Reviewed: June 1, 2007
Released: April 25, 2007
Hot Dog King, described by the publisher as a “fast-paced strategy simulation with a fresh approach to fast food,” is, in truth, a game that contains aspects that, bizarrely enough, bring to mind not only a fast food chain business sim, but also a people sim and a dating sim. While the purported point of the game is to build yourself a fast food empire that out-competes all other chains, you’ll find that Hot Dog King almost focuses more on the upkeep of your “franchise staff” – the booth girls, if you will, manning your cash registers – than the business aspects of the game.
It turns out that Hot Dog King’s gameplay is very straightforward, even though the optional tutorial at the beginning of the game is, unfortunately, both confusing and plagued with enough spelling and grammar errors to throw an English teacher into an apoplectic fit. To start off, you can choose either to play the full campaign (which involves conquering all three cities: Seattle, Los Angeles, or New York) or simply to pick one city to play in. Other play options are eventually available. Whichever you choose, gameplay will be roughly the same.
Basically, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to develop the leading fast food chain in your chosen city, whether by relatively good business practices or by underhanded deals with the mob. I say “relatively” because, no matter which style of gameplay you choose, you will have to employ the services of a number of voluptuous female “franchise staff” dressed in the attire of your choosing – which often amounts to next to nothing. But, more on that later.
Upon choosing a city, you will be prompted to choose a location at which to open your first store. Based on the city and the particular district that you’ve chosen, the clientele will have different tastes in food and clothing, so you’ll have to keep these preferences in mind when deciding which food items to purchase and how to dress up your franchise girls at each location. Don’t worry, though; if you keep track of customer comments with your PDA (the game’s main interface), it should be pretty easy to figure out your clients’ needs.
Buying equipment and upgrading your shop is similarly straightforward. The equipment you buy directly affects what foods you can serve, and the level of your store (of which there are five) determines what equipment you can install and how many staff members you can hire at once. At the beginning, you can only have one franchise girl both ringing up customers and cleaning up, but eventually, you can have two franchise girls working the counter, while general staff members take care of store upkeep and cooking.
Unfortunately, shop customization options are conspicuously missing. While the premade restaurant layouts are actually fairly attractively designed, the shop visuals are preset for each city and look exactly the same at a given level of development. Frankly, it would have added a lot to the game to give the player some ability to choose at least some details regarding the look or layout of the store, but the developers sadly didn’t see it fit to include this feature. Instead, the game’s main attraction is its franchise girls, and this is where Hot Dog King becomes a little more like a people or dating sim.
As I mentioned earlier, your franchise staff consists of your choice of a number of busty women. Frankly, I was impressed that such a wide range of ethnic diversity was present in the selection and surprisingly; maybe because the Fuzzyeyes development team was largely Asian, there are even a large number of Asian subtypes represented. Each girl has her strengths and weaknesses, as well as her own taste in clothing, so certain girls seem to do better in certain locations or a particular type of clothing. Luckily, the girls’ stats are easily modified by equipped items or relatively cheap training sessions, so if you prefer a girl with poor stats, her weaknesses can still be overcome.
I’ll make no bones about it, though: these girls are high maintenance, and it’ll take most of your game time efforts to make sure they’re happy and, therefore, helping out your business. They don’t like to do chores, so telling them to tidy up the place at all (which you must from store levels 1-3 out of 5 maximum levels) will make them upset very quickly. Similarly, wearing outfits they don’t like makes them upset. In short, just about everything makes them upset, and they’ll quit if you don’t keep them happy, so what do you do as the store manager? Apparently, the proper response is to lavish expensive gift after expensive gift upon them. We’re talking about tropical vacations, “jewellery” vouchers, and gift certificates to lingerie stores.
And, if buying inappropriate gifts for your personnel isn’t creepy enough, the camera views inside your shop are fixed to imitate the views of a number of in-store security cameras. While that’s an interesting idea, the limited view can also be very inconvenient sometimes, and, in the end, you just can’t shake the feeling that you’re spying on these girls. Despite these eerie voyeur overtones and the game manual’s incessant urging toward the player to form close relationships with their franchise staff, though, your interactions with the girls are really limited to just a few actions: buying them gifts, telling them to take breaks or go back to work, and telling them to clean store equipment.
As far as I could tell, there was really no development of any sort of bond with your employees whatsoever. In short, the game also lacks the fun elements of a people or dating simulation game, though if you enjoy dressing up virtual women, you will have plenty of opportunities to do so.
Additionally, there are a few strange and (occasionally) surprisingly violent mini-games interspersed throughout gameplay that range from whacking rats to death with ladles to killing robbers with well-aimed plates. The mini-games, like the rest of Hot Dog King, aren’t absolutely terrible, but at the frustrating frequency they pop up, they can become quite a chore. Of course, you could always take a hefty hit in cash rather than play the mini-game, but most of the time, playing the mini-games anyway is probably the better bet, no matter how annoying you find them to be.
Honestly, though, what hampers Hot Dog King’s gameplay most is its buggy and unintuitive user interface. For example, the “Back” button on your PDA sometimes inexplicably closes the entire window when it should only be taking you up one level on the menu, and buying food items for your store forces you to click on an item 50 times when it would have been so simple to allow the user to type in a quantity of 50 on the keyboard. Worse yet, if you click on a burger 50 times to buy the 50 burgers your shop needs, then accidentally click on the hot dog next to it before clicking the “Add to Cart” button, you’ll have to click the burger 50 times all over again to put the correct number of items in your shopping cart! I’m certain there are gamers out there more patient than I am, but I found this one of the most frustrating parts of the gaming experience.
The graphics in Hot Dog King are bright, cartoonish, and campy in the sort of way you’d expect from a game of this type—and I don’t mean that in a bad way. The cityscape and store visuals are actually fairly well put together, and each city has its own unique and attractive style when it comes to store décor. The characters, too, each have their own individual, sometimes amusing, animations; and the franchise girls are appropriately distinctive in their facial features and behaviors, though they all have the exact same body mesh.
The animations, however, could use a little bit of work—after all, it’s a little weird to see a take-out bag slide through the cash register instead of being handed to the customer over the counter. Also, especially since Hot Dog King places so much emphasis on the girls—and especially since the game manual describes some of the girls as being 5’ 2” and others as 5’ 10”—it would have been significantly more interesting to see a greater variety of heights and body types actually depicted in-game.
Surprisingly, the soundtrack to this game is pretty decent and includes a reasonable variety of peppy background tunes. The sound effects were a little less well-done (your store sometimes sounds more like an airport than hot dog shop), and the default volume starts off very high, but that can fortunately be adjusted.
The good news is Hot Dog King retails for only $19.99. The gameplay, however, doesn’t change very much depending on the type of campaign or play style you choose, so it may quickly become repetitive for most players. Basically, if you enjoy watching the girls deliver fast food day in and day out, you might do all right with this game. If you’re looking for something more, however, you might want to look elsewhere.
All in all, Hot Dog King really isn’t that awful of a game, and I actually kind of enjoyed playing it for a while after I got used to the game’s quirky menus, but its lukewarm gameplay unfortunately suffers from consistently atrocious spelling problems, some questionably sexist overtones, and a badly designed interface. Other than that, Hot Dog King had some entertaining moments, and I’ve certainly played worse.