Game: Touch My Katamari
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Available on: PlayStation Vita Only
A huge ball of junk looming ominously over the horizon, as an unsuspecting cow chews the cud in the foreground. Cripes, has it really been eight years since I first saw the brilliantly strange artwork that adorned Katamari Damacy? Since I first fell in love with the concept of rolling things up for the King of All Cosmos? Since I first heard the earworm that is “Katamari Nah-Nah”, destined to go with me to my grave as one of my most idly whistled ditties? Indeed it has. Nearly a decade has passed, and I am still completely in love with the Katamari series. No matter how many times Namco recycle their original idea, I will lap it up, like the sucker that I am. Just look at my Vita, for crying out loud, I keep it in a case shaped in the image of the Prince’s head.
As I have alluded to, Namco have been criticised for the way the series has been handled in the past. My love affair with giant, sticky balls has not been a bed of roses. Hitting its peak with the incredible We Love Katamari, there have been some disappointing lows for the little green Prince. We Love Katamari was a super little game for the PlayStation Portable, but was crippled by the fact that you had to use the face buttons to compensate for the lack of a second analogue stick. Beautiful Katamari dragged the series into HD but was let down by some poorly implemented downloadable content and don’t even get me started on the touch-only iOS versions.
Now I finally have the opportunity to play a handheld version of this curious third person actioner the way nature intended; with the twin-stick method that the twin sticks of Sony’s new console allows. Namco have made some changes to how you control proceedings. I won’t lie, change frightens me, and I enter into this one with trepidation. Can we finally play a decent game of Katamari on the move, or is this another one that should be given the King’s laser eye treatment?
Once you slot in your gamecard and boot it up, Namco hammer your senses with the usual mental Katamari intro. Within seconds you are bombarded with a toucan, fruit, rainbows, flowers, and of course the King himself, who here is clad in a ridiculously tight shiny spandex suit, packing the kind of codpiece heat and rocking the smooth dancefloor moves that we have come to expect from the cosmic regal overlord. The story that underpins the action is one of the funniest yet in the ten-game history of the series. The King of All Cosmos overhears a child ask her parents who is better, her teacher or the King. When the mother explains that both are “equally awesome”, it sends the big fella into a fit of megalomaniacal depression. He decides to rectify the situation the only way he knows how; by commanding his nipper to roll up loads of crap into Katamaris so he can create loads of wonderful new stars and win back the admiration of the masses. For me, the look on the King’s face as he overhears the mother’s damning verdict is worth the price of admission alone, and throughout the game our favourite massive-headed deity has never been on better form.
There is also a side-story, revealed in some excellently animated cutscenes, that reminded me of the equally hatstand Osu! Tatake! Ouendan!/Elite Beat Agents series. They tell the story of an overweight, games and anime obsessed loser called Goro who is inspired to change his life for the better, whilst helping restore the King to his former glory at the same time.
Of course, all of the story stuff, and indeed the huge amount of speech bubble madness that emanates from the King and the other characters in the game, can be skipped, in favour of jumping straight in to the action. Your hub this time around is the King’s sizable head itself. On the right, you select stages in the form of “fans” that will set you particular tasks to complete, in the same manner as other games in the series. The left hand side of the King’s giant head is for the in-game stores, the online functions and the various galleries where you can view the items that you have unlocked.
The core gameplay is traditional Katamari fare, your goal is to use the sticky Katamari to collect objects and make a ball of the required dimensions in order to clear the stage. This time around there is only a small selection of stages, twelve in all, with some of the stages being dubbed “Make It Big” and simply involve meeting the size requested by the fan at the start of the stage. There are also special challenge stages where other conditions need to be met. For example, one may ask you to make the largest possible Katamari whilst only rolling up a meagre fifty objects, another one involves avoiding the myriad cows and bears within the stage for as long as possible so you can roll up to a large enough ball to collect the largest bear or cow that you can find.
Hidden in each of the stages are ten “curios”, specially earmarked objects, often well-hidden. There is also one of the Prince’s cousins hidden away in each stage; find him or her and a present will also be added to the stage to hunt down. How well you do on each stage translates into unlockable candies; the in-game currency. You are also awarded at intervals “candy tickets” which allow you to double the amount of candies you receive up to three times at the end of each stage, at a cost of one ticket each. New to the series are the Fan Damacies (Damacy, loosely translated from the Japanese damashii, means “clump spirit”) that appear intermittently during stages. A physical embodiment of the fans’ love. You can exchange these cute looking red spirits for three candy tickets in the store.
The ideal scenario is finishing a stage with a great overall score, whilst finding all of the collectables, and then maxing out your candy haul using tickets after the event. Obviously, with time limits being imposed this isn’t always possible within the confines of a standard level so thankfully you are able to unlock, at the cost of 150 candies, an “Endless” version of each stage, which allows you to roll around as long as you like. 150 sweeties will also buy you the “K Drive” version of each stage, which speeds the level up into a madcap blur. Your candies can also be used to purchase items of clothing for the King, and musical tracks which allow you to customise the music for each stage.
Given that there are Trophies to unlock for finding all of the in-game items, and purchasing all of the store items, that is going to mean a lot of candies. You can buy extra Fan Damacies on the PlayStation Store, but this to me is a touch cynical and a bit too much like cheating as you can win candies yourself simply by using your skills to conquer the stages in each of their three guises. There is an option, using Near functionality, to link up with other Katamari playing friends and swap records and compete with each other. The idea of being able to win candies for beating other players’ scores is a cool one.
Touch My Katamari is known as Katamari Damacy No-Vita in the land of the Rising Sun. This is a play on words as No-Vita sounds like nobita, which is Japanese for “to lengthen or extend”, and herein lies the new control gimmick. You can, using two fingers and an outwards flick (think: expanding a website using a smartphone), stretch the Katamari horizontally into a sausage shape, to roll across a wider area and access areas that the larger ball cannot reach. You can also squish the ball together into a narrow vertical form, which allows you to squeeze through narrow gaps or ensnare objects above you. The way that curios and items are hidden makes full use of these new shape shifting abilities, and you will find yourself using them frequently. The widening feature, in particular, is very useful when in the early part of a stage, attempting to collect several scattered smaller objects in order to proceed. In addition to the time-honoured Katamari controls, the front and rear touch screen can be used for other purposes such as to flick, move, boost and halt the rolling sphere; and you can combine these touch-only controls with the traditional sticks method at any time. The shoulder buttons are used to turn the Katamari or to execute a jump, and you can enter a first person view mode with a press of the select button. In a nutshell, the controls work perfectly whatever your preference is.
VERDICT: Katamari finally has a handheld entry worth playing. The controls are the most important part of the package, and I am delighted to confirm that they are excellent. The game looks great too, with a bright, colourful front end and intros, and a crisp, detailed in-game view which really impresses, with no slowdown or noticeable glitches at all. There is a great deal of comedy to be enjoyed courtesy of the King’s pompous yet charming manner, and the music is as madcap as ever, filled full of auditory motifs that long term fans will be familiar with immediately. I particularly loved the track “Alien” which sounds like a J-Pop songstress impersonating Crazy Frog, and is nowhere near as irritating as that may sound on paper.
My main gripes come with the length of the thing, it is short and sweet, and that is putting it kindly. You could conceivably find yourself watching the end credits within only a couple of hours of gameplay. I have conquered all that the game has to offer, thus far, after a mere six hours work. That includes all of the Trophies. There is also a noticeable lack of originality as most of the stages and collectables feel very familiar, and the meagre selection of Make It Big stages are full of repetition. There are only four challenge areas, and the amusing bear/cow conundrum aside, there is nothing here that would rank alongside some of the series’ more memorable set pieces; such as the demolition of the gingerbread house, the magical hunt for fireflies, amassing a veritable army of crabs or rolling a fireball Katamari to ignite a stage-ending bonfire.
Namco have promised three downloadable stages, and these are advertised on the home screen when you insert your game card, but are not available for download as of yet. Depending on price, and how imaginative these “request” stages are, I would certainly consider purchasing them because this is a superb version of Katamari Damacy that I just wish was a bit bigger and perhaps in line with what I felt was a commendable, and level-filled, entry to the series in Katamari Forever.