Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Heartbreak! - Are the hamsters all right?


If there is one thing that is pretty consistent across the Game Boy Advance’s library, it’s probably the fact that just about every game is cute as hell. Now, I know there are outliers - hell, a good half of the games we’ve found so far in The Game Boy Abyss are ugly as sin - but for the most part, the general aesthetic of games on the GBA, especially games adapted from anime, is nothing short of adorable. And I genuinely don’t think any game nails the ‘cute’ aesthetic, and successfully transfers that into adorably fun gameplay, better then Hamtaro Ham-Ham Heartbreak, our most recent and much-delayed expedition into The Game Boy Abyss.

I have fond memories of Hamtaro. Back when I was a child, and had Cartoon Network, they always had a programming block dedicated to anime. Now, me being the Big Boy that I was, I was always there, chiefly, for Naruto and Dragon Ball Z. But nestled between those two action packed jugganauts was a little, much more different title called Hamtaro. Now, me being the Big Boy that I was, acted like the show was ‘way too cute’ for the likes of me, but secretly, I always enjoyed how cute Hamtaro was, and I watched it with as much dedication as my sisters. I’d say it’s a big chunk of personal growth I’ve gone through since then, in the odd-fifteen to twenty years; I can now admit to myself I loved watching it, and I just genuinely love cute things in general. I’m glad I can appreciate stuff like that - which is a big part in why I enjoyed regaling in my memories whilst I play through the unfathomably cute Hamtaro Ham-Ham Heartbreak.

As a game that (at least, I assume) was primarily marketed towards Hamtaro’s biggest audience - younger kids - Ham-Ham Heartbreak is kind of a weird one. The best way to really describe the game is that it’s kind of akin to those old PC ‘point-and-click’ games that were seemingly endlessly in the 90s and early 2000s, chatting with various Hamsters, throwing all your options at the wall and seeing what’ll actually get you to progress.
The plot is as simple as you can get ;an asshole hamster named Spat - kinda a rude name for someone with a speech impediment - really, really hates happy couples, and is going around running people's lives for fun. So, tasked by an… angel hamster??? Named Harmony, Hamtaro and Bijou team up to journey across the various zones around their clubhouse, solving tasks for various Ham-Hams and reuniting romantic, platonic, and familial love to defeat Spat and hetphobic ways! It’s cute, simple and to the point, but there’s nothing wrong with this game’s story, especially with how genuinely funny the writing can be. Considering much of this game is literally just chatting with various hamsters, the writing almost never misses the mark. You’ll see hamsters gorging themselves on sunflower seeds (to an, uh, almost terrifying degree…), working at a sprawling amusement park (Power rangers, anyone?) or even… ghost hamsters? Were they… are there dead hamsters in this game?

The main form of progression in this game is the ‘Ham-Chat’ system - essentially a dictionary of ‘Hamafied’ words that allow you to communicate with the denizens spread across the six different zones. You’ll start with a handful of basic words - like Hamha (which is just hello) or DigDig (I give you three guesses what that does), but as you wander across the various zones hunting Spat, you’ll obtain more by reforming the love of various Ham-Hams, doing tasks, or sometimes by just chatting with them or using some Ham-Chat word you’ve learnt, ultimately leading you to a confrontation with Spat in each of the various zones and forcing him out, leading you to unlock further zones.
There are a few side distractions - there’s a weird pseudo-crafting mechanic focussed around collecting rocks and getting times from, along with a few minigames to play around in. You’ll probably touch these to reach the credits, but you’ll only have to fully complete them if you want to do everything; honestly, they’re probably the weakest parts of the game and are only really worth it if you’re going for 100%, though you will have to engage with them a little bit to obtain all the Ham-Chats and reunite all the loves. Your mileage might vary though, I was just more interested in repairing the HamHams love, because I Am A Man, you see - and nothing is more manly than love!

Ugh. Ignore that.

The biggest draw of this game is that it is absolutely, insanely, wonderfully adorable. Seriously, I love, love, LOVE how this game looks. The pixel art - common as it is on the GBA - looks nothing short of fantastic, opting for a more simple art style compared to other games on the GBA, with relatively ‘normal’ hamster character designs, but with enough detail to allow their personality to shine through. The area designs are of a similar quality - they aren’t incredibly complex, but they feel well defined and ‘inhabited’, so to speak, feeling well sized and designed that a hamster running around in doesn’t feel kind of insane… Despite the fact that a Hamster-sized haunted house is innately kind of insane.
The icing on the cake is how every single Ham-Chat has a unique, hilariously cute animation to go with it, which can range from Hamspar (the word for Rival) making Hamtaro and Bijou bursting into flame, to Minglie (Play) having them do a dance, to finally Liber-T (Freedom!!!) making the two Hamsters turning into the goddamn Statue of LIberty. It makes me think of the original Jak and Daxter game, where finding every Power Cell had a unique little dance to go with it. There’s just so much creativity baked into all 86 of these Ham-Chat, and honestly it’s almost worth hunting them all out (as a side note, you won’t get all 86 by completing the main story) just to see the cute little animations to go with them. Though, whilst the little noises they make are cute, it can get a little grating for the words you use more often - the noise of Hamha is forever burned into my mind.
Ham-Ham Heartbreak is an insanely cute game. I’m glad I’m at a point in my life where I can appreciate cuteness without feeling out of place or a cringelord (cringe ain’t real), because otherwise I don’t think I would’ve had as much fun as I did with this game. Honestly, at least on a visual level, Ham-Ham Heartbreak is probably the best looking game I’ve played yet as a part of the Game Boy Abyss.

Also, on that note, I just think it’s brilliant that in this little Japanese town, there are somehow hamster sized theme parks and houses and castles, fully outfitted with rollercoasters and all kinds of tech. I dunno why it gets to me so much, but I just love the sheer absurdity of the whole situation; imagine being a human, stumbling upon a miniature roller coaster populated entirely by hamsters!? Honestly, I’d probably have a panic attack and wonder if I’m suffering some sort of massive brain injury, but still, it’d be insane to find something like that in the woods.
Wait, are there even humans in this world? They’re never mentioned, so…

Now, for those of you who actually are old enough to have played those point and click adventures, you’ll know how sometimes you’ll descend into ‘pixel-hunting’ to work out exactly how to progress, trying any combination of items and clicks to see what progresses the plot. Now, Ham-Ham Heartbreak never quite reaches that level of confusion, but there were a few moments in this game where I was genuinely lost as to how I was to progress. Not in a navigation sense - all the areas are fairly simple, but the amount of times I found a new hamster to speak to, and the Ham-Chat list came up with a big ‘ol question mark, leaving me completely lost as to what I might’ve missed… Well, it happened more than a few times. As the game wears on, it grows slightly more non-linear in nature; you’ll still be pursuing Spat across the various areas, but sometimes you’ll need to return to a previous level to complete a certain task to unlock a certain Ham-Chat word. This isn’t too bad in theory, but the way the game’s laid out you could imagine a younger kid getting totally lost as to how they’re supposed to progress, especially since there are a couple of times where you have to, say, tackle a specific Hamster who’s just hanging out so you can get a certain Ham-Chat. Hell, I frequently got lost, and I’m twenty six! I, uh, think that says something about me, though. Either way, I think this game is a lovely, if possible unintentional, homage to point and click style games - even if it does fall into the traps they fell into all those years ago.

It’s also, unfortunately, not the most engaging game in the world. Of course, I am a twenty-six year old man; I am not and never will be the target audience for Ham-Ham Heartbreak, but this game doesn’t exactly hit a home run in keeping my attention. The game is adorable, yes, I’ve well established that, but outside of the minigames and the general loop, there isn’t a lot going for it. This isn’t a bad thing, of course! It’s an incredibly chill experience though, but it was the kind of game I couldn’t sit still playing for longer than an hour since you really are just talking to people and viewing a variety of cute and funny moments for the entirety of it’s playtime. Honestly, I’d be genuinely interested in seeing what a kid, who happens to be a big fan of Hamtaro (god, are there kids who are fans of Hamtaro these days!?) would think of this game; would they be engaged by the adorable visuals and funny dialogue? Or will they bounce off it hard, and go play something more action-packed? I dunno. Anyway, I don’t think it’s lack of engagement is necessarily a bad thing - it was a super chill experience through and through, a great palate cleanser after some of the crap I’ve played so far, but I probably would’ve finished it faster if it grabbed my attention ab it more, y’know?

Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Heartbreak is nothing less than a palate cleanser. A cute, short-and-sweet journey in the same vein as classic PC point-and-click adventures. I’ll be honest, it’s basic - you’re just gonna be talking to (admittedly hilarious) hamsters as you run around and learn a bunch of nonsense words, but the game is just so charming, and genuinely beautiful, that you’ll barely mind occasionally getting stumped by it’s non-linearish progression (or maybe that’s just me) or it’s occasional lack of engagement. Ham-Ham Heartbreak is well worth a play if you have any nostalgia for Hamtaro, older, mid-2000s anime, or just a love of cute things in general. Is it the best thing in the world? No-P! Does that matter? No-P! Is it worth a play?

Hell freaking Yep-P!

Thank you so much for reading my review! I’m glad I finally got through the game in the end, because I really did enjoy it once I was done. Next game on the list will most likely be Pac-Man World GBA, which should be… interesting, to say the least. And we’re almost at the ten game mark, which I’m genuinely very excited about! I’ll be playing one of my personal favorite games on the GBA (and I actually mean that this time, no jokes like last week), so look forward to what that is - odds are, none of y’all know about it!
As always, you can find me on twitter @Lemmy7003 , or you can email at cckaiju@gmail.com. Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you around!