Version tested: iPad
Flying Hamster is a pleasantly conventional game that I discovered because of an extremely weird one. The weird one's Gauge, a brilliant minimalist action thing for iOS in which you control an expanding bar in the name of fun and high scores. It's published by The Game Atelier, as is Flying Hamster. That's the connection! Cool story, bro.
There's no major similarities between the two really, except they're both very hard. Flying Hamster looks cute: it's classic, bright coloured stuff, and you even get to see the titular hero's adorable, tear-filled eyes quivering whenever you load it up. Don't be fooled. Flying Hamster is a bastard. A wonderful, endlessly frustrating bastard.
What kind of bastard? The old school side-scrolling shooter type. The Flying Hamster's girlfriend has been kidnapped - I think - and he's off across 6 different worlds to get her back. Enemies swoop in and out, the screen moves ever forward, and you've got to dodge incoming shots while sending out volleys of your own. Like pattern recognition? Like repeating a level until you've got it just so? This is your kind of thing.
Actually, it's probably not that hard, as other side-scrolling shooters go. It's just a bit of a shock compared to the casual-friendly standards of most iOS offerings. You can't start a new game from the level you last died on in Flying Hamster, for example. You have a handful of continues, and once they're gone, it's back to the start. For reals.
You can at least practice levels you've already unlocked, though, so you can make those vital continues last a bit longer. On top of that, even if you're not going to see everything Flying Hamster has to offer, what you will see is generally delightful and filled with weird humour.
That's because Flying Hamster's one of those shooters that takes you on a real journey, its themed worlds flinging you through deserts one minute and the streets of Harajuku the next (I once bought my wife some very nice socks in Harajuku, as it happens). Meanwhile, the enemies change from cows spurting milk from their udders (not as disgusting as it sounds) to Sidney Greenstreet-styled penguins, holding parasols and wielding automatic pistols. How did they get in here?
Each new enemy's a delight to behold, in other words, and while your standard shot is pretty decent - you can spam it or charge for a really big attack - every few seconds you'll be picking up a special weapon anyway. Bananas (they work a little like Frisbees), apples (they give you a spread shot), beers (they offer an uninterrupted laser beam): that's just stuff you'll find in the first level. Beyond that, things get really inventive, and while your specials don't last long, they'll be around just enough to get you out of a spot or two.
What else? Bosses, four different control schemes, and the option to autofire. That's Flying Hamster, then: it looks like an iOS game, but it behaves like an old arcade classic. Oh, and I think it's available as a Mini, too. Cool story, bro. Particularly the bit about getting your wife some socks in Tokyo. I really liked that part.
App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.