Version tested: GameBoy Advance
Nintendo had a surprise hit with Eurogamer back in February when Ham-Hams Unite! arrived on the GBC. But with that review now consigned to the ether thanks to the march of technology, we look to a new title to champion the EG ranks of Best Hamster Adventure Game Ever. "Awwww, but they're so cuuuute!" I squealed, with concerning looks from my co-workers as Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Heartbreak was slung into my lap. I'd wanted to get my first slice of virtual hamster ever since the first promotional materials popped up, and I haven't looked back since.
It's not a huge surprise to find that Nintendo has barely tweaked the fine game design from Ham-Hams Unite! for Hamtaro's GBA debut. For those of you that missed it, the game revolves around our ham-hero Hamtaro and his carefully assembled dictionary of Hamspeak. Our fuzzy chum picks up his vocabulary from conversations with other hamsters in the game world which he can then put to use resolving situations and solving puzzles. He can then use these words via a context-sensitive action menu that displays the relevant action in any given situation, and it's up to you to decide how best to use them. The best way to describe it is sort of like an extension of Monkey Island's basic set of verbs with which you can perform a myriad of tasks, as long as you can figure out the best way to go about it.
However, since the game's premise is love and partnership, many of Hamtaro's new words are for use in partnership with another hamster - Hamtaro's better half, Bijou. It's down to the adorable couple to save relationships as the evil hamster Spat goes on a heart breaking rampage, destroying love and ruining lives wherever he can, and to do this you'll quite often need to collaborate with your furry belle.
So off you trot, setting about righting Spat's wrongs and banishing him from whatever location he pops up in, all the while spreading a little love wherever you can and mending those broken hearts. Usually, you'll end up resolving conflicts between couples by revealing some kind of scheme put together by Spat to confuse and upset individual hamsters, like the time he dressed up as one poor girl's boyfriend and ripped her favourite scarf. This is typical of the kind of problem you'll come across in Ham-Ham Heartbreak, but some of the 20 different problems you'll need to solve are much, much more bizarre.
All you need is love
The steeper tasks come when there are obvious holes in your vocabulary which need filling in order to progress. Usually it's down to just chatting to each and every hamster you come across until you stumble across a likely word, or trying every word you can think of on everything until you happen up the right one - again, a lot like Monkey Island. You'll come up against apparent dead-ends occasionally, but burrowing your way through them comes with patience and the will power to simply try everything. Thankfully, you're able to tackle more than one task at once in more than one location at once, so you're quite free to leave a puzzle and come back to it later - perhaps moving on to a different task will yield the solution you need to solve it.
Apart from the main adventure, you'll come across a small variety of side activities. For a start, you can visit the funfair and for a princely sum of five sunflower seeds have a shot at winning some prizes. There's the catch-paper-on-a-stick game, the roll-balls-at-balloons game and a Pairs-type game which has Bijou and Hamtaro digging up symbols and trying to match them up. Less fun and slightly fruity is the dress-up mode; you can purchase accessories from boutiques all over the game world, then visit the photographers, dress up your hamsters in bow-ties and antlers and have their portraits taken in their new garb - the results can be saved as new wallpaper for the main menu. Kleptomaniacs will quite enjoy the Rubrub room; rocks can be found all over the place, and these can be collected and hauled back to the Clubhouse for "Rubrub", which means to wear rocks down until they reveal their contents, usually in the form of some kind of gem. The rarity of your findings is displayed in a separate items menu, and you could spend many hours attempting to find the lot.
Visually, Ham-Ham Heartbreak is unassailably cute if not that technically impressive. Many of the sprites have clearly been ported over from the GBC predecessor, but this isn't to say they lack any charm as the little hamsters move with such character and exude so much personality with the bare minimum of pixels. The locations on the other hand are much better looking, extremely varied and house their furry patrons quite admirably. The sound is a mix of occasionally irritating but jaunty little ditties overlaid with the electronic beeps and squeaks emitted by the hamsters - we were quite happy to turn it off and get on with the game once the novelty of their shrill little voices started to wear a little thin.
Ham-Ham Heartbreak is, like its predecessor, a very simple but very enjoyable RPG. We'll make no bones about quite happily indulging in the good 10 hours or so it would take you to complete the enormously cute story mode, and any accusations about being childish we'll take squarely on the chin - at times it got a bit tricky even for us, so ham knows what a 12-year-old would make of some of the puzzles. It's a saccharine-sweet little big adventure, which engrossed us right through to the end, and if you're in the market for a spot of light relief in your adventuring, you could do worse than give Ham-Ham Heartbreak a little TLC.
8 / 10