If you've got young kids at home, then no doubt you've heard of Zhu Zhu Pets. In fact, it's likely that you fought your way through store after store in December trying to find Mr. Squiggles to wrap as that special gift under the tree. If you don't have kids, then maybe you'll understand when I say that Zhu Zhu Pets was the Tickle Me Elmo product of Christmas 2009. A hot toy in high demand. So, it is only natural to expect that a best-selling toy would find its way to the iPhone. Does a wildly popular toy automatically translate into a great iPhone game? Not necessarily.
First of all, for those of you who don't know, Zhu Zhu Pets are electronic toy hamsters. They look, feel, and act just like live animals, but you don't have all of the mess (and you never have to buy any hamster food). The little toy creatures are endearing as they react to their environments with over 40 different sound effects. It's basically a toy substitute for a pet. (I prefer live animals myself, but I must admit there is something appealing about not having to clean up after a naturally messy little rodent).
Now that you know Zhu Zhu Pets are for kids, you shouldn't be surprised that the iPhone game is appealing to the same fan base. It's important to keep this in mind when evaluating the game. I'm sure that the little ones playing the iPhone version will be forgiving of some of its flaws because they love their little Zhu Zhu Pets. They won't be annoyed that the little animated hamster in the iPhone game is very tiny and barely recognizable as a hamster at all. They'll just love that they can make Mr. Squiggles roll around Zhu Zhu-Ville in his adventure ball, working their way around the maze of obstacles.
Zhu Zhu Pets is a classic platformer game like Mario Brothers. The game designers have done a good job of incorporating the iPhone's accelerometer into the game play. Controlling your hamster-in-a-ball is as easy as tilting the iPhone from side to side. When he gets stuck, then you “flick” the screen to make him jump. Although at first I found this a clever combination of controls, after constantly flicking the screen, your finger gets a little sore. I can't help but think this might bother some of the smaller kids after a while. You cannot avoid flicking the screen either. Many times per level, Mr. Squiggles gets stuck and the only way to get him out is to shake the iPod until he un-sticks, and then make him jump out of his “trap” by flicking. Instead of coins, you're grabbing ‘veggies' (like carrots and lettuce) to keep Mr. Squiggles energy level full throughout the game. There are some fun obstacles to avoid like spider webs and globs of goo, but for the most part this is a very standard platformer with nothing new to add to the category. The sounds are totally uninspired as well. The music is so repetitive that I had to turn down the sound so that I could bear to keep playing.
So, while in the end, Zhu Zhu Pets is a very standard platformer, I'm sure fans of the toys won't care. If you're a mom looking for a game to download to keep your little ones occupied, then Zhu Zhu Pets certainly will fit the bill. You might have to teach them how to properly “flick” the phone to make Mr. Squiggles jump, but for the most part they will enjoy navigating the animated hamster out of the maze. At $.99, it's a great value and much cheaper, and easier to get a hold of, than the toy.