IGN Review of Hi! Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Challenge
Those chibi hamsters had their day in the sun in the US – after three different (and admittedly as fun as they were adorable) games on the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance, even Nintendo's given up on the Hamtaro brand, happily handing the reigns over to Natsume with the latest game: Hi! Hamtaro Ham-Ham Challenge. Natsume's game skews much younger than Nintendo's adventures did, so unless you're below the age of 10 you're probably not going to get nearly as much enjoyment out of this one than you might've in past Hamtaro titles. That said, Natsume's game nails its target age group with some enjoyable mini-games and sandbox-style entertainment, so if you've found yourself asking "what's good for younger kids?" this would be a really good recommendation.
Even though Natsume's hosting the publishing duties for this Hamtaro product, the game itself has been developed by the same studio that's worked on the Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS adventures (the latter being ones only available in Japan): Alphadream, probably best known for its work on the Mario & Luigi series on Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS. The team hasn't lost its edge for producing sickeningly sweet Hamtaro games, as Hi! Hamtaro Ham-Ham Challenge just oozes with adorability. Swoon as Hamtaro runs on his spinning exercise wheel. Feel your heart sing as Hamtaro plops down on his butt to munch on nummy sunflower seeds. Squeal in delight as Hamtaro takes a dump in a corner pile of wood shavings. Nope, not kidding. Not kidding at all.
Once the kids get their kicks poking Hamtaro and sending him around the safety of his cage, they can start on the game's main quest for stickers by tapping on the clear plastic tube that'll send Hamtaro to the outside world where his friends are waiting for him. Each of the Ham-Hams have their own challenge to complete, and each use the touch-screen in a variety of ways. There are twelve different types of mini-games to compete, and once you experience them on their lowest default setting you'll realize just how young this game truly skews: in the "numbers" puzzle, for example, you have to count how many of a specific item is displayed on the screen, and then write that number on the screen below. But wait, that number is already faintly etched into the "paper," so it's just a matter of tracing that number to get credit for the answer. At the very least it's teaching numbers…
The games get harder but not so much "challenging." It's more "stuff to do for the very young." There's a little bit of reading involved so your child will have to recognize the words "red" or "green" when faced with color challenges, or have the ability to follow directions because some rules might not be completely clear right from the start. There is a very cool "parent" option in the main game where the player can earn presents simply by showing their progress to their parent or guardian-type person. Those who get access to the parent controls can see how long the kid's been playing and what sort of progress they've made in that amount of time. When the parent hands back the system, the player will have a present waiting for them: an additional set of "stickers" for the game's photo album. A nice little incentive.
Natsume didn't go very far in localizing the game, so the Hamtaro characters still speak in their Japanese version's voice. Kids will probably interpret this as Hamspeak but those with keen ears will hear all the Japanese phrases still left in the game.
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