Saturday, April 21, 2007

Review: Hot Dog King

This is the first game I picked to get and review specifically because I thought it would be good review-fodder.

The marketing for this game goes something like, "So you like junk food? You like video games? You like boobies? Come on in."

I get the feeling this is one of those times marketing and development didn't actually attend many of the same meetings.


Hot Dog King is a business sim. Don't let the overabundance of silicone fool you, this game is really about managing fast food franchises in all their sales tax calculating, counter wiping, vomit mopping glory. It's just they took that, slashed the budget in half, and made some character design decisions influenced heavily by not having gotten laid in since Trent Reznor could still pass for an angsty teenager.

The vast majority of your time as grand poobah of Hot Dog King, Inc will be spent in the supermarket or down on your hands and knees with a toothbrush trying to get that whatever-the-hell-it-is out of the grout in the tile of your store's entryway, because if even the slightest scuffmark appears on your floor, it is as dangerous to pedestrians as a claymore landmine, judging from how often my customers toppled over because of a light grey smudge or a gum wrapper. If you manage to stockpile enough food and have a marathon scrubbing session, you might be able to find 5 minutes to run down to the clothes store and find some outfits to slap on your bimbos that might bring in more idiots with money to buy your microwaved nutrislop.

Konnichiwa, dirtbag. Care for some reheated chicken?

You can play in 3 different cities (Seattle, L.A., New York), of graduated difficulty and profit potential. As far as I can tell you will always have the same 12 girls in your labor pool: 3 blondes, 3 brunettes, 3 redheads, two asians and a token black chick. These girls have different statistics that govern how well they perform at various tasks, and how long they put up with you (and the customers) never looking them in the eyes. Typically, they fall into one of three categories... there's the smart ones who know about advanced concepts such as "making correct change" but are socially awkward, irretrievably shy and have the stamina of a boiled noodle. There are the socially outgoing and moderately brazen girls who are as dumb as the fries in the fryer but can work for more than 5 minutes at a stretch... but not much more. Finally, there are the girls who will wear as little or as much as you give them to wear without a word of complaint, but it's easier to get motivation to work out of a rancid bucket of fish heads.

The gameplay goes thusly: Outfit, stock and staff your shop so you can make a profit so you can spend the money to upgrade, restock and restaff your shop so you can make a profit so you can spend the money to buy more shops to outfit, stock and staff so you can make a profit so you can spend the money to upgrade, restock and restaff all your shops so you can make a profit so you can...

... get interrupted by minigames. Maybe your PDA (which serves as the principal interface and management device) gets a virus, and you have to play space invaders to get rid of it. Maybe your store is invaded by rats and you have to smack them with a ladle until you have a bumper surplus of unidentifiable burger meat. Maybe aliens invade and the only way for them to be stopped is if the newest fast food CEO rents a chopper for 2 grand and careens around the city skyline like a Yankees baseball pitcher (POOR TASTE LIMIT EXCEEDED) firing missiles at random until the aliens get bored and wander away.

Or maybe the game crashes.

I have had few games with as many irritating technical problems as this one. Sometimes, it takes 5 to 10 attempts to get the game to launch. Often the game will crash to desktop because something you did 10 minutes ago set events in motion that eventually led to a catastrophic binary meltdown, such as the heinous acts of applying for a loan or trying to change a girl's outfit while she was assigned to cleaning duty. A little QC goes a long way, fellas.

On top of that, there are some aggravating design decisions. The game, unlike almost every other game released in the last 5 years, is apparently too good to use windows' hardware mouse settings, and has its own software-rendered mouse cursor complete with unfamiliar-yet-unconfigurable ballistics parameters. Additionally, windowed mode is limited to a single resolution (which I believe to be 1024x768), and changing fullscreen resolutions requires a program restart (or 10, see above). The UI would be ok if not for the fact that your point of view is inextricably anchored to the security cameras of your stores, and you are limited to manipulating your staff from those few vantage points. Additionally, somebody seemed to think it would be a good idea to vertically stretch everything viewed from these cameras, I guess to make them look more like they were being viewed through a cheap security camera. This is rather irritating to people who, like me, are prone to getting headaches when the fabric of reality refuses to maintain its cohesion. Also, around the third or fourth time the game crashes on you, you will want to know the address of the person who decided this game didn't need an autosave feature. You will save often, or you will often start from scratch.

Yes, if you want, you can run restaraunts staffed entirely by 18 year old d-cup swimsuit models wearing outfits so drafty they could catch cold in the Sahara, but if you do actually put them in anything more flattering than a turtleneck sweater, most of the girls won't have the staying power to make it through a full shift and you'll spend all your time (and a lot of your money) bribing them with CDs, clothing vouchers, free dinners, and jewelry to keep them from storming out the door in a huff... in as much as someone in 6 inch stilleto heels can storm. And even if you do dress them modestly, often one or more of them will often suddenly turn moody and will require a gift consisting of the entirety of the music section of a flagship Hastings Entertainment superstore to keep them pushing pork products across the counter at slack-jawed imbeciles.

And pity the poor girl on cleanup detail. Due to some sort of design oversight or bug, you are unable to click on her. She never comes out of the back of the store. Dirt just magically (possibly telekinetically) vaporises so long as she is employed, but you can't tell her to take a break, or change her clothes, or much else... so eventually she's going to have her morale hit zero and break out the uzi to ventilate you and a few unlucky customers. Well, no, she won't do that, but she will try to quit. But thankfully, yet another bug sometimes causes this girl to be unable to find her way out of the store. So, she will continue to telepathically eradicate dirt and garbage from the restaraunt while you happily ignore her ever-destabilizing psychosis.

Oh, and imagine having to run to Costco between each above paragraph of this review, because you need more goddamned frozen french fries.

And while you read all of the above, 15 customers slipped and fell on a dirty footprint in your foyer, and are all writing nasty letters to the editor about you.

The Good:
-- Reasonably stimulating business sim
-- Good graphics, models, particularly on your staff. Wide selection of fullscreen resolutions (including widescreen)
-- No annoying CD-check

The Bad:
-- Deceptively marketed (no time to oogle, we're out of milkshake mix again. Where's the Sam's Club business member card??)
-- Warped perspective, linked to security cameras
-- No choice of windowed mode resolution/size/aspect ratio

-- Repetitive store designs, "easter eggs" in the same place in every single store, and are always the exact same reward.
-- Bait and switch. You won't be putting your girls in bathing suits unless you're trying to lose the game quickly.
-- UI/mouse control clunky
-- Did I say it was a business sim? I meant it was an appliance and kitchen surface cleaning sim.
-- You will SUFFER through our minigames or lose exorbitant amounts of profit!

The Final Word:
Forget it. Save your money, save your time, save your sanity. Look at some screenshots, they'll show you more skin than you'll see while you play, because you'll be spending all your time eye-to-eye with cockroaches or navigating the virtual aisles of your local food wholesaler... assuming the whole thing doesn't crash on you. If you're in the mood to run a financial empire go get Sid Meier's Railroads! If you're in the mood to oogle virtual girls go get DOA Extreme Beach Volleyball. This game attempts both at once and accomplishes neither one. A bad design badly executed and badly marketed. Rating: D.

I bet it sucks to have to work the deep fryer in that.

And that's the word from Bandit camp...

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