Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hot Dog King Review

Hot Dog King, developed by Fuzzyeyes Studio and published by Meridian 4.
The Good: Fairly sophisticated mechanics, lots of seedy strategies for eliminating the competition, some interesting scenario variations, mini-games vary the gameplay
The Not So Good: Superfluous “sexy” female employees, tedious tutorial, ordering products is cumbersome, cleaning the store is annoying and repetitive, really bad theme song
What say you? This business simulation has some unique aspects, but it’s not user friendly and the scantily-clad women are totally unnecessary: 5/8

There’s nothing more American than hot dogs. The amalgamation of different meat-flavored body parts is an analogy for the amalgamation of cultures that comprises our great nation. Branching from this tradition is Hot Dog King, a game that lets you enter the cutthroat world of food service. This is an economic simulation, where you build your business from the ground up, hire employees, upgrade your stores, and gradually take over the competition. Will Hot Dog King be a tasty meal, or just be composed mostly of filler?

The graphics of Hot Dog King are very reminiscent of the Sims games, both in the city and store views. The cities are nice looking and they compare favorable to the quality of City Life and SimCity 4, although Hot Dog King doesn't quite have the same level of detail. Still, it's a nice representation of three real-world locales. The shops are similar to those found in The Sims 2, with larger characters but fewer details. The character animations are repetitive (and you can really see this on accelerated time), but the people behave realistically enough. The quality of the graphics in Hot Dog King is pretty much what you’d expect for a game of this type. The sound is generally decent, with good effects and reasonable restaurant sounds. However, Hot Dog King has probably the worst theme song ever; you can download it here from the official site. It’s not even in the “so bad it’s good” category. I quickly turned the music volume all the way to zero, as you can probably tell. Still, the graphics and sound as a whole are average for the genre.

In Hot Dog King, you run a new business specializing in food. You start out with convenience-store abilities (microwave, refrigerator), but as you earn more money, you can upgrade your store to include a full kitchen to prepare hot and delicious meals for the masses. Hot Dog King features a tutorial that teaches all of the game’s basic mechanics, but it’s too much reading and not enough interaction. In campaign mode, you start out by choosing a personality profile that grants different bonuses to employee morale, discounts on clothing, or more money. There are also several stand-alone scenarios with different starting conditions, such as the steady invasion of more competition, starting with high-level businesses, and so on. Not restricting the user to starting from the bottom each new game is nice. The world of Hot Dog King is in three cities: Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York City. Each city is divided into several districts that will determine your clientele and their desires. The real life locations don’t have any impact on the gameplay (they game would be the same if it were set in, say, Topeka), but adding a touch of realism never hurts.

You’ll spend most of your time in Hot Dog King running your store. First, you’ll need to hire some staff. At first, you’ll only have one employee that runs the cash register (that must be female), but through upgrades you can allow for more staff. Each potential hire is rated in several areas that determine how well they interact with the customers and their performance on the job. None of your employees are good at everything, so you’ll have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each potential worker. Training can be conducted later to improve their deficiencies, however. After they are hired, you choose a position for them and buy clothes to dress them up like dirty, dirty whores. You see, a point of emphasis in Hot Dog King is your female workers “swaying their hips and showing the skin,” as the manual puts it. This exploitation of women is completely gratuitous in the game, and it takes what would be a family-friendly product to seedy levels that are just uncalled for.

Since you are in the food retail business, you’ll be selling food. The raw or pre-packaged products are bought through the wholesaler menu. There is a great selection of products available, but buying in bulk is extremely tedious as each item must be clicked on individually and added to your cart. Once your store becomes popular, you’ll have hundreds of customers, so buying hundreds of products requires hundreds of clicks. As you might imagine, this gets annoying very quickly. There are several ways of doing this much easier, but Hot Dog King avoids a simple and straightforward user interface. Once you make enough money, you can add a kitchen and more advanced appliances to your store, increasing the customer base. In an interesting twist, Hot Dog King allows for more underhanded tactics when dealing with the competition you’ll encounter: you can hire the Mob to provide protection, “remove” the competition, trash stores, poison their food, or frame rival owners to reduce their reputation in the community. This is a neat addition that I don’t remember seeing in other business management games; it’s one of the unique aspects of Hot Dog King. Another unique addition is the use of mini-games: you’ll need to blast computer viruses and swat rats on occasion, and although the games become repetitive, it’s still a nice break from the action and a welcome addition to the title.

Despite these unique components, Hot Dog King really falters when it comes to giving the user good feedback. Your customers give a generic one-line quote about their visit, but no specifics. You might not stock their favorite food, but they never say what it is. They complain that “at least the rats are eating good”; it took me a while to figure out what that even means (your store is dirty). Sales figures are also uninformative: you’re given the best seller per day, but no other sales information. You’re given how many items you have in stock, but the game won’t automatically purchase new items or even give an auditory or visual indication when you run out of goods. You can set up a daily shopping list, but this is never executed automatically like you would think. For a business simulation, Hot Dog King is really skimpy on the details, which makes playing the game extremely difficult. I lost the first four games I played after the first day before I realized that I have to manually click on every spot of dirt, piece of trash, and appliance several times per day to clean them. This is as exciting as it is in real life; sure it’s realistic, but shouldn’t it be automated from the beginning instead of having to wait until you get a high-level store to have a cleaning employee (you’ve already lost by that point anyway). I don’t play games so that I can click on dirt.

Hot Dog King is a combination of truly unique products with exacerbating design decisions. The gameplay is generally solid: running a store can be fun and challenging, and the addition of mini-games and the Mob is one-of-a-kind. There is the potential for a very good business simulation here, but there are several issues that hold Hot Dog King back from being a satisfying game. The exploitation of women is a very odd choice that removes any family appeal, the feedback provided by the game is terrible, and ordering products is tedious. Unfortunately, two of these things are fundamental to the gameplay, so it makes Hot Dog King more of an exercise in monotony than a compelling game. Luckily, I think these problems could be easily resolved. Some people might be able to get past the cumbersome interface and enjoy the game; just don’t listen to the theme song.