Review: Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Games (Game Boy Advance)

Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Games
Developer: Alphadream Corportation
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 072704
Genre: Sports RPG

Let’s clear something up right away. Yes, this game is adorable. Yes, these hamsters are so cute, Hamtaro rivals Pikachu for my affection. Yes, it is so sweet you may become a diabetic after playing the game, but now more than ever there is a gamer that slaps you upside your head and screams, “Just because it is cute and looks kiddee, doesn’t mean it isn’t an amazing game.” I hate gamers that refuse to play Pokemon just because the cartoon is geared for 7-13 year olds. Hamtaro’s audience in America is even younger, but just like the Pokemon games, the Hamtaro games are so wonderful anyone can enjoy them and have a blast with them. The trick comes in admitting you love a game with sacchariney hamsters cuteness.

The first two Hamtaro games were quasi-RPG’saction games where Hamtaro ran around doing cute stuff, helping his friends, trying on costumes and basically being an adorable little ragamuffin. The games were simple, a lot of fun, and very addicting. Both Ham-Hams Unite and Ham-Ham Heartbreak had simple plots but the gameplay was so well done, both were easily contenders for GB games of the year.

Unlike the first two games which Shogakukan developed, Nintendo decided to take an active role in the designing of this game as well as Hamtaro: Rainbow Rescue (Japanese only release so far). Although I’m not sure why Nintendo neglected to bring over Rainbow Rescue, as it’s a real fun game that involves all of the hamsters in a Maniac Mansion style game, I think it could be the fact they were afraid to do three puzzleRPG games in a row over here. It’s also a puzzle while Nintendo decided to take over a franchise that actively eats out of the Pokemon trough, but hey, maybe Nintendo realized how good and popular the Hamtaro games are and decided to start building them up as a franchise so they have something involving characters not a decade old?

With Ham-Ham games, you will find it was developed by the same team that made Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. And we all know how good that game was, right? Well Ham Ham Games makes Superstar Saga look merely mediocre. Everything about this game is pure gold and makes Ham-Ham games a GOTY contender, not only for the GBA, but for all sports games as well.

IF you can get past the fact you are dealing with cuddly little bundles of fluff.

And before you roll your eyes, remember I gave Ham-Ham Heartbreak high props and look how many of you tried it out and agreed with me on that!

Let’s Review

Story

Okay, if you’re not familiar with the world of Hamtaro, let me give you a quick rundown. Hamtaro is the main hamster (nut not the leader) in the cartoon. He’s just a good natures happy hamster who wants to be friends with everyone. The Ham-Hams are all the hamsters in this town the cartoon takes place in. They are all pets of humans and when their owners are away, they get together and play. Some of the Ham Hams have rivalries, some are in love with other ham-hams and so on. It’s an innocent kid’s cartoon that has adorable (and thus easily marketable) characters that is written in a way people of all ages can enjoy. And damn is the Ham-Ham dance at the end of the show cute as hell.

In Ham-Ham Games, Prince Bo of Rainbow Land has decided to invite all the hamsters from all over the world to take part in hamster Olympics and in doing so, to see what other hamsters are like around the world and to make friends with them. There are the rainbow hamsters and the Pirate Hamsters and umm…furrie hamsters. Yes, Hamsters that dress up like other animals. Because they’re furries. At least they’re the comic relief and never ever win first place. But man, when you lose to a furrie, does it ever suck.

But yes, that is the plot. It’s just hamsters competing in sporting events and making friends with other hamsters because that is what hamsters do. There’s no intrigue or villains or monsters. It’s talking to hamsters and buying hamster clothing and watching hamster TV when not making your hamster ride a baby chick or playing volleyball etc, etc.

There are mini stories and plots, like watching the competing teams become friends, and seeing some hamsters trying to go out with other hamsters and cuteness like that, but in the end, the plot is no more complicated or intense than the cartoon. Which is good.

Yes kids will love the plot, while adults may find it a little thin and syrupy. Overall though, the real fun here is that each time the game ends and you start a new one with your saved data, it’s 1 year later for the next Ham-Ham games and things have changed slightly. You have to play the game at least 3-4 times to get everything you can. And even if it’s simple and sweet, it’s a nice touch even most “adult” games don’t put into their work.

Story Rating: 6/10

2. Graphics

There’s no competition here. Ham-Ham games has the best graphics out of any game on the GBA. It’s amazing. It is truly cartoon animation quality. These aren’t rehashed Ham Ham Heartbreak Graphics. These are larger, brighter, more detailed hamsters with about a dozen expressions and moods. I can’t help but smile when I see Hamtaro riding the little basket trolley in his club house or feel bad for him when an apple falls on his skull.

And it’s not just the cuteness. I’ve never seen this level of detail on a GBA game before. I’m bitched for a long time about how the graphics on the GBA should be PSXSaturn worthy as they are all 32 bit systems, but Ham-Ham games is the first to finally satisfy me.

Everything is big, bright, intense, and a feat for your eyes. Again, once you get past the level of cuteness, you’ll be shocked at how much depth there is to the visuals in this game.

The graphics are amazingly clear and bright. Some of the best coloring I have seen on the GBA. And best of all, even with the huge variety of games on here, there’s no lag or slowdown.

I’ve already said it a few times, but I’ll say it again: This is graphically the best game out for the GBA. If you want to see what this handheld is capable of, get this game and don’t ever let it go.

Graphics Rating: 10/10

3. Sound

Well, the music is okay. It’s not that great. There’s only half a dozen different themes, and none of them truly grab me or draw me into the game. Often times I turned the sound off so I could concentrate on the tasks at hand. Especially in Volleyball and Tennis when I really needed to concentrate.

On the other hand, certain games you do need the sound for, such as Synchronized Swimming and the end Marathon. But that’s for the beat being laid down, NOT the music.

The sound effects, hamster noises and everything else about the game are much like the music; nothing truly awe inspiring, but nothing bad either. Just average vocalizing for a game that deserved better.

Sound Rating: 6/10

4. Control

What is great about Ham-Ham games is that you have 15 different sports, all of which have completely different controls, and all are easy to learn and play. The volleyball game is actually one of the best volleyball games I have ever played and the controls are far better than say DoA’s version of the sport. The tennis game too is the best tennis game I have ever played on a portable system, and is actually one of the better tennis games out there in terms of both fun and control.

Most people, when they think of track and field games think of button mashing games, and that’s true. Track and Field, World Games, Decathlete. All of these are button mashing games. There is no skill it’s just jam your fingers on the joystick buttons fast and furiously.

Not so with Ham-Ham games. It will surprise you to learn that not one of the events requires button mashing. The 100 meter dash involves accurately timing your button precision in accordance with an adrenaline bar. The relay swimming event is similar as well, hitting button with the right rhythm and timing instead of mindlessly pounding.

It truly is amazing how much skill it takes to master all these events, especially the Marathon. In all, my first time through, I got first place in the Olympics and score gold medals in the 100 Meter Dash, Diving, bird-back riding, Pole vault, Archery, Sailing, Volleyball, and Synchronized Swimming. That’s only eight of the events. I got silvers in Tennis, Hurdles, Carrot Pull, and Triple Jump. I failed miserably at Swimming Relay, Marathon, and Hammer throw. The only event I ever had a problem with the controls was in the Marathon where even when I was hitting the button in time with the game, it didn’t seem to be responding. I was afraid I killed the A button on my SP!

It’s so cliche to say, “It takes a second to learn, but a lifetime to master” but it’s totally true in the case of Ham-Ham Games. You’ll be amazed how much detail and gameplay is packed into this tiny little cart.

Control Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

Each time you play Ham-Ham games you get a chance to set world records, get more gold medals than you did before and collect more sunflower seeds to buy more items for your personalized player hamster card. As well, after you beat the game, the next time you start up, the new game will be a year later and things will have changed. Some of the furries may have changed outfits for examples. There may be some new hamsters to meet. It makes sure that you will never get bored with story mode.

Once you beat the game you unlock free play mode which lets you play any event you want without having to go through story mode. Nice! Considering how badly I need to work on the Marathon, this is a good good thing…

You’ll also find upon your second play-through, you get a Hamigo book. Get it HAMigo = H-AMIGO. Ha ha ha. You can now collect cards from 50 different hamsters in Ham-Ham games. Nothing but a nice little extra to increase replayability.

There’s also the fact that you can use the WIRELESS ADAPATER that will be coming out for the GBASP soon along with normal wire cables to trade ham ham cards with your friends. If I go to Matt Yeager’s, his game will get a copy of my Heracross Hamster and I’ll get…whatever he has. It’ll be added to our book and guess what? Neat things happen when you collect player cards!

Ham-Ham games has packed in a lot of things to make the game worth playing time and time again. You WILL have to play the game several times to get everything possible, from all the Hamigo cards to the complete set of costumes. For twenty-five dollars, you won’t find a better game on the GBA in terms of replay value.

Replayability: 10/10

6. Balance

With three levels of difficulty that you can adjust for each event, you’ll find Ham-Ham Games to give you whatever kind of challenge you desire. The AI on each difficulty is noticeably different. Volleyball is a prefect example as Hamtaro’s partner, Bijou, is actively aggressive on easy, a decent player on medium, and a WASTE! OF SPACE that made me swear more than any other game I have played this year. On hard, consider Volleyball a handicapped match. You have been warned.

The only downside is that everything computer wise is pre-ordained. Either you or the Rainbow Girls will win the entire Olympics, and aside from two events, if you don’t get the gold, they will. The computer is pretty much just going to do the same thing or get the same results each event, each year on the same difficulty level. The only variation is in Volleyball and Tennis in how the computer reacts, and that’s because you’re actually playing them. You almost feel bad for the furries coming in last place in every event every year.

The controls are precise, and in every event you have only yourself to blame if you do poorly. Every player, from a young child to a veteran gamer will find a level of challenge in Ham-Ham games. Just remember you play to better yourself, not to see a real difference in the computerized results of events they don’t actual compete in.

Balance Rating: 8/10

7. Originality

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a Track N Field game, and this is almost the most original one ever in terms of plot, gameplay and umm…having hamsters do the sporting events. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s also nice to see a sports game with an actual story mode (and wrestling doesn’t count, sorry), even if everyone in the game is friendly with everyone else.

The age of button mashing games is long past, but it’s nice to see Ham-Ham games revives the nostalgia of those old 80’s Sports games, while inventing completely new and original gameplay for the invented included on the cart.

Originality Rating: 7/10

8. Addictiveness

This is one of the most addictive sports games I have ever played. Before this it was World Games for me with weight lifting, Cliff Diving and Caber Tossing. And that was back on the Classic NES. Now? I have a new champion in my heart. I play Volleyball and Tennis 4-5 times in a row to ensure I won’t lose in the actual story mode. And guess what? Some times I still choke! All of the events are like that. Due to the pure timing and skill it takes, you could win a gold medal one year, and come in last the next! And even when you lose, you still find yourself wanting to keep playing until you’re back in first place.

And in free play mode? Trust me, once you’ve unlocked that, you’ll find yourself spending an hour straight on your favorite events.

And then there are the mini games, like collecting seeds, hamigo cards, and costumes. Trust me gamers, you’re in for a lot of free time spent with this game once you pick it up.

Addictiveness: 7/10

9. Appeal Factor

I hate having to repeat myself, but let’s do it one more time: Get over yourselves and your need to look tough or macho only playing games like GTA or Doom 3 or Halo or whatever involves blowing people up or cutting hookers. Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Games is an adorable and cute game, yes. But it’s also one of the most fun you’ll ever play. I don’t care who you are or what your game genre preferences are, you WILL have fun with Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Games. Look at me! My three genres are 2-D Shooters, 2-D Fighters, and RPG’s. And I’m wholeheartedly slobbering over a sports game!

Give the game the benefit of the doubt and give it a play through. You’ll be rewarded for dumping your need to some how look ‘cool’ while playing video games (hate to break it to you, it isn’t going to happen) and will be rewarded with a fun game that challenges you all the way through. Widro and Pankonin are going to buy this game! Yeager has it! I have a feeling ALL of the Kliq will have Ham-Ham Games before the year is through.

Plus every girl I know goes “Awwww” when they see Hamtaro. That’s got to count for something for you, eh Lara Croft fans?

Appeal Factor: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

With 15 different events, a free play mode, cards to collects, a story mode, player cards you can trade to your friends and costumes to buy, this game has it all!

Or does it. It’s a bit of a letdown that with this game having both wireless and cable linkage ability, that there is no multiplayer mode on the game. You have no idea how much I wanted to play Volleyball or swimming with friends. Even the marathon as there are two members from each team in it would have been a nice touch to have played with or against another human. Alas, it isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t to be.

Still, even with what we have, there is so many little bonuses included with Ham-Ham Games, you won’t see me complaining…much.

Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10

Short Attention Span Summary
The best sports game on the GBA. EVER. The best looking game on the GBA. EVER. Hell, it’s a contender for the best sports game and/or GBA game of the year. It will get nominated by some members of the Kliq come December. I suggest you see why before then. Say…RIGHT NOW?