Volume 5 - Sega/Mega/Super 32X/CD 32X

by Sam Pettus (aka "the Scribe")

Provided courtesy of

32X Reviews
Virtua Hamster

Concept box art courtesy of
Quakenbush Design

1994 Cinepak demo

1995 Summer CES
demo cart screenshots

Author:  Quakenbush Design
Vendor:  Sega
Genre:  action
Players:  1
Release:  unreleased - scheduled for late 1995 (U) - early 1995 demo cart exists

Premise:  How many of you have ever owned a pet hamster?  Which of you were lucky enough to have more than a simple cage?  You know, the deluxe affair with all the tubes, add-on rooms, exercise equipment, and so on?  Now, take that idea and add to it one smart rodent - Chip, the world's fastest skateboardin' hamster.  He's mastered the use of the board, and that JATO pack strapped to the back will have him shootin' the tubes in record time.  You get to play as Chip, whose only concern in life is to somehow find his way out of each progressively difficult tube maze.  The fastest way to do that is to grab a Skuttle, one of the maintenance 'bots that look after the tubes, and have it open the exit for him.  Unfortunately for Chip, though, not all of his fellow tube dwellers are too hot to trot about his plans, and some are downright hostile to the idea.  Will Chip ever make it to freedom, or will the tube sentries and his fellow tube dwellers catch him first?

Comments:  This game is a simple yet entertainingly riotous rodent race.  I dunno if the author intended it to come off as a parody of sorts on Virtua Racing Deluxe (I suspect he did), because that's what the game kinda feels like.  The approach is quite similar to Spectre VR, but with small furry critters instead of hyperdrive-powered starcruisers.  Of course, there are some major differences between this and AM2's racer - you can "loop-the-loop" while flying down the tubes, there are all of those annoying obstacles and enemies to worry about, and last but not least the wide variety of racing rodents that users would have been able to choose.  I dearly wish that Sega would finish developing this game, or farm it out to another company for completion, or perhaps go so far as to allow the demo to be freely distributed.  In a market that is laden with one stereotypical action game after another, Virtua Hamster stands out as an enjoyably unique take on the genre.

Rating:  8

The SkuttleVariants:  There is an early Cinepak demo that was made prior to the demo cart and shown at various 1994/1995 trade shows.  The overall look of the game is less polished and many of the rodents have different names and appearances than those used in the cart.  In particular, the early Chip is missing his eye visor and the Skuttles have visible eyeballs.

Sidebars:  Eric Quakenbush (Virtua Fighter, Shadow of Atlantis) cooked up this fast paced 3D maze game while working as a developer at Sega of America.  A complete design premise was worked up, several interesting characters (both good and bad) were created, and a working demo cart was burned from in-production code to demonstrated its possibilities at the 1995 Summer CES.  Unfortunatly, Sega cancelled the game in mid-production and never revived the concept.  This ticked off its developers to no end, and wound created a minor gaming mystery that has remained unresolved until now.  It remains to this day probably the most talked-about game that was never released for the 32X.  To quote the author, "We created tape of PC animation for a show and a working cart.  I think we made [an] alpha - we had the hamster racing thru the tubes, collecting power-ups, firing corn, and multiple camera angles, but no interaction with other characters ....  My boss asked me to come up with a puzzle game for [the] 32X and I didn't want to do another Tetris game, so I came up with Virtua Hamster.  The maze you were racing thru was the puzzle.  Sega [of] Japan wasn't too hot on the idea of letting us use the name Virtua ... [we] got really pissed that the game was cancelled ...."  By the way, Mr. Quakenbush still has the demo cart, but cannot release it at this time due to legal reasons.  I would like to thank him for providing me with video footage of both the Cinepak video and the demo cart in action, from which I was able to get the screenshots for this review.

Chip the HamsterMax the MoleOutback the Kangaroo RatThorn the Sewer Rat


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