Concept box art courtesy
1994 Cinepak demo
1995 Summer CES
demo cart screenshots
- scheduled for late 1995 (U) -
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?
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.
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.
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.