Diner Dash: Hometown Hero is Out! We are working on our review and strategy guide, but you can download a free trial of the game here.

The greatest irony of being the man behind Gamezebo is that in the year and half since our launch, I personally have not written one preview or review of any game. My brilliant staff of writers has the privilege of writing reviews and previews for you. But when PlayFirst, creators of the popular Diner Dash series, gave me the opportunity to stop by their offices in downtown San Francisco today for a sneak peak of their upcoming game, Diner Dash: Hometown Hero and write a preview, I had to oblige.

So how is the fourth sequel in the saga of Flo? In one word: Wow!

The basic storyline and game play of Diner Dash: Hometown Hero is similar to what you would expect if you have ever played a Diner Dash title before. Flo visits her grandmother and discovers her hometown has seen better times. Flo being Flo, the most Type-A personality waitress/entrepreneur in the world, decides to help by waiting tables and fixing up various restaurants around town, including a baseball ball-park, museum, and zoo.

The most unique aspect of Story Mode is that the backgrounds of the restaurants are dynamic. As you sit down customers, take their orders, bring them food, clean their tables, and collect their bills – and most importantly, make customers happy – you attract more people and animals to your venues. You can actually watch as the town is revitalized with crowds of new people populating the environment around each restaurant as you play and advance in the game.

There are new customers in Hometown Hero. My personal favorites are the Hungry Men, dressed in hefty lumberjack attire. They will order and eat and then order and eat again! There are also groups of teenage boys and teenage girls who if seated separately will talk loudly on their cell phones and annoy your other customers but if seated close together, they will flirt, keeping each other happy and out of other patron’s hair. Plus, the Food Critic is back after a long hiatus (she last appeared in the first Diner Dash game).

Like a real restaurant, if your dinner party is too large, you can actually put tables together to seat them, adding a new level of chaining and strategy. And there are tons of decision points between levels, from designing the decor of your restaurants to picking food to serve.

If Story Mode was all that Hometown Hero had to offer, this would be a very sweet sequel. But what makes this game potentially very special are more radical changes PlayFirst has added that may be revolutionary not just to the Diner Dash franchise but to casual game downloads on the whole.

PlayFirst has added a multiplayer mode allowing you to play with friends and strangers online. There are two ways to play multiplayer: Competitive, where you compete with other players to finish game levels; and Cooperative, where you work together with another online player as a team to complete the level.

Even more revolutionary are the "MyWaiter" and "MyDiner" features, where you can customize and create your own waiters and diners and share them with others online. When you create your own waiter, you are essentially customizing your own avatar. You can pick and choose among thousands of customization options, from hairstyle and skin color, to clothes and accessories.

You can also design and create your own diners and then share them by uploading your work to the new official (and soon to re-launch) Diner Dash Web site. On DinerDash.com, players will be able to search and play diners designed by others, and find out about new items available for sale in the Diner Dash Boutique – all making the Diner Dash game play experience endless.

At launch, PlayFirst plans to offer players with 500 different items to customize their waiter (avatar) and diner, many which will be available for free but they will also charge a small micro-transaction fee for other exclusive items (e.g., $.75 each).

The new features in Story Mode should make fans of the Diner Dash series of games very excited in that they provide new ways to play Diner Dash game that people have grown to love. But, it’s the multiplayer and My Diner features that intrigue me the most. Though not a giant leap into a Diner Dash virtual world, based on my exclusive first look at the game, Hometown Heroes does represent a small step in that direction.

Gamezebo will definitely be sure to tell you about this game the moment it is launched.