the theme, the two playing modes are called "Story" and "Endless reception".

Cooking Dash (demo)

Another Acer GameZone demo, that I initially mistakenly called Diner Dash. Both games center on Flo, specialist in fast food. In this game, the cook (called "Cookie") at the diner belonging to Flo's grandmother, is offered an interview on TV. He refuses out of loyalty to his employer, but his fretting causes him to practically set the place on fire, so Flo tells him to just go. Now Flo and grandma will have to take over; permanently, they find out, because Cookie gets his own cooking show. The characters in this game are all ugly flash animations; fortunately, the restaurant and foods look better.

As implied under Wedding Dash, this game is like a template for all time management games: customers arrive. Take customers' orders. Prepare food. Serve food to customers, before they lose patience and stamp off. (This means sometimes taking less orders so that less customers are waiting so that they will be individually served faster.) Take money and tip (commensurate to speed and quality of delivery). Optional: clear rubbish off table. Got the basics? Introduce complexities. More items to order, items that need more steps to prepare, guests that have to be seated in a certain pattern. Continue until player exits game and tosses laptop out of window while yelling unprintable words. But, okay, it's addictive.

As is typical of dashing waitress games, there is a story mode and an endless serving mode, but where the story mode in any kind of game usually has a graphic of connected dots on a map, this game's "calendar" is a numbered row of saucepans. Another feature that doesn't make it into every time management game: extra points for putting customers on the same seats as their clothes colour. Most time management games award bonuses to "chaining", ie. doing the same thing twice in succession, like waiting for two customers to order a dish and then grabbing two of that dish. Many also give bonuses for reusing items, like preparing the same dish in one pan as often as possible. In this case, the bonus is for seating a, say, red-suited customer on a red chair as often as possible, although it's not always possible to seat each customer individually, as they may come in twos, and need two free seats side by side.

Dairy Dash (demo)

Yet another Acer GameZone demo. Acer sure filled up that laptop with timewasters. With finer graphics, in the same style as Cake Mania 2 below, its story begins with a rather disconnected family - when dad comes home from work, he is shushed rather than welcomed as the other family members are all busy and don't want to be disturbed - hearing that a relative is about to lose his small, organic farm due to competition from the big players. Flo tells them that she knows enough restaurants looking for organic produce, so dad decides that they will save the farm - or rather, he will, as he finds the other family members have scattered. As the game progresses, they will be re-added one by one, and there will be talk of how the honest country life has brought the family back together, blah, blah, blah...

Chaining (planning the same action twice or more in succession) is not only rewarded but, in this game, makes sense. There are several animals (cow, goats, chickens) that go through a cycle of waking from sleep, eating, drinking, having their produce (milk, eggs) collected and then taking another nap before the cycle starts again, and, as shown in the tutorial that the game starts with, it's a good idea to grab four lots of feed when they all wake up, then four buckets of water for when they finish eating, although sadly they go out of sync after a while. As in many "dash" games, their patience is shown by a string of six little hearts that decreases as it runs out, and boy, do they get red in the face if I don't deliver what they want RIGHT NOW. It is important to prevent this, as the harvest, and therefore the amount of money made, depends on their mood; for the profits made in a day, the game has a minimum and expert goal, and scoring the expert goal is unexpectedly hard. As days pass, the game adds more animals and a vegetable patch, that shows its displeasure by wilting dramatically.

As usual, the game has a story mode, an endless mode, and a trophy room, one of the trophies being won by meeting the expert goal every day. The endless mode, unlocked once the story mode has been started, but not necessarily finished, acts as a spoiler in that I can choose one of three farms, in Dinertown, Meatropolis or Puddington, and as time goes on the additions that would have been announced per new day - more animals, but also aids like the telephone, truck, lemonade stand and not to forget added family members - are now simply added, so that I can see how the farm will grow, until its needs overwhelm me and I lose the game. On the other hand, in story mode I regularly get a breather and interim games, including a match-3 game.

Parking Dash (demo)

Of all names that main characters in time management games are given, "Karma" has to be the weirdest. One day, she gets a hurried-looking visitor telling her she's inherited a piece of property. She's jubilant at being able to leave her crummy old apartment, but her mood turns when she's taken to... an empty concrete plot. The man who took her there can't stay as he says he's double-parked, so, left on her own, she's receptive to a shady developer's offer to sell the property. Up comes none other than Flo, warning her that the developer's plan to build more shops will make Dinertown's parking problem even worse. So, what better use for this empty plot than to turn it into a paid parking space?

So, Karma becomes a parking attendant, and the dashing waitress game template is applied to customers who leave and pick up their cars. She starts with a block of four parking spaces, two against a wall, so the tutorial explains that cars parked for a long period should be parked next to the wall so that cars parked for just a few minutes can go in the more accessible spaces behind them, although if a car that's about to be picked up gets blocked in, the other cars can be moved around - this suggests that of the four squares, one should always be kept free. There is a story mode, in which I presume the shady developer will attempt foul play, and an endless shift mode, although instead of a trophy room there is just a high-scores screen.

This game has the same quirk as Cooking Dash: that customers, in this case cars, should be put on a square of the same colour; if I park a green car on a square, it gets a green glow, and every next green car parked on it means bonus points. It also has the same graphic style: beautiful backgrounds - the leaves scattered on the concrete are very pretty - but ugly characters. Although potentially addictive, I can already tell that this game is going to bore and frustrate me.

Airport Mania First Flight (demo)

After all the Dash games, it was a change of pace to find a Mania game among the Acer Gamezone demos. To start with, anyway, because even though I made supreme score after supreme score the first few days, the game soon increased the workload to a point where I was no longer able too keep up. That's the first difference with the preceding games; rather than a minimum goal and expert score, this game has goal, master, expert and supreme scores. It also lacks the "endless" mode, although it does have an awards room (awards are given for accomplishments, but also for things like the game itself adding a new kind of aeroplane to the traffic) with a camera icon that takes a picture of the award screen (minus camera icon) and puts it in the user's Picture directory. (With my flattering Windows username at the top, of course.)

The basics are deceptively simple. A cute little plane in a pastel shade flies around above the airport. I click on it and then on the landing strip to bring it down. While it's still flying, I can also assign it to a gate to unload its passengers. This gate will take on the plane's colour, and I get bonus points for sending planes to gates of the same colour. There are three gates versus four colours of plane, and sometimes I get one incoming red plane after another, so of course this can be tricky. There are special parking spaces for planes waiting to unload, and one of the upgrades I can buy is a space where I can repaint planes to the right colour for a vacant gate. While the plane is unloading, I can't select it. Once it's done, it lets me know with an image in a balloon whether it needs refuelling or repair, and after that, it reloads and departs; these actions can be chained by clicking a gate and a runway. The planes burble happily, unless they have to wait too long, in which case their faces turn angry; if not brought in on time, they may even leave in search of a more efficient airport. As an extra distraction, a helicopter may fly past which, if clicked on, drops bags of money.

The progress screen is too wide for its screen size; scrolling to the right, I count 8 stages, each with a curving line of cupcake-shaped dots to mark every day, the finished days topped with a number of stars to indicate their score. The burbling planes are adorable, but since I started running into problems before even finishing stage 1, I'm pessimistic about ever being able to play out the whole game.

Cake Mania 2 (demo)

A final Acer GameZone time management demo, belonging to the Cake Mania series. The Cake Mania games are popular both for their choice of subject (cakes, yum yum) and their better quality graphics. Though still simple, these are actually nice to look at. There are by now six Cake Mania titles out, showing just how much game pleasure can be wrung out of baking, icing and delivering different shapes of cakes in many different environments.

This second game starts with the heroine feeling bored in her grandparents' cake shop. As an example of "be careful what you wish for", she's called by two friends who desperately need her help, and the player has to make a choice: chique dessert boutique, or waterworld amusement park? The player is then pulled into a wide view of the "world map" showing the locations where she operates, and given a tutorial to prepare for the first day. The minimum and expert scores are called "baker goal" and "superstar goal", and there is a simple screen for high scores; the money made can be spent on enhancements like a faster oven and new toppings. When I start Cake Mania 2 after that, I can choose between starting a new game, continuing a saved one or playing in endless mode, which I haven't tried. I can also replay a day in any location, which I did for the first day at Rooftop Refreshments in a vain attempt to reach the superstar goal.

The graphics for this game are not only bright and polished, they are funny, and may be backed up by funny sound effects. The old ladies announce themselves with a creaky "hello dear", while a guitar riff plays for every heavy metal customer. Out of the movie stars' handbags poke the rat-like heads of chihuahuas. Their cake demands vary from run-of-the-mill to bizarre; starting with a single frosted cake, they move to tiered cakes with toppers. For the graphics alone, this game is definitely on my to-buy list.

Mystic Emporium

The second time management game that I really, really liked. Apart from "Cake Mania" quality graphics, the premise, for once, has nothing to do with food. This was one of the demos installed by the games bought at the supermarket, so it's the Dutch version, and I paid much more for the unlocking code than if I'd simply bought the English version off Oberon's site; but at the time I didn't know how addicted I would become to these games. A young witch, with cute skull jewellery and a cat that somehow obscures the top of her pointy hat when lying on it, fulfils her dream of starting her own potion shop. She starts with just two potions. The number of potions increases to six, the equipment can be upgraded over time, and shelves can be bought for surplus potions. Each day has a minimum and expert financial target; attain the first, and the game moves to the next level; achieve the second, and the day in the progress screen (third screenshot) is shown as a double star. To keep the player in a good mood despite all the stress, the background music plays a merry little tune. There are awards for things like not losing any customers for 10 days running, and boy, do some of those customers have short tempers. Every few days, you can play for one of three amulets - one that increases tips, makes a plant grow its seeds faster, or causes the firebird to grow feathers more quickly - in a samegame. One would think that a game offering only 24 levels or "days" would be finished pretty soon, but since I'm a slowpoke, I'm usually stuck at day 23. (A day after writing this, I managed to reach the target for day 24 and get the end screen, where the shop is declared best magic shop in town and the customers congratulate its owner. But I still can't reach the "expert" target for the last three days.)

This game has a trophy room with trophies for things like always using the same cauldron for one recipe or not losing any customers, but as far as I can tell it has no endless playing mode.

Go-Go Gourmet: Chef of the Year (demo)

Do not play this game if you are on a diet. A demo that came with Fabulous Finds, it is also a sequel, and its main character, already established as a master cook, now has to win a title as international master cook. How? By being the fastest short-order cook around. This is no "slow food"; she is shown a recipe and instruction and then has to grab ingredients from all over the counter, put them in the right containers for processing and serve up the result to the judges, who rate her only by how fast she delivers. Her competitors are a bunch of ethnic stereotypes from other countries. Each day, the slowest chef loses and is kicked out of the competition, but has a plausible excuse why, insinuating foul play. It is easy to stay at the top, at least for the first few days covered by the demo, and for every success our heroine wins another outfit that you can change her into in the dressup screen; not a frivolous activity, as what she wears can affect how the judges rate her. What she also wins: recipes! After I'd finished playing the demo, shut down the laptop, done a million other things, and attached the printer to the laptop an unspecified number of days later to print out some document, the first thing to roll out of the printer was a two-page apple pie recipe that the game still owed me. I don't remember anything about the background music's quality (let's face it, in the rush, it's the first thing you stop noticing) but the graphics are nice and glossy. Even the food looks good to eat.

Both Go Go Gourmet games were combined with the Tasty Turbo Trio in the now no longer available bundle called Foodie Fun Five Pack.

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