Nintendo revived the pet simulation genre with its hit Nintendogs series, and since then there have been plenty of other pet sims hoping to catch the animal-loving gamers' hearts. Bergsala Lightweight's eShop title Brilliant Hamsters! is a competently crafted pet simulator that simply doesn't present enough variety to sustain interest for the long run. While younger gamers may enjoy watching the hamsters run around their cages, petting them to make them happy and feeding them, there's too much of a "wash, rinse, repeat" feeling to the proceedings, making Brilliant Hamsters more tedious than fun.
Players begin Brilliant Hamsters! by choosing a hamster, naming it, and learning how to care for it. To "care" for your hamster, you'll have to rub the stylus on the hamster's silhouette on the touch screen and watch the top screen to see if the hamster likes where you're rubbing. It's rather tedious, with an "X" appearing if the hamster isn't happy and a check appearing if it is. A hamster will also purr and wiggle a bit if it's enjoying itself. Hamsters are fed with food bought from the in-game store; each hamster likes certain foods and dislikes others. If a hamster likes a food, a scrolling text "Om nom nom!" will appear on the touch screen.
Occasionally, you'll have to clean the hamster cage, which consists of finding little dust particles and rubbing them away. Hamsters can apparently get sick if not taken care of, but we didn't have that happen once during our play-through. Finally, you can direct your hamster to glimmering parts of the cage and have it dig up extra stars and occasional other tidbits, like facts about hamsters; all of these activities get old fast, and not much changes throughout the proceedings.
Completing each activity will reward the player with stars, the game's currency, to spend in the store, as well as a stamp that goes on a stamp sheet; when the stamp sheet is completed, it can be used to buy a new cage. As the player gets new cages, they go up in "grade," which allow for more expensive cages (requiring more than one stamp sheet). Each cage unlocks a new hamster to care for, as well, but adding these is entirely optional. As players advance grades more options, including new items in the shop, become available; the shop includes new foods, as well as clothing to outfit the hamsters. While the clothing is cute, there's not much incentive to dress them, aside from a StreetPass feature in which users can see how other players' hamsters are dressed. We didn't encounter another Brilliant Hamsters player during our time with the game, so it all depends on how many people are playing in your area.
Advancing grades also open up AR games to play with the hamster. The four AR games require the "?" card packaged with every 3DS. Unfortunately, the AR games are unlocked one at a time, which will frustrate players who want to enjoy the feature from the beginning. The games — Balloon Pop, Labyrinth, Sunflower Catch and Find My Hamster — are fun diversions from the tedium of the main game, but they are generally simplistic and repetitive. Balloon Pop requires players to press the correct button on each balloon, Labyrinth is a maze for your hamster to explore, Sunflower Catch is extremely simplistic, with the player guiding the hamster to catch sunflower seeds, and Find My Hamster has the player finding the hamster hiding among colourful blocks and taking a picture before the time is up. All of these work well enough, but none of them really justify the use of AR technology; these mini-games could have been integrated as part of the main game and nothing would have been lost. In fact, the slightly reduced frame rate thanks to the 3DS camera slightly detracts from the experience.
Technically, Brilliant Hamsters is proficient, if not remarkable. The visuals, while not stunning by any means, are colourful and work for the most part. The hamsters are nicely rendered and animated. The cages generally look nice when zoomed out, but when zooming in the lack of detail in the textures begin to show. There are several different camera angles to choose from; players can follow a specific hamster, or watch all of them from afar. We found that the latter was the most useful, since we could see the hamsters' needs, which appear as little icons over their heads. The sound design is simple and cute, but nothing memorable.
If a younger gamer loved Nintendogs and wants something new to try, Brilliant Hamsters may be a fun diversion, but it's ultimately brought down by repetitive gameplay and an unnecessary unlocking system that serves only to prolong the experience. While it's not all bad — there's nothing "broken" and younger players will enjoy dressing up their hamsters and collecting new cages — the experience is simply too thin to justify its price tag.