Touch My Katamari Review
It’s difficult to accurately describe the completely off-the-wall style found in the Katamari games. One could call the storylines the work of a lunatic. Others might find them strangely appealing in the oddest ways possible. But beneath it all still lies one of the most creative and addictive gameplay mechanics to grace gaming, and Touch My Katamari for the Vita is no different. Fun, fun, fun.
If you were to compare the graphics to past entries of the generation (either Beautiful Katamari for the Xbox 360 or Katamari Forever for the PS3, both of which I own), you’ll be impressed. There has never been anything mind-bogglingly gorgeous about the visuals in this series, but they’ve also sported their own loopy panache. That is captured nicely on Sony’s new portable, as the environments are full of color and are nicely designed. It’s just too bad there are only 12 of them.
As for the audio, the standout feature has always been the zany soundtrack. Again, I’m having difficulty searching for descriptive terms but perhaps it’s best to just say: it’s very Japanese. For some, that’s fantastic. For others, it might prove irritating. But as this game is specifically designed for long-time fans of the series, I think those fans will be plenty satisfied. Plus, the sound effects are just as good as ever, and Namco Bandai has even tossed in some incredibly comical voice acting. Just…wow.
If you’ve played any Katamari title in the past, you know what to expect. You roll a ball (the “katamari”) around and pick up any objects that are pick-up-able; in other words, anything small enough to fit. The more stuff you roll up, the bigger the ball gets and hence, you can pick up bigger and bigger objects. It sounds simple and you know, it is. But it has always amazed me that I continue to love every second of every installment and indeed, I have played every entry. It has become a must-do.
The combination of the kooky story and totally zany King, which is almost too absurd to describe, is always a bonus. In this particular case, the King has fallen on hard times; he has lost his confidence and his great manly body and as a result, he’s an overweight slob. The best way to return him to form? Eat stars. Yeah, eat…like I said, there isn’t much that makes sense, here. But it’s just too funny to ignore and sometimes, you’re just staring at the screen going, “ooooookay.”
The best part about this portable installment is the fact that we get dual analog sticks on the Vita. We didn’t for the PSP and although the mechanics still worked (sort of) with the face buttons, it just didn’t feel right. Now, we’re back to good, and Namco Bandai has even tossed in a control option: for the old-school players, they can stick to the Classic setup, where you used both analogs to direct the little Prince, and the left stick turns. The Standard is new; the left stick governs movement entirely, while the right stick controls the camera.
That’s standard in other games so it feels almost wrong to use it here. Still, I have to admit that it works exceedingly well, and I’ve always thought the dual-stick controls for this franchise were a little awkward. The other addition involves the front/rear touch features. Menu operation can be done with the front touchscreen, and you can roll around with that screen, too. The most significant upgrade involves the stretching and contracting of the katamari, which is a game-changing upgrade.
By putting two fingers on the katamari – using the rear touchpad – you can pull them apart to make the katamari squat and wide; pulling your fingers together will cause it to become tall and thin. Tapping both fingers anywhere on the rear pad makes the katamari return to normal shape. This works well and allows you to pick up items faster, depending on the situation. The only downside is that you have to remove one of your hands from the standard controls to make it happen, which can be problematic. You’re often going for speed, as you typically have a time limit.
The standard modes are here. There are ones that ask for the biggest size possible, and others that task you with picking up a certain sort of item. The only problem is that this doesn’t feel quite like a full-fledged entry, as there are only a dozen environments and so, veteran players will be done in a matter of hours. That being said, there’s always incentive to go back through those levels, and you can even unlock different modes: an untimed Endless mode and a K Drive mode, both of which make things much more interesting. Gotta love Endless; get everything!
Plus, you’ll probably be insulted a few times by the King when you bring back a katamari that doesn’t live up to expectations (and this will happen a lot). You can select your favorite music tracks, dress up the Prince, roll up specialty items (including the Prince’s cousins), and collect Candy for the sake of downloadable stuff. So in reality, even though there doesn’t initially seem like a lot of content, there is indeed a large amount of fun to be had. And like I said, it’s crazy addictive.
Touch My Katamari doesn’t stray from a winning formula, offers the portable world dual analog sticks (which cements the experience), and brings in a new touch-based mechanic that actually affects the gameplay in a positive way. There isn’t quite enough content, the camera does seem to be a bigger problem than in past entries, and I miss a few of the more unique modes found in other titles, but there’s no denying it: this is Katamari and the fans should really enjoy it.
The Good: Looks good. Zany story and characters are better than ever. Two control options, both of which are great. Stretching the katamari adds a new dimention. Patented addictive fun is evident.
The Bad: Not quite enough content. Camera can be an issue at times. Taking a hand away from the controls to stretch the katamari is a little awkward.
The Ugly: “Still miss clicking the analogs to do an about-face; quickly rotating the sticks gets really annoying.”
2/23/2012 Ben Dutka