Of all the games I’ve longed to see brought into the virtual realm, I have to admit Lemmings isn’t one of them. The series may be a classic staple in gaming history, but it always seemed best suited to the Orwellian monitoring of critters through a computer screen rather than the god-like empowerment that VR bestows.
Games like Fly to KUMA last year and now Henry The Hamster Handler more recently, however, showed me how wrong I was to think that.
To be fair to developer Pocket Money Games, this isn’t a straight up clone. Rather than assigning jobs to green-haired minions, you’re frantically clearing the path for oversized hamsters as they move from the start zone to the finish. You have to make sure they’re not burned, electrocuted, impaled, or squashed along the way. It’s kind of like a mouse maze, if it was designed by Jigsaw from the Saw films.
Henry targets a very hectic sort of fun that has your mind racing back and forth as you multi-task between pulling levers, pushing buttons and winding wheels. Forget about one task for even a split second and you’ll hear the high-pitched squeals of your furry friends perishing. If your as forgetful as me, then these fast-firing levels quickly turn from a well oiled machine into a war zone. You’re always one step behind the devices of death.
Fortunately, Henry scales its difficulty based on player preference. There’s only one mode, but each level works on a three star system. You’ll only need a small amount of hamsters to progress to the next challenge, but reaching to get more stars will require careful study of each levels’ layout and likely multiple attempts to find the right flow. And with 150 levels in total, there’s plenty of content on offer here for completionists.
For the most part, levels are intricately designed, though I did notice a few instances of hamsters narrowly missing death pits that they were meant to fall into and landing safely to one side, a bug that I’m weary to highlight considering it provides a crutch. When the layout does click, however, there’s a satisfying blend of elements to micromanage. You have to time when you turn off the fire, or open a gate, as they’ll reset after a few seconds and stragglers will meet their end. They’ll even squish each other in falls if you don’t time it right.
The result is a game that can quite frankly become overwhelming at times, though the constant progression staves off frustration. Pocket Money has made the somewhat strange decision to only allow you to use one hand, though, which feels limiting. Perhaps using two hands would break the game’s difficulty but the sheer panic it can easily work you into has me doubting that.
It’s the polish that makes Henry really shine, though. This feels like the rare VR game that isn’t simply a tech demo for its base concept. On top of the meaty puzzle campaign, Pocket Money inserts mini-games every five levels in that have you playing Whack-A-Hamster, memorizing button inputs, and shooting giant critters that pop out of pipes (because no Vive game can come and go without letting you hold a gun). It’s not the absolute epitome for what VR can do for the human race, but it’s a textbook example of making a rock solid game with the kind of features and presentation you’d expect of a fully-fledged release. Unless you’ve got the backing of a big publisher, that’s something we rarely see right now.
Henry the Hamster Handler isn’t the absolute best Vive game I’ve played, but it does achieve what it sets out to do better than anything I’ve seen on the system in a while. It’s clearly made by people that understand the importance of giving value to premium products, with plenty of content, extra modes and polish in its presentation, and that alone makes it stand out. More importantly, though, its core mechanics easily generate a frantic flurry of panic and micromanaging that’s a genuine joy to try and contain. If you don’t think this is the sort of game for you I implore you to still give it a try; you might end up having more fun than you’d think.