When I spoke to one of the developers from Muse Games about Hamsterdam a few years ago, they pitched the game to me by saying “We want to make a game that has all of the positive elements of the best mobile games without any of the predatory microtransactions or adverts that usually come with that”. A short demo of the game later and I was sold on the concept (disclaimer – so much so that I backed the game on Kickstarter). Now, Hamsterdam has arrived and it has certainly delivered on that pitch, bringing a blend of mini-games and rhythm based combat that’s a whole lot of fun – if a touch short.
Hamsterdam follows the adventure of a hamster called Pimm who has been trained in the martial art of Hamster Fu by his dear old Grandpa. A menacing chinchilla called Marlo has muscled his way into town with his Rodent Gang and has spread crime and corruption throughout the city. When Pimm’s Grandpa is kidnapped, the tough little hamster sets out to take down Marlo and his minions, one region of Hamsterdam at a time. The plot to this game is told through a collection of stills that make up cut scenes. There’s no voice acting or text descriptions but despite that, the stills that are provided do a good job of portraying what’s happening.
The game itself is broken down into several regions from the Canal front to the Red Light district, all inspired by sections of the real Dutch city. Progress is made along a road which occasionally branches off to bonus missions but for the most part blocks your progress until you’ve completed the next challenge in front of you. Each city sector is punctuated by a boss fight which serves as the gateway to the next area.
The vast majority of the game play in Hamsterdam is based on a rhythmic combat system that’s a whole lot of fun to use. Start a level and Pimm stands on the right of the screen ready to fight the assembled rats, mice and other Rodent Gang members on the left. The gang members – of course – don’t fight you 1 on 1 so they line up with 3 fighters all facing Pimm on their front line. With a tap of the Y button (or a swing of the Joy-Con if played with the controllers disconnected), Pimm will attack the central member of the Rodent gang he’s facing. As you attack, a circle surrounds the Hamster and if you time your next attack so that Pimm is floating in the air with the circle lose to him, you’ll do a ‘Perfect’ attack. String 5 of these attacks together and the 5th strike will do huge amounts of damage to the health bar floating above the targets head. Once one gang member falls, they’ll be replaced with one standing off in the backdrop until they’re all unconscious and the level ends.
The last attack in Pimm’s arsenal is a “KO” attack. As you combo attacks, a circle fills at the bottom of the screen and once it’s full, you can drag this icon on-screen which triggers a massive attack on the recipient complete with fantastic animation and a cute, hamster sized “Ooooh ya” sound bite.
This combined system encourages timed rhythm attacks rather than button mashing – although the latter will eventually do the job, chipping away bits of health, if you can survive long enough.
Of course, attacking is just part of the combat in Hamsterdam. The Rodent Gang have a few tricks up their sleeves to disrupt your rhythm and break your concentration. Your opposition can attack Pimm themselves from any of the 3 positions on their front line. When they’re gearing up to attack they flash white, giving you a short window to counter attack by pushing the left thumb stick in their direction. Pimm will then launch himself in their direction to disrupt them. More than 1 foe can attack simultaneously, meaning you’ll have to hit 2 directions on that thumb stick to prevent getting smacked on the head and losing a chunk of health. Each type of Rodent Gang member also has a special attack that they can launch on you without warning. These attacks trigger QTE events that you need to complete flawlessly or take a hit to your health bar.
Lastly, as you progress, the gang members can start to defend themselves. When they do this, you can’t hurt them with a standard attack so you have to hold the attack button to do a charged attack which will reduce a shield gauge floating by them by a portion. If you manage to reduce this gauge to zero before the timer around it runs out, you’ll stun the blocking enemy meaning you can get a 5 hit perfect combo in on them.
As you progress through Hamsterdam, this combination of rhythmic attacking and counter-attacking gets more difficult to pull off. The rodents get far more health and they hit harder, removing more of Pimm’s health if they land a strike. The white flash window that allows you to prevent an attack gets shorter. The QTE events get longer and more complex, asking you to react quicker to more complicated inputs. The blocking gauges get harder to remove and get used more regularly. Some enemies can even poison you if an attack manages to get you, sapping health over time. While Hamsterdam gets more challenging, it never becomes too difficult or frustrating.
At the end of each region of Hamsterdam is a boss battle. These represent a little something different and are all unique in their own way. The first involves dodging bombs that are thrown at you by a grizzly looking Chinchilla, the second involves Pimm’s scooter and dodging The Rodent Gang who are trying to run him down. Later you’re climbing a lift shaft while dodging falling explosives and the last boss is a combination of everything you’ll have seen in the game so far. These battles are well placed to ensure that standard combat doesn’t become too monotonous, breaking up the usual Y tapping with something wholly different.
To add to that, there are side quests that involve racing down a street on a scooter in an auto-runner-esque mission. Here you can collect seeds (which you are usually awarded in normal combat missions anyway) by jumping and power sliding your way down a street while avoiding the occasional vehicle. Personally, I’d have like to have seen more of this type of game play in Hamsterdam as these mission types feel too sparse with the amount of potential these levels show.
The aforementioned seeds can be used within the in-game shop of Hamsterdam to give Pimm a new look. New jackets, gloves, hats and glasses can be purchased and put on to Pimm for a variety of effects. Some are simply aesthetically pleasing (like foam hands) while some give Pimm an edge in battle.
If you want to get the most out of Hamsterdam, you’ll be needing to jump into the shop and pick the right clothing for the right situation. If you play the game purely to complete it, this title will last around 2 hours from start to finish but each of the levels in the game has a separate set of objectives to complete outside of just beating the tail off some mice. Stars can be awarded if you complete a level within a certain time limit, with a certain percentage of health still remaining or by working up a big enough combo. There’s separate challenges too which will reward you with seeds to spend should you complete them – such as finishing off X number of Rodent Gang members with a KO finishing move, going the whole level without taking any damage or by wearing a particular piece of clothing during the level. This does give Hamsterdam some replayability beyond its 2 hour length.
Hamsterdam – The Verdict
Hamsterdam contains weapons grade cuteness, is technically sound and mechanically well designed. The combat, side missions and boss battled are all a triumph of that original pitch I was served a few years ago, combining the best of mobile gaming wrapped up in a highly polished and visually spending package without any adverts or micro transactions. Unfortunately, It’s just too short. Clocking in at 2 hours for a straight forward play through and ~6 hours for a 100% run, it feels like there could have been more before the formula had ran its course. What is here though is a joy to play and can fill a bus journey in handheld more or an afternoon in docked with the Joy-Con’s detached.
Hamsterdam is available now on Nintendo Switch (review version), PC, iOS and Android devices.
Developer: Muse Games | Publisher: Muse Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we received a copy of the game as part of a Kickstarter backer reward. For our full review policy please go here.
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