The devil makes work for idle hands, they say. After spending several years working on multiple titles in the grey-brown shooter franchise Guns of Icarus, the devs at Muse Games clearly needed a break. Rather than falling foul of that old proverb, they decided to march in the opposite direction and make the antithesis of grey-brown shooters. Thus, Hamsterdam was born.
I first laid eyes on this game at EGX in early 2019, where I was promised an arcade style kung-fu brawler. At the heart of the action is Pim, a delightful little hamster pup who just wants to ride his scooter around his city, Hamsterdam – unsurprisingly based on the real city of a similar name – but can’t do so “because of a sinister plot”. This kind of wry humour is just what you can expect from Hamsterdam and, in a pistachio shell, the game is just delightful, light-hearted fun.
One day when Pim is studying hamster-fu with his grandpa, the vile chinchilla Marlo and his gang of vermin suddenly capture Pim’s grandpa and stuff him in a cage. Marlo then does the same to all of your friends, because bad guys do bad guy stuff. Like the Golden Era kung-fu movies this game pays homage to, the plot is pretty linear.
And so you embark on your mission to save Hamsterdam. This game is available on a fair few different platforms – PC, smartphone and Switch – and so has differing control schemes to suit. You’ll be prodding away at the screen on iOS, plugging in a controller on PC, and getting to do whatever you want on Switch. Not that the game tells you this. You’re prompted to slide out the Joy-Con and get to wielding them like nunchucks with motion controls, but you’re better off ignoring the tutorial and either tapping away or playing with buttons in handheld mode.
Mechanically, the game is extremely simple. You battle the enemies in a rhythm game style, tapping away or waggling your right hand to the beat to deal damage. On the other hand, you’re either wiggling the analogue stick or shaking a Joy-Con to avoid the extremely obviously telegraphed attacks. Unfortunately, the waggle controls don’t always work, making this the most frustrating way to play.
QTEs will spice up things up and keep you on your toes, and if you can keep up the pace and land enough blows without taking a hit, you get to perform a ‘KO’. This is a bit of a misnomer, as it’s really just a heavy attack. Towards the end of the game it’ll take three to four so-called KOs to actually knock out an opponent.
This leads us onto the Hamsterdam’s biggest flaw. As you progress through the game you fight the same enemies again and again, just with some slightly different uniforms that give them extra health bars. Each level has a series of goals and challenges to help spice things up, but it does little to detract from how repetitive the combat is. This is a great game you can play with the kids, or if like me you’re just a very big kid, it’s a bit of mindless fun after a day in the office; just don’t expect anything too deep or compelling.
Fortunately, Hamsterdam never takes itself too seriously. As the antithesis of the grimy shooter genre, this has an upbeat funk soundtrack, a bright, colourful palate, and some weird and wacky outfits to unlock (thankfully, despite being a mobile game, there’s no microtransactions). The animation is fantastic and it is very easy to get sucked into the energy and excitement of the game in the early levels.