When the Sega 32X went down in flames in 1995, one of the games that burned with it was Virtua Hamster, a primitive 3D racing game starring hamster and other similar critters zooming through Habitrail tubes with rocket-powered skateboards. A playable prototype was known to exist, but now it seems that a group of Sega fans have purchased it and are preparing to release it to the Internet. GameSetWatch has the story.
According to pre-production design documents posted by former Sega game designer Eric Quakenbush, Virtua Hamster was meant to have "the look and fast paced action of Virtua Racing and Virtua Fighter combined with an amusing puzzle strategy game and an unlikely group of heroes and enemies."
Spanish Sega community Sega Saturno, however, procured a Virtua Hamster prototype for around $250 recently, and plans to post the ROM for public download this Wednesday. The site even has a countdown timer for the ROM's release. In the meantime, you can watch this choppy footage from the dumped prototype, which really doesn't look as exciting as the game's cover suggests. I'm not writing Virtua Hamster off just yet, though, as the pre-production notes mention a veteran hamster with a steam-powered rocket backpack, an idea so wonderful that I wouldn't mind seeing an entire movie based on the concept -- it couldn't be much worse than G-Force.
In a previous online life I wrote a brief writeup about this canceled game. Here's a snippet about the various rodent characters.
Was the world clamoring for a racing game starring a goggle-wearing hamster, rats, gerbil, armadillo, and mole? Doomed to an existence of legend and myth, the six playable racers were...
- "Chip": This heroic hamster races through the tubes on his jet-powered skateboard.
- "Thorn": As a badass rat, Thorn speeds along on his boss motorcycle.
- "Sherman": Who says armadillos are slow? This one, aided with a jet engine strapped to his back, glides through the habitat on a sled.
- Unnamed Kangaroo Rat: This little rat has outfitted his skateboard with a steering wheel and engine.
- "Stockpile": Living up to his name, this pack rat has built a racing vehicle out of discarded items. Powered by a battery-powered fan, his makeshift skateboard has storage space for whatever trash he should find in the tunnels.
- "Max": At the controls of his big wheel motorbike, this mole counts on his powerful engine to blast him into the lead and his powerful size to slam into other racers.
I've always wanted to try Virtua Hamster, so even though it's probably in a primitive and barely playable state, I'm curious to see how this prototype performs. Take a look at the concept art and tell me how this game can't possibly win you over. This is a game that was poised to star "a Pack-Rat who will grab any object he comes across and stuff into one of his many pockets". Primitive 3D polygons or not, that's just adorable.