The Prince and King of All Cosmos are back for another new grand adventure on Sony’s new handheld. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a Katamari title and in some ways, it feels like coming home. Back in the day, I played the hell out of the first Katamari Damacy after reading Jerry Holkins’ glowing review of the odd, budget priced wonder from Japan. I moved on from the series after the second game, so it was nice to catch up with an old friend who hasn’t changed a bit. Touch My Katamari lends itself well to the Vita and just goes to show how better games will be now that the device has a second analog stick. It also integrates the touch screens well enough and introduces the concept of stretching and pulling the katamari which makes the process of item collection a bit more dynamic. Despite the innovations and attention paid to the Vita’s new technology, Touch My Katamari is nothing you haven’t seen before and while that may be good for some, others will feel differently.
Touch My Katamari retreads familiar ground. The King of All Cosmos has charged his son with rolling a sticky ball on Earth to pick up objects of varying sizes in order to create stars. This time, the King and Prince are bowing to the wishes of their fanbase who put forth demands for their own personal stars. There’s also a bizarre side story involving the life of a video game loving shut-in who feels inspired by the King of All Cosmos and wants to turn his life around.
Katamari Damacy has seen so many iterations that I believe you won’t find too many people who haven’t played some version of the franchise. However, for those of you who haven’t taken this wacky series for a spin your goal is to guide a large sticky ball around several different environments, collecting objects that will increase the size of your katamari, allowing you to pick up bigger objects. You are often charged by the King or his fans to build a katamari to a certain size within a short amount of time, but the game will mix things up a bit by having you clear out a room as fast as possible or collecting a specified number of items. At the end of the round, the size of the katamari and the objects contained within will factor into a score. The bigger the katamari, the better the score. Levels can be replayed at any time in order to receive a better score as well as challenge friends through the Vita’s Near software.
To control the katamari, you can use the two analog sticks to get around with tank-like controls. Pushing both sticks up will move you forward and pulling them down will slam on the brakes and get you going in reverse. Keeping one stick forward and moving the other backwards will get you turning left or right. Guiding the katamari around can also be accomplished by flicking your finger in any direction on the screen and while this is perfect for quickly spinning the ball around, I found it was much easier to use both analog sticks. You can bounce the katamari by pressing the right shoulder button or tapping the rear touch pad. The rear pad will also change the shape of the katamari and by pinching or pulling your fingers against the pad, you’ll stretch and pull the object on the fly resulting in a wider coverage area or getting you through tight areas. It’s a neat little game changer that helps a great deal, but not at the expense of a challenge. I never felt that the game was decidedly easier because of the new skill.
You’ll find that the King’s fans are a particularly demanding bunch. Depending on the size of the katamari or the number of objects they wanted you to collect, they will award you candies to spend on in-game items such as music, costumes for both the King and the Prince and other miscellaneous items. In a slightly disturbing turn, you can bargain with theses fans by offering them babies (!!!) that will increase the amount of candy they give you. Okay, look, I don’t know how you manage to acquire babies in the game – the in-game manual is frighteningly short on the details – I only know this because one end level stat screen showed that I had three infants in my possession. It is genuinely hard to say whether or not this game is actively promoting the trading of babies for candy, but my advice folks is to not do it. Apart from babies, heart faced creatures called Fan Damacy can be rolled up and used to purchase special items.
After so many years of sticking with what works, you won’t be surprised to discover that the game’s unique visual style has been left alone. The game world is still populated largely by blocks and geometrical shapes resembling every day items and people. The neat, near subtle growth in scale of the katamari over time returns as well. It never ceases to amaze me that you can start the game no bigger than a thumb tack, but by the end you’ll be rolling up buildings and stadiums.
Unlike his previous iterations, the mighty King of All Cosmos is a fully animated character who will gesture and pose before and after each round. I don’t like it one bit. Why? Because it certainly ups the “creep” factor. In the past, the King’s strangeness was tolerable because he was nothing more than a static, hand drawn image. This time his eyes roll, his mouth accentuates his bizarre manner of speech and after digesting katamaris, he’ll strike a pose. These new animations show off a decidedly creepier King of All Cosmos and I’m slightly distressed by the camera being at just the right angle to show off his man package.
Touch My Katamari is no different from those that came before and that will factor heavily when deciding whether or not to play it. It doesn’t revolutionize things (what is there left to do at this point?) and the ability to squish and stretch the katamari is a minor innovation that mixes things up nicely. Very much like the first Katamari Damacy, you can blow through the entire game in an afternoon but if you’re the kind of person who wants to max out stats for each level and collect all the in-game items and other unlockables, you’ll be able to squeeze a lot of time out of it.
The bigger question is how does the game do as a Vita launch title and how well does it work with the new technology? In some ways, Touch My Katamari plays things safe. Although the touch controls are well implemented, you can go the entire game without using them. Thankfully, the game doesn’t hit you over the head with the tech unlike other Vita games, but it doesn’t do anything cool with it either. If anything, the game shows just how wonderful it is to finally have two analog sticks. The PSP game Me & My Katamari combined the analog nub with the face buttons, resulting in a very uncomfortable experience.
As the latest entry in the Katamari franchise, Touch My Katamari doesn’t break new ground and reuses maps from previous games, resulting in a strong sense of deja vu. It still has that Katamari Damacy charm, but if you’ve played one Katamari game you’ve played them all. The game uses the Vita’s capabilities in a competent fashion, but I’d much rather use the joysticks to control the ball instead of the touch screen. The Playstation Vita already has a pretty good line up of launch titles, so if it helps this isn’t a game you have to buy in order to justify picking up Sony’s newest handheld. A fun return to form for Katamari Damacy fans, but for everyone else it can easily be skipped.