My first introduction to the world of Hamtaro was
this year's GBC version (Ham-Hams Unite!) of the strangely
compelling Hamster world. I have to say I was a bit
cynical to begin with but after spending a little time
with the game I was completely won over, which is remarkable
considering the age range it was intended for. Like
Pokemon though, it's a lot bigger than a mere GameBoy
title. As well as a hefty collection of merchandise
in its native Japan, there's also a TV series, which
my youngest nephew never misses. Although it's hard
to change the game structure, the GBA version does promise
updated visuals, sound and even more mini-games. Have
Nintendo delivered? Read on and see...
I won't delve into the plot too much but an evil
Ham-Ham called Spat has decided to cast a rather nasty
spell on some of the more romantically inclined couples,
causing them to suffer severe relationship problems.
Your job is to complete a number of tasks to convince
these would be couples to get back together again. As
with the previous outing, most of this is achieved by
chatting to as many inhabitants as possible in order
to increase your Ham-Ham vocabulary because the more
words and phrases you possess, the easier it is to solve
Encountering anyone (or thing) will produce a drop
down menu of different options. Scroll down to the one
you want and you'll be able to converse. Frustratingly,
you'll occasionally encounter a problem where nothing
appears to work with some of your options simply reading
'???'. This simply means that you've yet to learn the
required word and the puzzle will need to be placed
'on hold' until you do.
You'll also encounter a few mini-games on your adventure,
the most enjoyable of which is the Dance Contest. This
challenges you to combine a series of Hamchat in the
most inventive way and so produce a winning dance. To
be honest, it doesn't seem to matter exactly how good
or bad your creation is as success is based on external
factors including other puzzles you've solved.
Then there's the photo studio, which allows you to
dress up and pose for a gallery that can be viewed whenever
you wish. There are also some seemingly pointless pursuits
though and collecting stones just to rub them down to
see if they contain any more valuable properties really
should be avoided at all costs.
Finally (and as with most Nintendo titles) there
is a battery backup but the fact that this is an adventure
means that a pass code really wouldn't do here.
The interface has had little altered from the GBC
title - meaning that fans of the series will take to
it in no time at all. Nobody else should have any problems
either, as the controls are both intuitive and responsive,
allowing you to learn by trial and error without anything
too disastrous occurring.
Except for the screen resolution, this latest outing
is almost a carbon copy of the GBC title, although you
can see that it has been given an overhaul thanks to
the GBA's ability to handle more sophisticated visuals.
Everything's still very cute and it does include more
animation and richer, more detailed backgrounds but
it's the game's simplicity that makes it so endearing
in the first place. You get some wonderful scaling and
transparency effects but these are generally used for
the various characters to express an emotion of some
description so there's a good chance you won't even
Sound & Music
If the visuals can be considered cute then the audio
is equally so and fans of the original will be delighted
to hear that the various hamsters still squeak and purr
at one another at every possible opportunity. The music
isn't bad either with 'themed' music accompanying the
different sections as you travel around bringing a little
love back to the land.
This latest Hamtaro is a joy to play and a wonderful
introduction to the world of adventure for younger gamers.
The majority of the game is focused enough so that you
can generally decipher what to do next without it appearing
too linear. However, that's not to say that it's a walkover
as some sections are fairly tough, encouraging you to
employ some diverse problem solving skills. It won't
be for everyone though, so if you're used to the Broken
Swords or Lucasarts titles of this world, you'll probably
find the whole thing frustratingly easy but for beginners
and fans of the series, it's definitely recommended.