Yep. That’s right. Yet another Mini.
It seems that no matter what system you’re talking about, there are always little gems hidden in the usual pile of rubbish and sequels. When something special comes out, people usually take notice. Take a look at Demon’s Souls. Even the largest websites were praising the crap out of the game, with more than a few also nominating it for the best game of the year. It wasn’t a sequel, it didn’t have a lot of hype, and it wasn’t lighting up the sales charts, but it earned respect because it was good, and it was new.
OK. Perhaps comparing The Flying Hamster to Demon’s Souls is a bit of a stretch, but it is a good game nonetheless, and a standout among Minis.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
The plot is simple. A young hamster couple is out for a stroll on the beach, when the girl hamster stumbles upon a golden seed. The two began to rejoice in this delicious discovery, only for the girl to be hamster-napped by an eagle and carried off into the forest. Our hero has no choice but to put on a pair of aviator goggles, strap some leaves onto his back as a propeller, and soar off after his love.
What makes the story great is that it never says a word, yet it is still hilarious. It seems that every time you save the girl, she gets snatched by some other villain, leading you to one bizarre location after another. You’ve got cats drinking themselves to the point of vomiting in the forest, evil dictator penguins forcing killer whales to build pyramids in the desert, and even a giant, gay, biker mouse complete with rainbow sparkle attacks. All this stuff going on is almost distracting, and it never stops being funny. Just the original shock of the penguin not leading you to the seemingly requisite ice level was refreshing and awesome. The best part is that the payoff at the end is totally worth it and had me in stitches. There may not be much in the way of typical plot progression, but honestly, the game would be worse off with it.
As far as modes go, you have three different options. You can chose to start a new game and play until you run out of credits, continue from any point in the game, or play on hard mode. Hard mode is different in that there are more enemies, they attack more often, and you’re not allowed to continue if you run out of credits. It’s a one shot deal. With continue, you play on normal, but you can start anywhere you like on any level. It’s rather nifty.
Beyond that, you can fiddle with some basic options and view the offline leaderboard. Your score resets every time you use a credit, so keep that in mind. I would have liked the option to increase or decrease the number of credits you use, but that isn’t the case. You can unlock extra credits, but you don’t have the option of turning them off, nor does the game explain how you earn them. I’m torn between time played and cumulative score myself.
The Flying Hamster is full of color. Wait. You don’t understand. It is FULL of color. Each level and animation is brimming with personality. From the opening sequence to the final curtain, the game is a visual treat. I mean, with moments like a giant mushroom throwing his cap like a boomerang only to reveal a mohawk made out of moss on his head, how could I possibly deny this game its artistic excellence? A big part of what made the humor so effective is that the game just looked awesome.
If there’s one caveat, it is that there isn’t much animation to speak of outside of the bosses. Most enemies have only a couple of stiff animations, and the hamster himself doesn’t do much. Sure, the leaves on his back are twirling like mad, but that’s about it. Really though, it doesn’t tarnish the game at all. It just keeps it from being truly great.
The game also does a great job of keeping the framerate steady during even the most hectic sections. Sure, with such simple (though brilliant) graphics, one wouldn’t expect framerate issues, but I’ve seen it before. Overall, this is a simply fantastic visual package for a Mini.
If you think the game is solid on the visual front, just wait until you hear the music. It was like someone went back in time, stole all the best parts of classic 16-bit themes, and put them together for this game. Just the opening theme level alone was some of the best music I’ve heard in a game since Henry Hatsworth. It was upbeat, fitting to the game, and something I would gladly listen to even when not playing the game. If only the action weren’t so frantic that you couldn’t stop to appreciate it more.
The sound effects are also fitting, but can’t quite meet the awesomeness of the music. From the popping sound the hamster makes when he uses his spit attack to the surprising sound of the laser beam shooting from that owl’s eye, everything is solid. Yes. You did read that right. There’s a damned owl that shoots freaking lasers from his eye!
Anyways, with no real faults and several extremely awesome points, this game has to have one of the if not the best presentations for any Mini currently available.
This is your typical shmup. Each level consists of you on a vertically scrolling stage chock full of enemies waiting to blast you with multi-colored bullets and the odd obstacles or two. You control the hamster with the analog nub, and can move in all directions easily. The X button shoots your current weapon, and you can hold the button to charge the attack. If you don’t feel like tapping the button like a madman, you can hold the circle button for auto-fire.
There are also a variety of power-ups from apples, bees, sunflower seeds, and even beer. These translate to spreader, homing missile, machine gun, and laser beam in case you were wondering. You collect power-ups by grabbing them from the environment. For example, in the Japan level, you steal fish balls from a geisha’s hand and use them as explosives. The only problem is that some items seem to just use a different sprite. The fish balls are the same as chicken eggs and the pocky is the same as apples. Still, the fact that you shoot beer like a laser beam and bananas serve as boomerangs more than makes up for that. The weapons are awesome.
There are a myriad of enemies in the game as well. Seagulls attempt to crap on you, scorpions launch bullets from their tails, and penguins take potshots at you while descending on their umbrellas. Yeah. It gets even crazier. Chickens lay explosive eggs, flying squirrels throw ninja stars, and octopuses spit out ink that covers the screen if it hits you. Basically, enemies and bullets are flying at you constantly. You need to stay on top of your game if you want to live. Tack on the occasional bit where you need to destroy obstacles or avoid giant lasers, and you’ve got yourself a full fledged shooter.
That includes bosses, by the way. There are a total of six bosses for the five levels. Each has several attacks and a huge amount of health. You’ll need to keep you finger firmly on the fire button as well as learn to avoid telegraphed attacks. There are also usually a couple of power-ups lying around that make the battle easier if you can get to them.
As far as gameplay goes, the only complaint I can make is that there isn’t more, which I’ll get to in a second here.
With only five levels, playing from start to finish isn’t likely to take much more than half an hour. A lot of that also comes from the lengthy boss fights. I think I spent almost as much time fighting the end boss as I did getting to him. That being said, unless you play the living crap out of this game, you aren’t likely to get more than a few hours out of this game altogether. For a Mini, that isn’t too bad, but an extra level or two would have been nice. (Various sources claim there are six levels, but I’ve only been able to find five.)
You can play through the game again on Hard, which is nice, especially since it mixes up the attack patterns and doesn’t let you continue. It is the kind of challenge that will keep you coming back. Were it not for that, this would probably be a one and done game. As it is, you’ll have enough reason to come back at least a couple of times.
The game is also perfect for short rides, as the ability to continue makes it an ideal game to play on a short bus ride and come back to, at least on normal mode. It’s the kind of game you’ll probably just pick up every once in a while. Just don’t expect too much play time out of the gate.
My friend, who rather enjoys the odd shmup, was distraught when he noticed you had three hits before you died. He even took this to mean that the game wasn’t an actual shooter and that I was playing some side mission for an action platformer or something. Most of these games do have a one hit and you’re dead policy, but this game is not at all easy because you get three hits.
Bullets fly at you from everywhere, you need to manage you ammo, and bosses are relentless with their attacks. It won’t compete with the likes of Ikaruga, but it will keep you on your toes. Even when you get good enough to play through the first couple of levels without taking a hit, you’ll eventually hit a roadblock in the late game. Hard difficulty lives up to its name indeed.
These games are meant to be challenging. Too often are the bright colored versions of this genre dumbed down, but not here. The game will provide a hefty challenge to all comers, no matter how many credits you have. Expect to get hit, and get hit often. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
While the game certainly seems fresh and new thanks to the fact you don’t see flying hamsters spewing beer at monstrous sized toadstools very often, I can’t think of anything it does that could be considered original. I’ve seen games where you pick up consumables and use them as weapons before. Most shooters have destructible environments, and bright graphics aren’t new, but merely rare.
Still, the game’s sense of humor and style make it stand out of the pack. It may not be original, but it is definitely different, which you can’t say about most games these days.
With Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep still eating up the vast majority of my video game time, let alone my PSP time, I didn’t expect this game to find much purchase. However, I was more than happy to play it for long stretches because of its overall quality. Basically put, I’m glad I have this game on my memory stick and I don’t plan on letting it go anywhere anytime soon.
You might not be able to spend hours upon hours on the game, but it will keep you hooked from start to finish no problem. That’s what quality does after all.
Now, as this is a European PSN release only as of right now, I’m not sure of what the pricing is going to be over here in the States. However, I’ve heard more than a few people complain about the price. At six pounds, it is above the norm for most Minis. Though it has a stellar presentation and great gameplay, a Mini is a hard sell when it is extra expensive.
Still, fans of shmups should eat this game up. It has such a great personality and it designed for portable play. It is an ideal PSP Mini, even if it is priced a bit unfairly.
For those unversed the ways of the shooter, the game still holds appeal over most Minis because it has strong quality all the way around. That isn’t something you can say about most games. Take a look at the last two Minis I reviewed. Both had strong points, but they didn’t cut the mustard when it came to the overall game. This game cuts the mustard, and it cuts it good.
Basically, this is what the Minis were supposed to be. They should be bite sized, easy to play games that take little time to play but still pack a punch. If we can get more games like this, I’d be happy to pick them up once in while.
Again, my biggest complaint is that there isn’t more to the game.
Gameplay: Very Good
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Very Good
Final Score: Good Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
The Flying Hamster is a gem in an otherwise cluttered PSP Mini library. It combines a humorous style, a rocking soundtrack, and solid shooter action to create an enjoyable experience from start to finish. The price might throw off some, and the game isn’t nearly as long as I wish it would be, but it is still quality all around. If you find a bit of spare cash, go ahead and grab it. Your PSP will thank you.