This new game, though it doesn't break any new ground, takes everything that was great about the original and makes it better.
The egomaniacal King of All Cosmos, and his son, the Prince, are back and up to their old tricks. Once again, the Prince has to collect clumps off stuff into a ball and give it back to his pops to be turned into stars.
One of the main things Namco wanted to do with the sequel is make the environments larger... open up the game, so to speak.
The demo here at the show has two playable levels. One is a single-player area that starts out in a schoolroom and grows to encompass the entire school grounds. The other is a two-player co-op level that's set in a grassy garden area.
Early on in the school level, it's only possible to roll around and pick up small objects such as erasers, notepads, and rats. Once you get the katamari to roughly 30CM in size, you can start adding trash cans, cats, and dogs to it. Eventually, you're able to roll out into the halls, where you can enter other classrooms--ultimately adding students and teachers to the ball as well. Once the ball reaches 2M, you can push it outside. That's about as far as we got due to the time limit on the level. One particularly cool thing we noticed is that the school has multiple rooms and hallways, which you can go between and explore. Different portions of each area are stramed off the disc, and we assume the same increase in scope will apply to larger scale level (multiple towns, multiple islands, etc).
On the multiplayer side of things, We Love Katamari will include multiple 2P competitive and co-op levels. The Co-op levels are rather strange, because both players help control a single Katamari and have to communicate with one another to keep it moving properly. Specifically, the co-op level in the demo here at E3 has a few narrow dirt paths that players need to ascend in order to reach flower patches. Both players need to steer the ball with some level of precision so that it won't fall back down. In this level, once the ball grew large enough, we were able to pick up large bulls and cows that were grazing.
So what's better, you say? In addition to expanding the environments and adding more multiplayer modes, they've also kicked the graphics up a notch.
We Love Katamari retains the same simple cel-shaded style of the original game, but the level of detail and the sharpness has been doubled... easily. We could make out the writing on the chalkboards in the school and see all sorts of fine details in the glass and paint that made up the school building. Fans of the original who happen to own decent modern TVs will be HAPPY to learn that We Love Katamari also supports 480 progressive, so there's an added level of sharpness coming from there too.
It also looks like they fixed up the twitchy camera that was somewhat of a bother in the original game. The auto camera is fine, but if you don't like it, you can now also select multiple camera views with the L2 and R2 buttons.
Sadly, we can't say much about the audio (playing games at E3 is like playing games at a rock concert)... but the Namco rep tells us the soundtrack will be similar to the original, but with a wider range of hip-hop and rock inspired songs too. Don't worry, the music won't be licensed. It'll still sound weird and kooky. From what little of the one song track we heard (a hip-hop tempo song with a rock guitar, and nutty Japanese singing), we think they're once again on the right track.
We Love Katamari for the PS2 is set to be released in July in Japan and in early October 2005 in the US.
5/18/2005 Frank Provo