You’ve got to admire the humble Penguin: living in the southern hemisphere in largely unforgiving and perilously cold conditions, they go about their business doing the usual Penguin stuff such as being flightless in spite of their ‘bird’ status, looking for all manner of water-dwelling food for sustenance, and starring in some breathtaking segments of many of David Attenborough’s wildlife programmery (they’ve had to work extra hard on their appearance now that they’re doing all that brilliant nature-acting in HD). You don’t hear much about the working conditions of Penguins working in the restaurant business, however, since a penguin in employment is a simply ridiculous idea, isn’t it? I mean, what would it do with all that money? Whatever they damn well want, would be their response, since Penguin Diner has us waiting tables at an entirely fictional yet brilliantly fun flash-based eatery. Get your literal skates on (no room for figurative ones here) and serve the penguin equivalent of fast food to other lazy penguins who can’t be bothered to hunt for their meals in this inventive restaurant-based game of time management.
All of the Antarctic culinary action takes place in the dining area of a variety of Cafes (which act as levels of sorts which you can progress through) where you must tend to customer’s appetites by seating, serving, and saying sayonara to them before bundling more customers into their seats in cycle that repeats until the end of your working day. The goal is to meet the monetary target that is set at the beginning of each working day before the time runs out and the cafe closes its doors. You will find yourself hopping from table to table, balancing the culinary requests of increasing numbers of customers and keeping them as satisfied as possible in order to receive as many tips as you can of the highest value possible. It’s not glamorous working in a cafe, but it pays the bills, because apparently penguins can receive bills and be in debt in this surreal world of Antarctica-based dining establishments.
Controlling the antics of Penny the Penguin is extremely simple since you guide her through the day using only your mouse, making playing the game more pleasant than a brisk Arctic breeze. As customers enter through the door, you simply click on them and then on whichever table you would like to shuffle them to in order to seat them. Customers decide on their order, a picture of which will pop up in a speech bubble above their head; then you simply need to collect their order from the counter once it is ready and deliver it to the appropriate customer. The gameplay is pure, unadulterated management of time and is relatively simple, though at busier times it can be quite challenging.
The incentive to continue playing the game through to its conclusion comes from the sense of progress created by working your way firstly through the levels of the game, starting at the Hill Top Cafe, moving down (in a geographic sense) to the Ice Rink Cafe and finally to the Iceberg Cafe (which sounds like a tremendously unsafe concept for a dining establishment, if you aren’t a penguin, that is). Secondly, various upgrades can be purchased with the profit you make from your tips; these include increasingly fast skates (since the waddling that penguins tend to do would be a wildly impractical manner of delivering food to a customer), TVs for the dining room to make waiting more pleasant, and chairs of increasing comfort potential to increase your tips. When all is said and done, Penguin Diner is a simple game and won’t exactly put your brain’s logic centre through its paces since it is essentially an exercise in strategic clicking. Don’t underestimate how addictive this quaint little title is though; you’ll be playing it until the ice caps melt.