Surely there was a better pun to be made than “Hamster-Fu”
It’s a well-known fact that if you want something to be cool while also being cute, you can’t really do any better than a small animal that knows martial arts. This is the central premise of Hamsterdam, a game that puts a hamster in a tracksuit and gives him the power of kung-fu (or in this case hamster-fu). While this does successfully create the cute/cool balance that the game appears to be going for, Hamsterdam has more than a few problems that can’t seem to live up to its charming aesthetic.
In Hamsterdam, you take control of Pimm, a young hamster living in a city being overrun by members of the villainous Vermin Gang. Deciding to take matters into his own hands to clean up the streets and stop the Gang’s leader, an evil chinchilla known as Marlo, Pimm takes off on his scooter and begins to punch and kick his way through the various gang members using his powerful hamster-fu. It won’t be quite as easy as he hopes though, as some of the Vermin Gang have access to Marlo Tonic, which allows them to become bigger and stronger than they normally would be.
Gameplay in Hamsterdam could be most easily described as a rhythm game without the music part. In each level, Pimm faces a group of enemies: an assortment of giant rabbits, thin wolves, and small mice. Pressing Y will make Pimm perform a basic attack hitting the enemy directly in front of him; pressing it over and over in a specific rhythm (indicated by a halo that expands out from Pimm’s body) will cause your attacks to become stronger the longer your combo lasts. When enemies are about to attack, they will flash white, at which point the player must flick the left analog stick in that enemy’s direction to perform a takedown. Every perfect hit the player performs will charge a KO meter at the bottom of the screen which will allow Pimm to perform a takedown that deals one entire health bar’s worth of damage to an enemy of the player’s choice.
This is generally the extent of Hamsterdam’s gameplay: start the level, beat the group of enemies, rinse and repeat. Bosses play a bit differently, usually requiring the player to dodge an onslaught of attacks before an opening allows them to do a certain amount of damage, and then you just repeat the whole process again but faster. There are also short bonus levels where Pimm can ride through a side scrolling level on his scooter, picking up sunflower seeds along the way. These seeds can then be used to buy different accessories for Pimm that will give him different abilities or change the collections of enemies he must fight in some way.
While the game is simple to grasp and overall satisfying to play it unfortunately suffers from being too repetitive for its own good. Building momentum and stylishly showing an entire group of enemies who’s boss feels great, but when every single level plays the exact same way, that feeling begins to wane very quickly. Adding to this problem is the fact that later enemies have multiple health bars, meaning they take even longer to kill but don’t add anything special to the general flow. Eventually Hamsterdam introduces armored enemies that felt like they caused the speed of battle to grind to a near halt, killing any and all momentum in its tracks and causing me to stop having any fun at all.
Hamsterdam has its charms and definitely some potential. The character designs are fun and Pimm’s stylish hamster-fu feels satisfying to use, but there’s just not enough variety to hold a player’s attention for more than maybe an hour. Dressing Pimm up in goofy hats or a Bruce Lee tracksuit adds a little spice, but the repetitive gameplay will likely catch up to you all the same. I think the developers of Hamsterdam are on the right track, and I look forward to any future games they make using lessons learned from this one, but I cannot see myself returning to the streets of Hamsterdam any time soon.