How early Hamtaro games were secretly awesome
What do you know about Hamtaro? There is a very good chance that the response could be, “Not a whole lot.” But, if you owned a Game Boy Color or Game Boy Advance in 2002 and 2003, you might be one of the few who knows a surprising secret. That is, there were two Hamtaro games that were absolutely awesome. Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite! and Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Heartbreak were both adventure games that actually required you to learn a new language and explore towns to help hamster-kind. Both of these games are surprisingly good, and that’s before Mario & Luigi developer AlphaDream took over the series with Hamtaro: Rainbow Rescue.
Before we venture too far down this rabbit hole, let’s start with Hamtaro itself. This series follows a group of hamsters owned by people in a town, with their leader being Hamtaro. The manga ran for three years, starting in 1997, and inspired a series of animated TV series and movies. The series that began airing in 2000 in Japan is the one that actually appeared outside of Japan from 2002 until 2004, though only 105 of the original 296 episodes were localized. It is because of that localization, however, that the two best games inspired by the series were released worldwide.
Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite! offers a rather introductory experience. Boss, an industrious and grizzled hamster, is working on a surprise for all twelve of the main hamsters. It is a very big deal. So big, that he can not take a break to round everyone up. It is up to Hamtaro to explore the town and get the rest of the main characters back to the clubhouse. Except, this is not as simple as finding someone, telling them to come back and being done. It is actually an adventure game! Hamtaro needs to learn Hamchat, hamster words that open up new lines of communication or actions, to help hamsters in town with issues and get the group gathered together.
It is intriguing, in that Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite! actually requires quite a bit of thought! Hamtaro has to go around town and solve people’s problems. Certain situations will not unlock, unless you build up his vocabulary. When he visits spaces later in the game, there could be different hamsters or events there. Granted, it is not the most complex adventure. Most adults playing it will not find themselves needing a guide. The thing is how true it is to the source material and how endearing it is as you try to help these hamsters function.
Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Heartbreak takes everything we know about the original game and makes it bigger and better. The story is much larger in this second installment. Spay is a devil hamster who wants everyone to be unhappy. His goal is to break up platonic and romantic relationships around town. This means lots of unhappy hamsters with broken hearts! They are easy to spot, due to actually having broken hearts above their heads. It is up to Hamtaro to relearn the hamster language, reunite all of the unhappy hamsters and stop Spat.
What makes Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Heartbreak even better is how the scope increases in this sequel. Hamtaro is not working alone this time. Bijou is his partner helping him. This opens up new actions that can be used to reunite hamsters and explore the world. The fact that we are helping all hamster-kind, rather than just the ones who are members of Hamtaro’s little club, means more variety. There are different situations to handle and extra problems to solve. Not to mention, the jump from the Game Boy Color to the Game Boy Advance means it looks better this time around too!
The Hamtaro video games are easy to overlook. This is especially true, considering there were seven of them and only two were good. But if you enjoy surprisingly deep adventure games starring cute characters, make sure you look into Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite! and Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Heartbreak. Both of these games are very endearing and offer quite a bit of depth to them.
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