I’m not used to getting stuck in time management games, but just eight levels into Dress Shop Hop I was ready to pack it in. No matter what strategy I tried – chaining, collecting color bonuses, plying customers with beverages to keep them happy – nothing I did was good enough to achieve the minimum goal, to say nothing of Expert. Eventually I did scrape by (after buying a bunch of upgrades with all the money I’d earned repeating the level so many times), but it was a pattern that would repeat itself. In short: Dress Shop Hop is one challenging game.

The hero of the story is Bobbi, who is fed up with slaving away as a sewing machine mechanic for her mean fashion designer boss. While out shopping with pals Flo and Quinn (who PlayFirst fans will recognize as the stars of Diner Dash and Wedding Dash, respectively), Bobbi has a revelation and decides to open the world’s first automated, made-to-order clothing shop.

Bobbi borrows a few pages from Flo’s Diner Dash handbook on how to run her own place, which is basically set up to be the fast food equivalent of clothes shopping. Thanks to her wonderful machines, Bobbi is able to serve each customer very quickly.

When a customer arrives in the shop, the first thing you do is drag them onto the Analyzer machine which helps choose the right garment, style and color. Then Bobbi presses a button on another machine to create the right color of fabric, and takes the fabric to the Patternizer which cuts and sews it and spits out a finished blouse, dress, tank top, skirt or pants. The final step is into the Doodazzler which gives the clothing a funky pattern. Bobbi then takes the finished garment to the customer to cash out, and collect tips that are sometimes dropped as bonuses.

Eventually you’ll also get an accessories rack for customers to request sunglasses, belts and shoes, beverages to make impatient customers calmer, and a mannequin that sits in the store window. You can put garments on the mannequin to show them off, and will receive a cash bonus if a customer requests the same outfit.

Customers each have their own little quirks. There are sullen teenagers, trendy women who always order whatever’s on the mannequin, accessory-obsessed shoppers, women who order two things at a time, and movie stars who brighten the moods of everyone around them if you make them happy. Each customer has a color. You can score bonuses by matching customers with the same colored analyzing machine, just like the color seating bonuses in Diner Dash.

When compared to other recent time management games, Dress Shop Hop‘s gameplay doesn’t seem as sophisticated. Bobbi can only hold one item at a time, which seems strange since she clearly has two hands. The game also doesn’t let you cue up commands by clicking ahead. Another annoyance is that while there’s a rack to store excess fabric and garments (so that you can plan ahead and make extras if you want), there’s nowhere to put extra accessories. Sometimes customers who want accessories will suddenly change their minds, leaving you with a useless pair of shoes or glasses. It would make sense to be able to simply return them to the shelf they came from, but instead there’s nowhere for them to go but in the garbage, which deducts some cash from your total.

There’s a fine line between healthy challenge and frustration, and Dress Shop Hop seemed to cross it more often than not. Bobbi opens restaurants in 5 different locations, and there are 10 levels per location. Each time you move to a new location it’s like starting from scratch with basic equipment and no money. As a result, each new store is extremely hard until you’ve saved up enough to buy a few key upgrades – like beverages to replenish customers’ hearts, and upgrades to make the machines faster.

Unfortunately, affording upgrades is easier said than done because it’s not your daily cash that goes towards buying upgrades, but the bonus tips you earn. And to earn tips, customers actually have to be happy with you – which they rarely are in the beginning. So it’s a bit of a Catch-22 situation. Don’t be surprised if you have to replay levels five or more times before you’ve saved up enough for one upgrade.

To be fair to the game, the going does get easier in its second half when Bobbi expands her stores into Europe and you start with slightly better equipment – it’s just getting there that’s the frustrating part. For what it’s worth, the frantic pacing works better in Endless mode where you serve as many customers as you can before losing all of your stars (one is lost every time a customer leaves angry).

Overall, Dress Shop Hop is an average entry in the time management genre, playable but not as quirky or memorable as some of its peers. In fact, its biggest claim to fame is its difficulty. If you’re a time management game veteran looking for a challenge, look no further than Dress Shop Hop – anyone who manages to earn Expert ranking in every level certainly earns kudos from us.