Kids adore Hamtaro and his hamster buddies, and with Olympics fever still a recent memory, there's a good chance that the little ones in your household will enjoy playing Nintendo's latest sports-themed Hamtaro game, a mock Olympiad called Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Games. That's not to say that teens and adults can't have fun with this game too, but between the cute subject matter and lightweight difficulty, you really have to be a dyed-in-the-wool Hamtaro fan to get your money's worth out of what should be a quick two-hour romp for most people.
The lineup of events includes 15 different sports: the 100hm dash, hurdles, pole vault, triple jump, hammer throw, tennis, medley swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, beach volleyball, sailing, birdback riding, carrot pull, archery, and marathon.
Initially, you have to go through the events in a set order in the game's tournament mode, which presents the first annual Ham-Ham Games as a seven-day team competition. The goal is to win as many gold medals as possible. If you guide Hamtaro's team to victory in the tournament mode, you'll be able to access the free play mode from the main menu. This lets you participate in any event you want without having to start a new tournament.
In between events, you can explore the various venues, the athletes' village, the Ham-Ham clubhouse, and the local television studio, as well as talk to any of the other competing hamsters that happen to be lurking around. Previous Hamtaro games have emphasized role-playing and puzzle-solving, and while there isn't much of that going on here, you'll still find the occasional opportunity to rescue a distressed Ham-Ham or locate an item that someone has lost.
Some events are intricate, while others are downright simple. The beach volleyball and tennis events, for instance, let you move the characters around and perform a variety of different shots, such as lobs, slams, and dives. Fans of music and rhythm games will get a kick out of the diving, synchronized swimming, and marathon events, which are set up so that pressing the proper buttons as they're displayed makes your hamster perform a trick or run faster. And then there are events like the 100-ham-meter dash, archery, and carrot pull--which only require a hint of timing and a great deal of button mashing. Still, the selection of events is wide enough such that most people will probably find three or four that continually beg to be played. What hurts the game most is that the skill level of the CPU is set fairly low. Seasoned players will cruise to a tournament win in under two hours.
The ability to collect different costumes and hamigo cards extends the game's overall replay value. New costumes can be obtained by buying them from the Ham Shopping Network in the tournament mode or by setting world records in specific events. Hamigo cards are basically trading cards that show the likeness of a particular Ham-Ham. You can get them by talking to the different Ham-Hams or by trading with a friend using a GBA link cable.
Fans of the Hamtaro cartoon will appreciate how closely the game duplicates the artistic style of the animated series. The various ham-hams are drawn with large bodies and oversized heads, and they all show a wide range of facial expressions and body language. Hamtaro is the star of the show, of course, and he's the hamster that players will control as they move between the different venues and chat with the other Ham-Hams. The tournament mode uses an overhead, RPG-style viewpoint, but most events employ a combination of standard side-scrolling backgrounds and 2D sprites. The GBA's digital sound and advanced graphics capabilities aren't used much, unfortunately, so, while the upbeat music and crayon-toned backgrounds should suit a child's sensibilities just fine.
Practically speaking, if you're old enough to read this review, you're likely too old to get your money's worth out of this game. The cute, easygoing nature of Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Games is best suited to younger players.