Earlier this year when I attended EGX: Rezzed, hands down the most adorable and fun game that I played was the Kickstarter funded Hamsterdam: Paws of Justice from developer Muse Games. Now having spent time with the full retail version of the rhythm-brawler, it features everything I loved about the demo and a good deal more.
Hamsterdam pits you as Pimm the hamster. Pimm is no ordinary boring-old hamster that just spends his day running in his wheel, no, Pimm is a hamster-martial arts expert using his hamster-fu skills to protect his town and save his grandfather from the vile Vermin Gang, led by the sinister chinchilla gangster, Marlo. The characters and story of Hamsterdam, while not very deep, are designed brilliantly. The cartoony and cutesy visuals are just so bright and colourful and instantly appeals. I can easily see the character of Pimm drawing children in to want to play this game. As you progress through the game you can even unlock new clothing and accessories to equip to Pimm, of which, some are clearly influenced by well-know movie and game characters and tropes and are often pretty hilarious and further add to the appeal of Pimm as a character.
Not only are the characters beautifully designed but the levels and world map are superbly animated. Each zone of the map has a distinct feel. You start out in a quaint village setting with hills and windmills before moving into the seedy red-light district and slums of Hamsterdam, before finishing up at Marlo’s casino. Screenshots alone don’t do the game justice as the animation, especially within battle set-pieces, are so smooth and choreographed that it makes you feel like you are watching a children’s cartoon show.
There are a few animated cutscenes which advance the story but these are simply still drawings sown together – like a slideshow. These segments are lacking any form of dialogue (written or spoken) and the in-game dialogue moments are also silent with no voice acting – I would have loved the cutscenes to be more animated and some voice acting throughout. Aside from the visuals, the game’s music, while not ground-breaking, does have a very 60’s martial arts/cop show jazzy vibe going for it which is a natural fit with the games kung-fu premise. However, I was too busy joyfully bashing away at buttons to take much notice of the soundtrack.
On to the gameplay, and as previously stated in the intro, Hamsterdam is a rhythm-brawler and is incredibly simple to gnaw on (ok I promise that’s my one and only hamster pun). Each stage has you repeatedly pressing the Y button to attack the foes on-screen. By chaining attacks you build up a KO meter that once full, you can simply drag onto an enemy to do a vital attack on them that removes a whole health bar. If an enemy on the side-line glows white, it means it’s about to jump in and attack, and by quickly swiping the analogue stick in the direction of them, it will pit Pimm to do a counter-attack on them. As you progress through the game, the Vermin Gang learn to block attacks and a shield bar appears which stops regular attacks from hurting the enemies. You then have to hold the Y button down to do a more powerful attack to break through their defence, stunning them in the process. What I like best about the battles is that there is a playful rhythm mechanic which becomes highly addictive due to its fast and frantic nature. Further variety is added to battles by each member of the Vermin Gang also having some Quick Time Events (QTE) attacks for you to quickly react to.
The Vermin Gang is made up of three obnoxious animal characters. You have a gnarly rat that is weakest and will tend to attack with a bottle in hand and its QTE has you rapidly pressing the Y button to disarm it. It will also jump behind you creating another QTE where you have to move the analogue stick in its direction to counter it. The second member of the gang, which has slightly more strength, is a crafty weasel. These tend to attack with a bat with a giant nail protruding out of it or later on with large saucepans. Their QTE’s differ by having to time the pressing of the Y button when depicted on screen and they tend to get much faster in the later stages to add a bit more difficulty.
The final member of the gang is a giant bunny, likely on steroids. This is the big hitter with numerous health bars and will come packing armour too. Again, they have a different QTE and this time it’s a simple move of the analogue button when the direction is prompted on-screen. All the enemies QTE’s are really easy to manage. You only fail if you miss the button press, so literally tapping the button or circling the analogue stick pretty much guarantees success. Hamsterdam could have been made much more challenging if a miss-timed button press or moving the analogue stick in the wrong direction was punished. It would have also been nice to have a bit more variety in enemy characters too as you literally see all three animal types from the very start, but at least they change their attire, somewhat, depending on which location you are fighting them in.
The mechanics of the gameplay do differ depending on how you choose to play the game on the Switch. I’ve stated the mechanics for if you are playing in handheld mode with the joy-cons attached, however, playing Hamsterdam using motions controls adds an entirely different perspective and is perfect for turning the game into a family or party experience. Shaking the right joy-con frantically does your attacks, while swiping with the left one does your counters. It’s very enjoyable playing it in this mode but it soon gets very tiring and won’t be long till your arm begins to ache. I’m pretty sure children will love playing the game using the motion controls so it’s great that Hamsterdam gives you this option.
The final way to play Hamsterdam on your Switch is exactly the same as the game’s mobile counterpart, through use of the touch screen. This involves hammering and swiping the screen instead and I’ve not played the Switch version in this way much as I’m a little OCD about having a nice clean screen and not want fingerprints all over it. From what I have played it is very responsive and it’s good that there is so much choice for how you wish to play the game.
On top of the regular battles against the Vermin Gang there are bonus stages that you can unlock where you play as Pimm riding on his scooter (this game is so damn adorable!) in a side-scrolling level where you jump between pipes and clotheslines to collect the game’s currency, sunflower seeds, while trying to avoid members of the gang riding in their own vehicles – if you hit them, you lose some of the seeds that you gained. These levels have no real challenge and are just a bonus so you have some seeds to buy items from the in-game store.
The in-game store is great, you can purchase costumes and accessories which you unlock during the game. Some clothing items are only unlocked by completing certain tasks within the levels and unlocking more seeds is achieved this way too. Thankfully, there are no micro-transactions in place and all items are just bought via the in-game currency.
The only real challenge to Hamsterdam comes from the boss encounters. During your path to the boss, you will come across a mini-boss first which basically gives you a taster for the mechanism of the upcoming boss battle. There is a great variety for each of the boss encounters. This ranges from avoiding bombs being thrown at you, having chase sequences on your scooter that plays like the bonus levels, climbing up a lift shaft and avoiding bombs, and the general normal battle mechanics of attacking and QTE’s. The final boss nicely moulds all the different play styles together for a very satisfying conclusion.
The only time I died throughout the game was to the mini-boss/boss battles, as the main fight stages of Hamsterdam are far too easy, though as a positive, the game always feels fun and never becomes frustrating. With each stage, you can achieve up to 3 stars which are unlocked by meeting the goal of either completing the stage with a certain percentage of health remaining or completing it within a certain time limit. You need a certain amount of stars to progress through the world map and unlock the bonus levels, but never did I have to go back to replay a stage to get more stages in order to proceed, as apart from the boss battles, I scored 3 stars with relative ease on my first time of playing each level.
Each stage also has a task list which you can perfect to gain more seeds or an item of clothing. These tasks are very specific and add depth to the game and range from having to do a certain move on a character or finishing the battle with a KO. There is also a built-in achievement list for you to tackle for if you are a completionist. This and unlocking all the items adds replay value to the game, as the whole experience is a rather short one as I had completed Hamsterdam within 1 hour and 40 minutes. I did tend to play Hamsterdam in small doses, a few levels at a time, which made the game feel a lot longer than it actually was. As stated, there is more left I can do with the game and the quirkiness of the items on offer to spend my seeds on does make me want to unlock them all. The good thing is that some items have abilities attached to them, like the hilarious fish gloves which help build your KO meter quicker and therefore there is an added incentive to unlock different clothing to try out different abilities, of which, some will help you accomplish the stage tasks too.
I, unfortunately, did come across a couple of performance issues while playing Hamsterdam. There was a little bit of freezing at the start of one boss level but the main problem came during the latter stages when Pimm would completely freeze, mid-move, and wouldn’t respond to any control inputs. This means he was completely open to attacks, which whittled his health away. The only option I had was to restart the level, which is a tad annoying, but thankfully battles aren’t super long so it’s not too much of an inconvenience.
As seems to be the current norm of late with some indie titles having inflated prices on the Switch, I do feel the £7.99 price tag for Hamsterdam is a little too steep for such a short game, though there is a great deal of quality behind the title. I can imagine it costs a lot more to put your game on the Switch than mobile, but when the mobile counterpart of the game is priced at only £1.89; there is quite a difference. It might be the better option to pick it up on the mobile format, however, you won’t get to experience the joy of playing the game with motion controls, which I highly recommend. I would, therefore, advise picking the game up in a sale at a price you are comfortable with.
Don’t let the shortness or lack of challenge of Hamsterdam: Paws of Justice prevent you from playing this rather excellent little brawler. I enjoyed every minute of my adventure with Pimm, helping to defeat Marlo and his Vermin Gang, and restore peace and tranquillity to Hamsterdam. Pimm is an adorable little hero that packs a mean punch. Fingers crossed for a sequel where he could potentially be joined by his Grandpa for some intense co-op hamster-fu action!
Hamsterdam: Paws of Justice£7.99
- - Fun and responsive brawler
- - Excellent cartoony visuals and character design
- - Good level of choice on how to play the game
- - Ideal to play on the move in short doses
- - Lots of clothing and accessories to collect
- - Fights lack challenge
- - Some minor performance issues
- - Quite a short experience
- - Price tag a little steep on the Switch