Lately, a bunch of my friends have been getting into Shenmue duck racing. There's a channel on Twitch (opens in new tab) running bets on duck races 24/7, with the chat placing wagers on which beautifully bow-tied bird will cross the finish line first. It's incredible stuff. For a similar experience, Hamster All-Stars may miss the thrill of screaming "c'mon blue!" at a duck, but more than makes up for it with its delightful rodent obstacle courses.
Hamster All-Stars might best be described as horse racing meets Trackmania, painted in the wonderfully wobbly pastels that define most of Sokpop Collective's cheap 'n' cheerful monthly games. First, you've gotta build a track for your Hamsters, using a simple tile-based editor of ramps, turns, and obstacles.
Once your masterpiece is complete, it's time to let loose the rodents. Once you've bet on which you think will win, two teams of hamsters erupt from pipes, Mario-style. One side might have the numbers advantage, while the other may be nipper on the field. If your team wins, you'll get yourself cash for spending on bigger, wilder objects for your tracks—bumpers, funnels, pipes and more.
In motion, it's fantastic. Your wee guys wobble and bounce around chaotically, vaguely following a suggestion of the track but just as likely to wander off on their own. If one gets too far off-course (or if a competitor gets too close to the finish line), you can give them a little nudge to change their direction. It's not duck betting, but gosh if I'm not on the edge of my seat hoping my red fuzzball crosses the line before those pesky blues.
It's a delightful, playful toy of a game in the way that so many Sokpop games are. Over the past three years, the Dutch collective has turned Tetris into a god-game (opens in new tab), squeezed a four-player RTS into a single screen (opens in new tab), and released dozens of other tiny experiments. Hamster All-Stars is out now on Itch.io (opens in new tab) for $3/£3, and should hit the developer's Steam page (opens in new tab) in the next week or so.