When I completed the first stage of Gordon Ramsay DASH, I was rewarded by a little cartoon of Gordon Ramsay smiling at me, my phone playing a clip of his voice telling me I did a great job, and a dopamine squirt in my brain. The latter guaranteed I’d be spending actual American dollars on this game and possibly be discussing it with my therapist.
Gordon Ramsay DASH is the latest in celebrity tie-in games from Glu Mobile, which previously struck app store gold in 2014 with the release of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. Kim K’s celebrity lifestyle simulator has reportedly netted Glu over $100 million dollars since its release, with Kim herself putting possibly 45 percent of that profit into her pocket. Or purse? With that kind of money, she can have as many purses and dresses with pockets as she wants. And all it took was licensing her image, recording a few lines of dialogue, and occasionally shooting a little video message to app users. It is simply a chump move for an enterprising celeb to turn down the chance to make some fat bank off of in-app purchases.
Gordon Ramsay, obviously, is no chump.
Just as Kim Kardashian: Hollywood was basically just a celebrity paint job over an existing Glu property (an app called Stardom: The A-List), Gordon Ramsay DASH is just a version of the venerable game Diner Dash with some Hell’s Kitchen spattered all over it. This is not to say that Glu is cranking out cheap or slapdash cash-grab tie-ins. God, if only. They might be easier to put down if that were the case.
Gordon’s game casts you as the star of a new reality series, Rising Star Chefs. You create your little chef avatar and control a burger joint in San Francisco. Customers sit down at your counter to order and your tiny chef gets to doling out burgers, fries, and onion rings. The goal of the game is to get the highest ranking in all stages of service at the different restaurants that open; when you’ve managed that, there’s promise of more restaurants to be unlocked in future game updates to keep you addicted.
There’s an easy hypnotic rhythm to tapping and swiping to best satisfy your customers. Tap tap tap: beef to grill, burger to bun, bun to condiment station, a final tap to take finished burger to the patron, and a big swipe to collect tips from satisfied customer. I’d actually never played Diner Dash before, but it’s clear why it’s spawned so many sequels, ports, and ripoffs over the years: It’s just damn fun.
Chef Ramsay makes a very good cartoon. Who better to consume in video game format?
But why Gordon’s version, now, over all others? Well, like most Americans, I have an immediate slavish devotion to celebrity by default; I played that Kim Kardashian game daily for nearly a damn year. I’ve never been much of a consumer of Gordon Ramsay’s catalog of media, though, other than a couple of episodes of Kitchen Nightmares (that one with Amy’s Baking Company? Holy shit!). I’ve almost entirely absorbed the Gordon Ramsay Experience through the vibrations of culture at large; he yells, he swears, he has dramatic, tense pauses on his cooking competition shows that are ripe for sketch comedy parody. Who better to consume in video game format?
Chef Ramsay makes a very good cartoon. I have a friend who says that Gordon looks like one of the pigs from The Muppets, and that’s a look that translates well when boiled down to a brightly colored, exaggerated version of the real thing. Li’l Gordon’s animated introductions to game stages capture his body language remarkably well for just simple motions. And, of course, he looks entirely natural as his shoulders are engulfed in flames when he’s entered Frenzy Mode.
Well, of course there’s a Frenzy Mode. Tapping and swiping with enough skill builds up a meter that lets Gordon Ramsay go Super Saiyan, wreathed in fire waiting for you to tap on him so he can become SUPERGORDON. When unleashed (which you can do during times of trouble), SUPERGORDON dashes around the kitchen, serving all the impatiently waiting customers and cleaning everything all in one rush, and when he does so — and this is important, this is essentially the reason I decided this game was worth my continued time — the game plays a clip of actual Gordon Ramsay, voice coated in reverb, saying, “I… AM… SUPERGORDON.“
Gordon has a lot to say in general in the course of the game; could you really call it a proper Ramsay product if it didn’t involve him shouting around a kitchen? He praises you when you’re doing well — complete with censor bleeps when necessary (“Absolutely @#$#-ing stunning,” you’re rewarded with when zipping through the kitchen) — is gentle but stern when your performance is middling (“Is it good? Yes. Is it your best? No.”), and when you fail… well, hardly a surprise what you hear then (“It’s RUINED, you @#%$-ing DONUT”). I often turn sound and music off when playing mobile games, preferring to focus on whatever podcast or music is occupying my commute instead, but I absolutely leave Gordon’s praise/abuse turned on.
The game plays a clip of actual Gordon Ramsay saying, “I… AM… SUPERGORDON.”
The quest for Tiny Cartoon Gordon Ramsay’s approval takes you through different stages, through which you can visit back-and-forth at will. They range from your burger joint in the Bay, where gameplay involves simple sandwich building and onion-blossom frying, to a pizzeria in New York, where managing your virtual kitchen becomes more complicated. Seasoning salads and pastas requires waiting patiently for a slider to hit just the right point. If you tap too soon, Papa Gordo sighs, knowing you could have done better; wait too long and it’s FUCKING RUINED. Pardon me, @%$!-ing ruined. After enough success in your Italian restaurant venture, the next step is a fine-dining restaurant in Las Vegas, slinging langoustines with chanterelles and feta-stuffed steak and sauteed sweetbreads.
It’s a frantic dance of tapping to please all customers (including that one guy who always comes in and just orders a soda; nobody likes you, that guy) and not burn the kitchen down. It becomes gradually harder and harder to succeed at any of it… at least without upgrades.
Because of course. Of course there are upgrades! This is a free-to-play mobile game with in-app purchases. Of course there are somehow like four different forms of virtual currency. You can earn all the various types of coins through the hard work you do in your restaurants, slowly earning the cash to buy more burners for your grill, make your marinara sauce more valuable, or throw some candles on tables to make patrons more content. However, hard work takes a long time and sucks, so you can always just throw actual real money at the problem and start rolling around in Ramsay gold right away.
I’ve spent 35 actual goddamn human American dollars on Gordon Ramsay DASH.
Three bucks worth of in-game purchases are enough to disable recurring ads, and also enough to get you that first sweet taste of easier kitchen success. I believe in paying for things I’m enjoying, so I shelled out a little… but I’m also an adult with disposable income, a dislike of delayed gratification, and poor impulse control, so I’ve ended up shelling out more than just a little. The game offers you sous chefs to prep your sauces and salads and heat your burners and make things so much easier; the price to unlock them using in-game currency can cost from 10 to 20 dollars in real-world funds. For the especially frivolous spender, you can buy little outfits for your personal chef avatar. I’ve restrained myself to just whites for now.
At the writing of this review, I’ve spent 35 actual goddamn human American dollars on Gordon Ramsay DASH, and I will probably spend more. At the end of the day, it’ll probably cost me less than taking that trip to the therapist to work through the feelings I have when the little famous chef who lives in my phone is disappointed in me.