Katamari Forever Preview
If you don’t know what a “katamari” is, you have missed out on one of the strangest and most entertaining video game franchises of all time. No individual title in the series is capable of raking in awards; nothing about the technical presentations is groundbreaking, there is virtually nothing in the way of insane depth, nothing blows up and there is no blood, and the story is usually too absurd to even repeat. And yet, despite all odds, the Katamari games are often seen as the epitome of quirky fun for all, and the newest installment, Katamari Forever, will head to the PlayStation 3 at the end of September. After Namco decided to favor Microsoft with the Xbox 360 exclusive Beautiful Katamari, they are returning to the platform that made the series popular last generation. In terms of the gameplay, those who are familiar know exactly what to expect: you roll a ball thingy around, picking up anything that’ll fit; the more you pick up, the bigger the ball gets. For the most part, that's all there is.
It sounds ridiculous, but it’s tons ‘o fun; we promise. And besides, it does go a bit deeper in terms of gameplay: you have a goal for each level, and that goal is often unique. For example, maybe you have to pick up a certain number of a certain item within a set time limit, or maybe you have to make the Katamari a particular size within a time limit. But our favorites have always been the levels that let us build the katamari as large as we can within a time span of like 20 minutes; you’ll start by rolling up thumbtacks and end up rolling around the heavens, snagging clouds and typhoons. Namco will build on all of this in Forever, too, as they’re tossing another move into the mix. You could always speed dash – move the left and right analog sticks quickly up and down – but in this new game, we’ll be able to perform a jump. All you have to do is pull the controller upwards, but according to IGN’s hands-on session, you’ll have to be moving forward; apparently, momentum matters for the jump.
As for the story, you know it’s going to be silly to the max, although our good buddy, the lil’ Prince, will return. See, the King and the Prince have always worked together to restore the cosmos to its normal state, but at the start of this new adventure, something bad happens. The Prince is practicing his new jumping ability and as the King basically has the mentality of a six-year-old, he wants to outdo his son and performs a “giga-jump” that launches him far off into the stars. At this time, a meteor smacks him in the head and knocks him unconscious, thereby causing the King to develop a nasty case of amnesia. The Prince, unsure of what to do, does the only logical thing: create a RoboKing as a replacement. Well, of course. But the problem is, this RoboKing goes ballistic and blasts all the stars and planets out of the sky so once again, the Prince needs to embark on a quest to collect everything we need to recreate the heavens. Except...you’ll often be rolling around inside the King’s head in an effort to jog his memory. We have no idea who comes up with these story ideas, but they should get a medal.
The interesting change is that levels in Katamari Forever will be split between the true King and the RoboKing. When you’re in a King level, the levels will start out black and white: if an object is colorless, it means the King hasn’t been able to remember it, but once you’ve got it stuck on the katamari, that memory will return and that object will regain its normal hue. So that clothespin is black and white when you first see it but all you have to do is nab it, and all other clothespins in the area will revert to its normal color (brown, we’re assuming). Outside of these new features, the rest of the game should be exactly as fans might expect; lots of rolling, lots of beat-the-clock sessions, lots of ingeniously designed areas, plenty of humorous effects and animations, and of course, that bizarrely amusing storyline that will likely have you grinning at the screen more often than not. Katamari Forever is scheduled to arrive in the US on September 22, and our European buddies will actually get it a few days earlier on the 18th. Prepare for another bout of rolling hilarity!
8/17/2009 Ben Dutka