Free to play Hamster Playground had me interested straight off the bat. The concept is half The Sims and half mini-game battles with out players… but with hamsters. Train your furry friends and put them into battles online for races to eat as much food, solve brain mazes or just skateboard across toy tracks. I love everything about the idea of Hamster Playground but the execution leaves the player feeling a bit removed from the experience.
Once you’ve picked your hamster you’ll be placed into a 2D view of a house with food and water outlets that require coins to replenish. Coins also repair the toilet, shower, bed and playroom. These are all tied to your hamsters basic needs so if you don’t look after them, they’ll be miserable and lose their competitive edge. Their competitive edge are stats for determination, strength, intelligence and agility. You have a gym in your house to spend acorns on that allows your hamster to level up these stats too. The gym can be upgraded with coins too for larger stat increases. Acorns and coins aren’t your only currency, there’s also blue stars for cosmetics for your house and then real money can be used to buy cosmetics for your hamster. Can you tell its free to play yet? To be fair, the actual gameplay isn’t monetised and I hope it stays that way as otherwise the game would be pay to win.
You see, all those stats combine to create a hamster ready to race in three different events at launch. By far the best of these are the mazes which offer up four simple mini games that ask you to time or spam mouse clicks for agility or strength and then there’s a card matching game for intelligence. Your stats change the area of success you have for either a perfect or good move so its in your interests to level up your hamster in a way that covers your weakness. The problem is that those mini games are also the same for the eating contest (uses the card game) and races (timing mouse clicks) and so they feel less involved. In fact, the entire game feels quite hands off because the game is so easy with real players online that its down to RNG of your hamster as to who wins as everyone is hitting perfects most of the time.
Competitions give you coins, acorns and stars alongside XP to level up and get bigger bundles of those currencies too. Your hamsters skills degrade quickly too so you are immediately into a grind to keep them competitive and that’s where I found the gameplay loop was simply too uninvolved and simplistic to warrant such a tight and quick spam of the same mechanics. I went from feeling like Hamster Playground was fun and fresh to bored and done in 90 minutes. I think the game has legs but it needs better mini games that involve the player more than a couple of clicks. A maze editor is coming but that is rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic because it still focusses on the same mini game mechanics. I hope variety is going to be added but at the moment, I say have an enjoyable hour and then move on.
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