Review: VR The Diner Duo

Review: VR The Diner Duo

Have you ever wanted to run a restaurant that serves burgers, fish sandwiches, and cupcakes to robots? If so, kudos on the very specific goal, and I’ve got the PERFECT game for you. VR The Diner Duo puts you behind the grill of your own diner where you’ll take orders, throw burgers on the grill, chop up mushrooms, squirt ketchup and sauce all over the place, assemble delicious sandwiches and more! There’s also local co-op, allowing a second player to play as a waiter, calling out order numbers and serving up drinks and pie.

You may not ever get to run a robots-only diner in real life, but VR is close enough to real life anyway, right?

Title: VR The Diner Duo
Developer: Whirlybird Games
Platform: PS4
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Purchased by reviewer for #DiscoverIndies
Interface: PSVR + Move controllers for player one, DualShock 4 for player two
Available on PS4 (PSVR required; reviewed) and Steam (Windows, HTC Vive or Oculus Rift required).

The chef plays in VR and cooks the food while the waiter is played with a gamepad.
The waiter takes orders from customers, serves them drinks and keeps the customers happy while they’re waiting for their food.

Your goal as a chef is to cook the food your customers want, in a limited amount of time. You snooze – you lose!

I came across VR The Diner Duo while searching for games I’d never heard of for the first #DiscoverIndies event. I love games like Overcooked, and getting the chance to combine a game potentially like that with VR sounded too good to be true. With the fates all aligned, my gal and I dove into the game, and we’ve done so repeatedly since.

In solo mode, customers will come in and the pair of waiters will take their orders. Once one of the waiters gets to you, you’re shown exactly what kind of food you need to make. You’ll handle everything behind the counter, and even the most simple burger requires grabbing a plate and setting it down, placing the bottom bun down on it, throwing a burger patty on the grill, waiting for it to cook, putting it onto the bottom bun, throwing a top bun on it, and then placing the plate with the burger on it into the serving area. Things get much more complicated as you go through the levels, but the learning curve has a great amount of customization.

Co-op VR The Diner Duo is like a friendlier, more realistic version of Overcooked. You won’t be carrying food across floating chunks of ice or feeding a giant monstrosity to save the world, but you will be working together (in co-op mode, that is) to fulfill food orders in a timely fashion. Instead of merely seeing images of what you need to make, the other player will have to call out the orders – “2 number 3s and a number 5!”, for example – and you’ll need to look at the menu board in front of you or behind you to see what goes on it. Co-op also adds drinks and pie to the game; pie can be used to temporarily appease customers that are getting impatient, and the drinks are an added item customers will ask for. The waiter will have to call out orders while running around, grabbing the right drinks, grabbing food when it’s ready, and helping to make customers happy with baked goodness, so they don’t exactly have an easy time either.

For most video games, I can’t really speak to how true of an experience it is. I’ve never actually slain a dragon, fought in a war, or defused bombs with the help of someone using an instruction manual that can’t see the device alongside me. But I HAVE worked at a fast food place, Quiznos to be exact. Memorizing how various sandwiches are assembled was the toughest part of the job by far, and the same is true with VR The Diner Duo. Sure you can just look what goes on each one each time, but that wastes precious seconds and can make the difference between keeping up with customers or slowly falling behind. Later levels often last well over 2 minutes, meaning that there’s plenty of time to slowly fall behind and have all three customers walk off, leading to failure.

What really makes VR The Diner Duo shine is the flow. Just like the Overcooked games require an almost trance-like focus, I was almost always in that state in VR The Diner Duo as the chef. It doesn’t sound like much of a game, but playing it is really a rush. It’s also one of the least exhausting VR games despite all the movement, although I still ended up sweaty from the stress. This is definitely a game to play standing up since you’ll be turning to both sides, reaching under the counter in front of you, and reaching forward a bit. It’s also, surprisingly, the first VR game to make me accidentally forget it’s not real! I found myself trying to lean on the counter in front of me a few times, or trying to drum my hands against it between levels.

The game is made up of 30+ levels in sets of 5. Generally, you’re given new burgers and sandwiches every 5 levels, but sometimes they sneak some in more often than that. You’re given up to 3 stars per level depending on how many customers leave angrily. These stars don’t seem to matter in the long run as levels will unlock as long as you pass the previous level. VR The Diner Duo also uses one of the best level unlock mechanics I’ve seen; each time you beat a level you can go to the next level with a single button press, but you can also immediately jump into the next set of five levels. This way, if you find the current levels too easy, you can just skip several of them and get into some more challenging stuff. You’ll want to beat every level, though, because many of them reward you with new customization items like hats for the chef and new colors or heads for the waiters. These are purely cosmetic, but they’re a nice touch. Some levels also unlock new modes, such as an endless mode. Level stats and unlocks are saved between solo and co-op, and since solo was quite a bit easier for me (my memory is awful), it was nice being able to unlock endless mode solo and then play together.

In addition to the main game levels, there are also Winter and Cupcake levels. The Winter levels are super festive with snowmen for customers and ridiculously complex sandwich orders. The Cupcake levels, on the other hand, are entirely different! No more sandwiches, no more burgers, no more grill! It’s an entirely new place where you’ve got unlimited cupcakes and sweets. Your job is merely to throw what people want onto a tray, which sounds super easy until you’re stacking over a dozen items on a tray as fast as you can. This mode is especially fun co-op because it’s crazy trying to explain the orders. Cupcakes aren’t numbered, you’ll see an order like the one below. If my gal and I were playing co-op (this is a solo screenshot), and she was explaining the order on the right, she’d say something like “six watermelon cakes, 4 hearts, 2 graham, 2 salty balls”. I’d have the six watermelon cakes and 4 heart cupcakes on the tray and then forget the rest because it’s such a big order. “What was the rest?” I’d ask, and then she’d sigh. “Hold on, I’m getting a drink for someone I need to go check… Okay, it’s 2 graham and 2 salty balls.” Now we’re running behind because it’s so hectic! It’s a great memory-improving game and it’s also super hectic and fun.

VR The Diner Duo was a surprise hit; it’s a terrific solo game but it’s even better co-op. I liked that it actually felt like we were working together in a friendly way, unlike Overcooked which causes 9 out of 10 couples to break up. With all of this said, it’s not perfect by any means. If you’re holding something and it bumps an object, it’ll fall out of your hand. This includes accidentally touching the counter or bumping your hands together. Sometimes items clip through the counter as well, such as a plate vanishing, and the knife is especially bad at temporarily disappearing and then having to wait on it to respawn. And speaking of the knife, it’s also incredibly unreliable; you need to cut the stems off of the mushrooms and both the head and tails off of fish before you cook them, and once you start using cucumbers you’ll be chopping like crazy. Sadly, it often takes multiple tries before a single cut is successful, which is rough when time is of the essence. Also, while the difficulty ramps up at a great pace, there are some things the game isn’t clear about. It took us forever to figure out how the waiter could throw away a bad order since the garbage can is a little hidden, and you have to experiment with what spoils and what doesn’t. Cooked burgers eventually turn green and are only good for feeding the trash can, but you can chop cucumber slices and let them sit forever without them going bad, and the same seems true of mushrooms and fish from what I’ve seen. The biggest “AHA!” moment was the difficulty level though: in the options menu, you can drastically reduce the difficulty of all the levels. I didn’t notice this for days, though, and was getting really frustrated with the game when I finally found it. It rejuvenated the game for me, and it made it way easier to get used to using the knife since the alternative was resetting a level every 30 seconds when I messed one or two things up. Finally, although endless mode has a high scoreboard, it’s local only.

Even though pretty much the whole previous paragraph was negative, VR The Diner Duo is a hidden gem in the PSVR catalog. It’s also an amazing co-op game, and even after days of playing it an hour or two at a time, I’m still looking forward to more of it. It’s hardcore enough that I was sweatier than after playing genuinely exhausting games but casual enough that it was the first game that got my gal to try PSVR for a little bit. Not only did she try it, she really enjoyed herself, and since it was my first time as the waiter I was having a hard time keeping up with her! The game does use the Move controllers, which still confuse me half the time in games like Skyrim, but the only buttons you’ll use are the two triggers.

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