And it Keeps on Rollin’!
The return of the Katamari Damacy saga to a PlayStation console has been applauded by many. The wacky and super addictive object-rolling series had its first HD release on the Xbox 360, which surprised almost everyone, considering it had been a Sony-only hit up until then. Beautiful Katamari was a great title full of innovation and luscious visuals, but perhaps its worst gripe was the asymmetrical controller and the buggy online gameplay.
This time around, Katamari returns as a tribute to the highly acclaimed series and, for the most part, it does things right; it’s more of the same, but as fun as always. My biggest complaint is the camera issues, which seem to be present in every single game, especially in earlier levels that take place in tighter spaces. I guess Katamari will never be perfect, but that’s also part of the magic. Rolling up a panda who’s riding a bicycle or getting huge so you can fight the chunky sumo wrestler down in the arena simply has no price, so we’re willing to overlook the game’s imperfections.
A new story explains why we have to keep on rolling things in order to create new stars, planets, and the likes. It turns out The King of All Cosmos bonked his head and now can’t remember anything. The prince and his adorable cousins thought that creating a RoboKing would be the best way to replace their Majesty and bring things back to normal, but boy, were they wrong! RoboKing went bonkers and ended up destroying the stars in the Cosmos, so now they have to clean up the mess and roll everything up again to help restore the King’s memory and bring order to this chaos.
Katamari Forever offers 34 new levels with plenty of playable cousins and presents to find within. It also brings back familiar stages, but presented in a whole new way. The game’s most noticeable difference is the visuals during gameplay. I admit I didn’t expect the cel-shaded look, and it took me some time to get used to it, but it grew on me. This seemingly hand-drawn 3D style is very original and makes the game look like a funky and modern work of art – a perfect homage to a five-year-old franchise that’s managed to gather millions of fans around the world.
Luckily, in case those visuals are not your cup of tea, it’ll only cost you time to attain the other graphic filters. As you progress through the game and unlock new levels, you’ll also unlock new gameplay modes and the wooden filter, as well as the comic-book style and the classic one. Though the default cel-shaded graphics are neat and do a nice job playing with colors and even turning objects from gray to their full color scale, it’s refreshing to be able to change things around. Moreover, it’s one more reason to keep you rolling Katamaris until the end.
Once you finish the game, the Katamari Drive mode will become available, allowing you to go through the existing levels at a really fast pace. Additionally, all 34 levels can be played in Eternal mode, designed for those looking for a nice and relaxing “Sunday drive,” away from any conditions and time limits, and Classic mode, where the ability of hopping and other Katamari Forever features simply won’t be available – this one is for conservative Katamari fans.
Yes, I said “hopping.” This new Katamari game lets you bounce around the stage as you please to reach certain areas and make sure you don’t get stuck anywhere. This ability really comes in handy in numerous occasions and even becomes part of the strategy, though it does have a downside: landing after a jump takes some of your valuable time away, which could make a difference in the end. That’s why I recommend players to employ it wisely and not overuse it.
Other than jumping (achieved by jerking up on the SIXAXIS controller or by depressing R2), everything else is the same. Rolling and controlling the Katamari is done with the analog sticks, much like you would control a tank (I know because I’ve driven many tanks… well, not really), and quickly turning around is achieved by pressing down both thumbsticks. By moving them rapidly back and forth, you’ll launch the Katamari forward with a dash effect that lets you pick up everything on the way in a flash, given the size is right for your Katamari ball. Another tweak to the series lets you zoom in and out and see things from the prince’s perspective, which can be useful, if nothing else, when taking pictures to save in your hard drive.
Every few levels, cutscenes will be unlocked. These foolish hand-drawn cartoons introduce players to the JumboMen, goofballs in colored tights that resemble typical Japanese rescue teams such as the Power Rangers and BioMan. Cutscenes during King levels (rather than RoboKing levels) show how the poor guy won’t wake up no matter what hits his noggin’. All these videos become part of your Katamari Collection, along with the pictures you take and the music tracks you unlock, which can then be played during any of the levels.
The fun J-Pop soundtrack in Katamari Forever couldn’t be better. There’s everything from the classic Katamari tune to exciting Japanese chiptunes by CMYK and other playful sounds by Buffalo Daughter, Leah Dizon, and Atom. I don’t know a whole lot about these groups, but I do know this varied collection of music fits the game just right, and it’s even fun to listen to when you’re not playing.
On another note, one of the game-changing additions to Katamari Forever is the hearts. Both the King’s Heart and the King’s Broken Heart are present in the King levels, and when you roll up the first one, a vacuum effect will suck up any proper-sized objects around you for a limited time. The Broken Heart, on the other hand, only works as you roll it up. These also exist in the RoboKing’s levels, simply named RoboKing’s Heart and Broken Heart. These special items are very useful and should definitely be part of your strategy to beat a level, unless you want to challenge yourself further.
If you’re into keeping score, not only does the game grant you points for the stars you build and show you the objects you collected, but it also lets you compare your results with other players by checking out the Network Stats. This is certainly no substitute of a real online play mode, but at least it somewhat lets you get in touch with the outside world. It’s not clear why online multiplayer wasn’t added to the game, but considering the glitches of Beautiful Katamari when playing on Xbox LIVE and the server trouble of other PS3 games such as LittleBigPlanet, maybe it was a smart decision after all.
Fortunately, Katamari Forever includes two local modes: two-player co-op and battles. The more cousins you collect, the more stages you’ll be able to access. In co-op, players share a single Katamari and roll objects until they clear the stage. In Battle mode, players will fight to reach the goal, whatever it may be. “Lock On” and “Charge’n Roll” let you attack your opponent to immobilize them and make them waste their time. Though nothing compares to the fun of non-stop rolling in the single-player modes, it’s good to take a break once in a while and really share the game with someone else.
There’s really nothing left to say about this eccentric title, except that it’s absolutely great for fans. Just like previous Katamari offerings, it keeps bringing you back for more, and I don’t blame you! If you like to have fun and disconnect from real-life stuff, what better way than to play this groovy, off-the-wall video game that lets you sweep away whatever’s in your path? Needless to say, if you’ve never been able to understand this series or simply get bored with it (sorry!), I can’t give you a single reason why you should even come close to the game, as it retains the same gameplay style we’ve come to love.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Different visual filters go from a default cel-shaded look to wood, comic-style, and classic. Interesting choices, but not quite what we’re used to. At least there’s variety! 3.9 Control
Same controls as previous titles, with the addition of hopping to reach higher areas and not getting stuck. Camera issues remain in earlier levels. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Katamari games are already known for having great music, and this game doesn’t disappoint in that department. Varied J-pop soundtrack keeps the game fresh and exciting. 4.5 Play Value
This game tribute has it all: lots of levels to play through, variety in gameplay, two-player co-op, hidden cousins and presents throughout, network rankings, and new graphic styles. Those are more than enough perks to keep you playing! 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.