IGN Review of Hamsterz Life
Hamsters don't speak English. In Hamsterz Life, they do. You talk to them. They talk to you. Then you talk to yourself, wondering aloud exactly what kind of crazy game you've just spent 30 bucks to own. Hamsterz Life aspires to be the most random and nonsensical play experience available on the Nintendo DS, and through its head-scratchingly odd combination of gameplay mechanics, presentational elements and poorly translated text, it just might take that title. This is one weird game.
It's a weirdness only achievable through a globetrotting journey of acquisition, rebranding, relocalizing and publishing. Hamsterz Life arrives in America as a Japanese game translated into English by the French. Its brand, signature letter "z" included, associates it with Ubisoft's other Petz properties, like Dogz and Catz. But Hamsterz Life has little to do with those titles, and no common style beyond the packaging and label artwork.
The game began life in Japan as Love Love Hamster, a third-party alternate animal answer to Nintendogs. Its hook? Conversation. In Love Love, and now in Hamsterz Life, you can speak to your virtual gerbil in a set of phrases recognized by the DS microphone. The creature will respond, not audibly, but nonetheless verbally through comic-style pop-up word balloons. It will greet you. It will tell you how it's feeling. It will ask you to take care of its cage.
For a game primarily presented with a realistic visual style, it's a bit out of place to see something so unrealistic as hamsters speaking aloud, usually with proper British grammar. It can take a while for your pet hammie to learn new phrases, repetition of teaching being the key to success. But it's not altogether clear what the point of the exercise is, beyond a sense of accomplishment at training a rodent to imitate a parrot.
It's just an open-ended aspect of Hamsterz Life's gameplay, one of many random and unrelated elements all thrown in together in this one title. The core of the game is as you'd expect. A virtual pet design, focused on keeping your hamster happy and healthy. You can feed your pet, clean its cage, brush it with the stylus and watch it run on its hamster wheel. It's a relaxing, casual sim of hamster ownership. Until more randomness invades.
At arbitrary intervals, a "Play!" icon will appear down low on the touch screen. Selecting it, your hamster will declare it's time for a mini-game, and the whole play experience will shift focus. The visuals change from realistic 3D to a stylized, 2D anime look, and a cartoon human named Hammy will appear to instruct you in how to play one of seven touch-controlled mini-games. The sudden shift in graphics, style and pace of play is jarring, but humorously so. It's a ridiculousness you can get on board with, and you'll find the mini-games are the most fun aspects of the Hamsterz Life design.
One is a two-screen-tall take on Breakout, as you use the stylus to move a puck, to strike a ball, to send it sailing to the upper screen and shatter blocks seen there. Another is a sliding block puzzle. A third, an interesting interpretation of the "irritating stick" game design known as Kuru Kuru Kururin in Japan – you control two spinning hamsters connected by a line, revolving around each other through a maze filled with sunflower seeds. Collect all the seeds for prizes, like more food for your hamster, toys to play with in its cage, and decorative items like wallpapers and costumes your pet can wear. Prizes can be won in any of the mini-games, and that's the most goal-oriented element that the otherwise totally open-ended Hamsterz Life has to offer.
If you and a friend both own copies of the game, the experience expands considerably. Hamsterz Life supports two-player wireless multi-card play, and you can maintain a Friends List of up to twenty other hamster owners. Your pets can be exchanged, you can share information about yourself – your name, your age, your blood type. Yes, your blood type. Again, nonsense. Disturbingly wacky quirkiness that will have you glancing askance at the package again and again, making sure you actually did buy a virtual pet game and not some off-brand third-party Wario Ware.
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