Although fun, Namco’s Hamster Pirates needs more hamsters
Exactly thirty years ago, Namco changed the world of video games forever when they released a game about an anthropomorphized yellow circle that ran around gobbling up ghosts. This month, the famed developer’s American division jumped into Facebook with the tale of adventurous cricentinae with a taste for plunder and a penchant for making salty swabbies walk the plank. As it stands, Hamster Pirates isn’t likely to achieve Pac-Man’s success, but there’s plenty of booty here for would-be merciless rodents.
Hamster Pirates kicks off on a little undeveloped island, complete with a helpful tutorial leading you through the construction of the first couple of buildings (specifically, the craftsman shop and the lumber mill). Most buildings don’t take that long to build, but you’ll often need to wait a day for your buildings to produce additional supplies before building anything else. You can also upgrade your buildings, and given enough time and resources, projects like your palace (which starts out as a tent) can eventually turn into structures worthy of their name. This, as we’ll see later, has additional benefits for battle.
Missions take place in a hamsterized version of the Caribbean, with the map reworked to allow for quests around towns such as Hamvanna (Havana). Currently, there are only six zones, but more will likely be added as the game increases in popularity. There’s nothing particularly innovative about the quests themselves, and you’ll find yourself wishing you could at least see illustrations of your hamsters in action as you “Defend your grog stash” and “Collect even more lost loot.” Unfortunately, you can only read the text. While cutely named, these quests follow the tried-and-true Mafia Wars-style gameplay of repeated clicking an objective and waiting until you’ve gained more energy before you can proceed. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, but the entire experience could be improved with a dose of flavor text highlighting the antics of hamsters on the open sea.
Completing these missions gives you skill points for improving your attributes, which come in handy for Hamster Pirates’ “Attack” mode. Here, you’ll face off against a random player and fire cannon balls at each other in an attempt to sink the other scallywag’s ship for gold and experience. Skill points can be assigned to offensive or defensive abilities, or you can place them in energy, health or stamina so you can fight more often. In addition, the buildings you construct on your island have a direct impact on your fleet’s performance in Attack mode, since structures such as the gun tower can augment your ability to attack. It’s all good fun, and it’s easy to see the impact of upgrades in battle.
But where are the hamsters? Any game so bold as to base their entire concept around hamster pirates should all but plaster every screen with the likes of the furry freebooters. Audiences love seeing images from funny concepts, and it’s a lesson Namco should know well from the successes of Pac-Man. Yet aside from seeing a couple of your hamsters at work on your island or being blown from the ship in Attack mode, Hamster Pirates curiously avoids many visuals of the privateering rodents themselves.
The most obvious exception to this is the Profile tab, which—along with granting access to your battle log and a store—gives you a customizable avatar that can be outfitted with everything from a frying pan to a powdered wig. In theory, anyway: avatar customization has yet to be implemented, so you’re stuck with the same scowling rodent every time you log in. (At first I assumed he was a simply a design element.) When customization is finally implemented, Namco should take full advantage of the avatars and have them cheer or cry after a battle against another opponent is won or lost. Similarly, your friends (or members of your “crew’) should be able to see your avatar when they click on your name.
Hamster Pirates is fun, and certain elements here show promise, such as the ease of combat and the influence your island’s buildings have on the performance of your fleet. So far, however, it seems that Namco isn’t taking proper advantage of a winning concept. When the lumber mill is chugging out wood, I want to see an eye-patched hamster running the spinning wheel. When a wooden structure needs to be built, I’d like to see these hamsters cut the wood by chewing it. Hamster Pirates is certainly worth a look, but I know what I want to see by the time the game drops its “sneak peek” status: I want more hamsters.