Petz Hamsterz Family Review
Posted by Zach Kaplan
This time, you won't be so sad when your dad accidentally steps on it
The hamster is largely considered a cute and desirable pet, even in spite of its often curmudgeonly temperament and stinky, difficult to clean cage. They're a lot more fun to watch than they are to play with, which means that it shouldn't be difficult for Petz Hamsterz Family to capture the essence of hamster ownership.
For better or worse, it never tries. Where Petz Kittens simply failed in replicating the true experience, this new instalment veers in the opposite direction as the silly, semi-anthropomorphised critters cartoonishly roll over to have their bellies rubbed, stand on their hind legs when they want to play, actually feel a desire to play and even use their bodies as bowling balls. However, the game doesn't feature even one of the very limited number of cute things that real hamsters do. Not once will you see your pet stuff its cheeks comically full with food, run in a plastic ball, use an exercise wheel (except on the title screen) or navigate a complex series of tubes. Building a maze of piping for your pet to utilise could have actually been entertaining, but that's beside the point.
Much like its feline predecessor, Hamsterz Family centres on performing a very limited number of actions with your animal. You can pet it, though it can't tell the difference between where or with what strength you're doing so. You can feed it, which involves a nonsensical mixing process that determines how much better or worse your pet will become at minigames, though we never noticed the effect of this confusing feature in practice. You can also play with it, which we'll describe in more detail below, or breed it, a new feature for the DSiWare series. It sleeps and poops on its own, naturally. You can buy food and toys at the Goodz Store, but the objects that make up the former category are too similar to matter and the latter only amounts to different colour palettes for your bowling pins and parachutes. There are more hamsters to buy at the Petz Store, but they all act identically and there are only three breeds that each look quite similar to the others.
The two minigames here are just bad. Both of them are cute to watch but control sloppily or illogically. The first is bowling; aiming your hamster feels awkward and after you push him forth using an odd hamster-pushing instrument, he'll roll to a seemingly random spot, get up, jerkily walk around while making bizarre clicking sounds, then curl into a ball and roll into the pins. It makes absolutely no sense. Afterwards, the game sets all of the pins right back up for you to try again.
The second is a little more fun and at least not as upsetting to watch. You'll catapult your pet, aiming for one of a selection of platforms. Sometimes the little guy will make it, sometimes it will have to deploy an adorable parachute as it sinks into the abyss below. It feels more intuitive to aim than in bowling but is ultimately very thin and repetitive, and these are the only two excursions available.
The first time you play one of these, the game evaluates you with an amount of empty stars that you can fill by repeatedly playing and ostensibly getting better. It's so difficult to control how well you do, however, that this process quickly becomes tedious and frustrating. The only goal of this besides ranking up for a rank's sake is to unlock the stadium feature, which you can only do if you originally earned at least four star outlines. Here, you'll play the exact same game in a different location and with crowd noises. It's just more of the boring old same.
When a male and female hamster earn enough Skillz Points to reach adulthood, you can breed them together and produce a baby. Since the adolescent and mature pets are almost indistinguishable, seeing an infant seems infinitely promising in comparison, but it automatically grows when it gets back to your place. There is no benefit to this method in comparison to simply buying a new one at the store. It's also a bit disturbing that the game allows you to breed a hamster with its own parent; an oversight like this shows just how little thought went into this feature.
One improvement over Petz Kittens is that when your hamster is fully grown, you are not forced to sell it back to the pet shop. Given that you can never earn more Skillz points at this stage nor gain more minigame stars, simply filling up the outlines that you originally achieved, there really isn't much point to keeping your pet around. You won't have to break your own heart by selling it, but there should at least be something more to do with it at the end.
The presentation is a mixed bag. On the positive side, the animations, sounds, music and overall layout are bright, cute and pleasant. Conversely, they are very limited and get old quickly, and the main environment is also quite boring and lacklustre. It also makes little sense that a hamster lives in a big room instead of a complex cage full of tubes and wheels, which would be immeasurably more entertaining to watch.
It may entertain the young, but only briefly, as Petz Hamsterz Family is overly simplistic, repetitive and tedious. Its components range from boring to confusing to bizarre and nonsensical, and at 800 Points it's a rip-off to boot.