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Game Review

Over the years there have been a number of virtual or mechanical pets that have had their day at the top of kids' "gotta have it" lists. I remember my youngest daughter's short-lived stint raising a little mechanical critter called a Furby. No smell, no mess, it was the perfect bug-eyed pet. You couldn't get the little jibberish-talker to quiet down, but he never ran off to hide in a pile of fresh laundry, either.

Jump ahead 10 or 12 years and mechanical hamsters called Zhu Zhu Pets are now all the rage. And if your kids are into these battery operated cuties, you've probably got at least two or three of them around, along with a toy box full of Zhu Zhu habitat and auxiliary add-ons. (There goes your college fund, kids!)

So it only makes sense that the gaming gang at ActiVision would create a handheld Zhu Zhu Pets video game so your young ones won't feel the pangs of separation anxiety when driving or flying off to Grandma's house.

They Zhure Are Cute
Minus the tactile experience, the Nintendo DS version of Zhu Zhu Pets (there's a PC version, too) is pretty much the same as having a handful of the chubby-cheeked robot hamsters on your bedroom floor. Your first responsibility is to care for them and keep them healthy and happy. Kids start out by picking their first cutesy furball from the ranks of favorites such as Num Nums, Chunk, Pipsqueak, Mr Squiggles … well, you get the cute and cuddly picture.

In Nurture Mode, you care for your Zhu Zhu by feeding him, putting him to sleep, giving him some hamster wheel time, tossing him a treat, rubbing him on the tummy and even setting him on a bathroom commode. (I'm not sure how these rambunctious rodents can reach the handle to flush, but they do have skills.)

This mode is a straightforward pet simulator that proffers cheery sun symbols and love-filled hearts upon success. And even when future adoptions swell the Zhu Zhu pack (or herd or gaggle), the game spells out everybody's needs pretty clearly so the youngest of gamers can keep up with the chow line.

After getting a handle on those ongoing health and wellbeing tasks, it's time to let the tiny squeakers get their paws wet. Adventure Mode sends them out to conquer a series of unlockable mazes. Leading a Zhu Zhu with the stylus, you make your way through colorful hamster runs with the goal of collecting coins, keys, stars and even a few lost baby hamsters. Victories unlock new runs and new Zhu Zhus—while giving kids some hand-eye coordination and memory skill practice in the bargain.

One Last Whisker Wiggle
That's pretty much the whole Zhu in a nutshell. After running back to the home zone for another handful of hamster kibble and a quick potty break, you can send Pipsqueak or Patches zhu-ooming off to explore a new maze challenge—maybe this one will add Zhu Zhu skateboards, a hamster ball or a twisty-twirly waterslide to the mix. It's a pretty simple and fun formula without a single hiccup or "bad hamster" in sight.

Best of all? After all the feeding, slide swooping and tummy rubbing is done, Mom and Dad don't have to worry about who has to clean the cage.

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