There's a lot that comes to mind when one imagines a game with the title Hamsterball. First and foremost would be imagining a hamster, followed closely by sticking the little critter into a plastic ball. What doesn't spring to mind is taking the hamster (in said ball), then tossing it down a slope filled with narrow ledges, spike traps, falling hammers and pitfalls in an attempt to see how long it takes for the creature to survive long enough to reach the bottom. It definitely paints a vivid image in the mind, but how does Tik Games' Hamsterball game play out?
It's hard to tell exactly what the designers of Hamsterball had in mind from playing the game, as it contains many facets that don't quite match up with one another. Players get to choose from two single player game modes, Race and Stunt, or a multiplayer mode which consists of several mini-games. In race, players must take their hamsters from the top of a large structure and guide it to the bottom, avoiding various traps and pitfalls set along the way. Race also offers various unlockable hamsters to choose from, each with their own special ability (such as jumping or dashing) with a cool down period attached. Stunt on the other hand, is similar to Race in the fact that the goal is still to reach the bottom of the level, but instead of a third-person behind-the-hamster perspective players are given a distanced camera to view the action from.
This is, however, where the full depth of the game has been realized and where the problems begin to set in. Control wise the game is easy enough to understand; left stick moves the hamster while the right adjusts the camera. Unfortunately these controls are almost completely nullified by the game's speed, which can be anywhere from too fast, to very slow. This is because 'Race' mode isn't actually a race. The more appropriate word would be 'Gauntlet', as the player isn't trying to beat anything except the clock while constantly being attacked by various obstacles. There's no real way to know when to speed up, slow down, or prepare to dodge random objects without having actually played the level beforehand. The only guarantee in fact, is that the hamster will at some point be destroyed, and it will be funny the first time.
The same issues that plague Race mode come back with a vengeance in Stunt mode, but this time appear with game mechanics somehow more frustrating than Race's blind pitfall. The addition of the camera's semi-fixed position means that players have an easier time seeing obstacles ahead, and preparing for them. Thankfully the developers of the game saw that this could be a problem, and made sure that occasionally players must navigate behind blind turns, pathways that vanish and reappear, and frequent speed checks (where moving the hamsterball too fast will lead to falling off the level). The game does feel like it was more designed for this mode, and while it can be annoying struggling to beat the game's tricks and traps, they feel more intentional and are naturally easier to surpass. That doesn't make them any less frustrating however, only more tolerable.
Considering how bizarre and awkward the two single player modes are, it's hard to tell exactly how much fun anyone will have in multiplayer mode. Or for that matter, precisely how much fun anyone would have replaying the game. Much of the game's amusement value comes in the form of unforeseeable punishment from the game's levels, and knowing where all the tricks and traps lie somehow diminishes the entertainment in both modes. While multiplayer does feature amusing features like a Sumo battle, the real challenge may be convincing others to download the title (though it does sport local multiplayer for anyone who has friends, locally).
Graphically and sound wise the game is unremarkable, taking a very colorful and low-detail route on both levels. Simple and childlike music will go unnoticed in the background while the occasional wacky noise and squeak will remind you that you're supposed to be having fun. The hamster however, is pretty detailed compared to the rest of the game, which is great because when you beat a level it does a little victory dance.
Overall Hamsterball is a game that really puts emphasis on a love/hate relationship. While Race mode isn't the most fun (unless someone enjoys randomly being punished for trying to move), Stunt mode is a bit more enjoyable. Though it features a lot of levels across both modes, and while they go by fast, there is certainly no lack of creativity in their design. There's a lot of fun ideas in Hamsterball that never really quite make it, but for the bored (or slightly masochistic) gamer there could be a bit of entertainment to be had.