'Parking Dash' drives for fun

— -- When the concept is explained to you, PlayFirst's Parking Dash is one of those games that sounds incredibly boring. But once you get behind the wheel, it proves to be a fun ride.

This try-before-you-buy downloadable PC game introduces you to Karma, a young woman who wears big headphones and a trucker cap. As told through the comic book-like intro sequence, she inherits a parking garage behind Flo's Diner (from the Diner Dash restaurant-management games). While unenthused at first, Karma decides to give it a shot by managing the garage as the sole valet attendant.

In the Story mode, customers drive in and Karma must hop into their vehicles and move them to available spots in a timely manner. Bonus points are awarded for matching the car color with the same-colored parking spot.

The first challenge is maneuvering all the vehicles so you can return the cars to the customers when they return. This might involve moving a vehicle so you can access one trapped behind it. Customers have a little clock over their heads that tell you how long they're going to be away, so it's ideal to put the cars that will be there for a while near the back of the garage so they won't block any in.

The second challenge is when different types of vehicles pull in that might require two spots, such as a limo (lengthwise) or a hummer (widthwise). Think of it as a sliding tile-like puzzle game. Thirdly, each customer has a different personality, so one might tip well but doesn't like to wait around too long for his vehicle.

Over time, Karma will find helpful additions to her lot — such as more spaces, car elevators that turn one spot into two, and a coffee or donut machine to keep customers happy — while obstacles include snow you need to shovel away, dirty cars that require washing to ensure a better tip and car alarms that need to be turned off before they annoy customers. You can also choose an upgrade after each of the 50 levels, some of which are cosmetic but please customers, while others make Karma faster, among other bonuses.

The goal, as with the other time-management games, is to earn enough money to advance to the next level.

The graphics are cute and on par with other Dash puzzlers, but the music is better because you can select tunes from the virtual radio stations. You can also cancel a command in case you want to reprioritize the order of your multitasking mayhem.

The five locations are not too different from one another, however, despite the occasional odd new customer, such as a girl who drives a float for a Chinese New Year's parade that takes up three spots, and other new twists, such as cars with dogs inside and the ability to reserve a spot.

Another issue is that the on-screen radio (in the top right-hand corner of the screen) can block your view of part of the parking lot, such as a car elevator, so you can't see obscured cars when customers come to pick them up. Overall, though, none of these shortcomings hurt the experience too much.

Along with the Story mode is the typical Endless Shift mode, where a never-ending stream of customers arrives at the garage. Upgrade buttons are available every time a specific point level is reached.

"Parking Dash" is a challenging and gratifying time-management simulation that will satisfy both newbie players and long-time Dash fanatics. It might not be perfect, but it's worth the modest $20 price tag after you've played an hour for free.

Contact Saltzman at gnstech@gns.gannett.com.