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Act: Hamsterball [by Ratisoft]

Game: Hamsterball
Release: February 8th, 2004
Genre: Action
Developer: Raptisoft
System Requirements: Pentium III 700 MHz, 32MB RAM, Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, or XP, DirectX® 8, accelerated
video card

Price: $19.95
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Those who loved the arcade great Marble Madness need look no further in finding a worthy new heir to the throne of Marble games.  Hamsterball actually doesn't have a marble in it.  Instead of a marble, you control a hamster who is running in a hamsterball.  The simple goal is to get the hamster from the start line to the finish in the shortest amount of time possible. 

However things are rarely that simple in the video game world, and Hamsterball is no exception.  In the way of you completing your goal have been thrown many an obstacle.  Dangerous hills, bridges, loops, trap-doors, saw blades and even innocuous looking fans all work to make the trip more difficult and more interesting at the same time.

Hamsterball actually presents two different ways to play the game, either in Tournament mode, or in Time Trials.  In Tournament mode you attempt to play through all the levels in one go.  If you happen to fail on any one course you can roll back and try it over, but by doing so you take away the chance to score a high score on that tournament, which was an appreciated feature.  As you go from one level to the next, the time that you have left over from the level goes with you.  So if you complete a course in a very fast time, you then have even more time on the next level.  If you do a horrendous job on the next level, you still might be able to make up the time elsewhere, but the reality is you won't get very far unless you are consistently good on all the levels. 

A good place to practice your abilities is the Time Trials mode of the game.  This mode gives you unlimited time to complete the level, but at the same time, you are racing the clock to try and achieve the fastest time possible.   There are three medals, a bronze, silver, and a gold that are given out at the end of each of the races if you are able to complete the race within the required time limit for the medal.  Sometimes that requires being a little ingenious and doing some things that the game didn't mean for you to do. (like hitting a mouse-trap and having it fling you to the exit while flinging you to your doom)

Perhaps my favorite feature of the Time Trial mode was the "ghost ball."  If you play any level, and then immediately play that level again, the game you played before will be replayed in real-time while you are playing again.  The way this works is there is a "ghost ball" that is on the screen moving the way you did the last time you played the level.  The ball is see-through, and helps provide a marker so you can see if you are doing better than you did the time before, or if you are actually finishing in a slower time.  This may seem like a simple feature, but it was a lot of fun to race against myself as I attempted to keep dropping my overall time down to Gold Medal range.

The biggest highlight of Hamsterball is the level design.  This is a case where words cannot hope to describe how well put-together this game is.  I highly recommend that you immediately download and check out the demo.  However, if you haven't done that yet...I suppose you can read on.

The levels are each created in a way that makes them have their own feel and originality to them.  Most all have tubes that you travel down, and twisty roads, but some of them focus on different things or do things in a different way.  Take the "UP" race for example.  In that race, you go up the entire course instead of down.  There are a series of accelerators that help you go up, and pipes that suck you up instead of dropping you out.  There are also elevators and ramps.  While none of this might seem amazing on its own, what I found amazing is that none of these features that make the "UP" race go up appear on ANY other level.  Each level has its own quirkiness that makes it feel totally original, and completely different from any other level that you play.  This originality will keep you amazed as you try to unlock each level by moving through the tournament mode, seeing new features and different obstacles in the game each and every step of the way.

One more thing that deserves discussing is the way that the difficulty levels are set up.  The game has three different difficulty levels, and in a game like this, you might expect the game to just give you less time to complete the level.  That is the case when going from the normal to the expert difficulty level, but when progressing from the beginner to the normal level there is a huge change.  Instead of giving you less time, the game provides more obstacles.  The obstacles vary by course, but include things like huge hammers that try and smash your ball, to saw blades that cut platforms in half, to moving tar blotches, to giant mouse traps.  This difference in difficulty levels was really a fun feature, and it made the game have more life to it as when you completed the game on the beginners level, the challenge at normal level was a fun and new challenge, not a challenge to do things faster than before.


Graphics: 9
The graphics in Hamsterball show why simple is often better.  Working with simple bright textures and fantastic shapes, this game has created a world that is a joy to look at.  The hamster running around in his ball is definitely a reason to check out the game, but the variation in graphics from level to level as you progress is the reason to buy it. 

Sound: 8
The sound is very adequate for what the game does.  The soundtracks are varied, each with its own feel, and the sound effects are all clear.

Game Play: 8
Game Play isn't an area where there are major short-comings, but as I watched other people play the game I found that they had a lot more trouble controlling the hamster than I did.  This is not to say that the game control is bad.  In my opinion it is just right.  The biggest thing to figure out is the levels, not how to move the ball.  Once you have the level layout memorized in your head, you'll move forward to the next level.  There are many who believe that they should be able to sit down and walk right through a game.  That isn't the case in Hamsterball.  Partially that is due to the fact that it takes a little while to get used to how the Hamsterball controls.  Mostly it is due to the fact that this is a well-designed game and thus takes time.

Value: 10
Looking for bang for your buck?  Hamsterball certainly delivers.  This is one of only a handful of games that has remained on my desktop for more than a month.  They may not sound like much, but when you consider that I install a minimum of 5 games every week, it leads to the questioning of why this one game was able to stick it out.  The truth is the game is quite captivating, and at the same time very challenging.  Hamsterball provides many hours of enjoyable play time, many of them just playing, but once you get down how to play, you'll spend most of your time trying to get through the tournaments or getting gold medals on the time trials.  There is tons of  packed into this game that will keep you both playing and intent on playing for weeks.

Concept: 10
Taking the Marble Madness and re-doing it has been a common theme in the last couple of years.  This game however is quite uncommon in relation to those other re-hashes.  Hamsterball has very inventive levels, each with a completely different look and feel, that push the concept to extreme heights. After playing Hamsterball, I cannot imagine that the Marble Madness concept will ever again be presented with such a fresh face and with so much ingenuity packed into it.  This is likely the ultimate marble game.

Fun: 9
An absolute blast from start to finish, Hamsterball kept me playing for a lot longer than I allot to games that I'm going to review.  Even after taking a break and not playing it for a couple weeks, after flipping it on for another go I came back amazed at how much fun the game was to play.  With so much variation, and well-executed level design, this is a game that is about as fun as any game could be.

Overall: 9
We're only two months into 2004, but Hamsterball is going to be one of the best titles released this year in my estimation.  This is a cool game to play (how can you not like rolling around a ball with a hamster in it?) and I'm convinced that the basic premise, when taken together with the amazing execution, will leave people wanting more and more, and playing more and more.  Hamsterball is a great game start to finish, and a wonderful example of all that is right with Indie gaming.
Added: February 17th 2004
Reviewer: Russell Carroll
Score:
Hits: 44423
Language: english

  

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