Review: Touch My Katamari (Sony Playstation Vita)

Touch My Katamari
Genre: Puzzle/Action
Developer: Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Release Date: 02/21/12

It’s pretty hard to imagine, in retrospect, that Namco had any idea that Katamari Damacy would generate any kind of a positive response when it came to the US just shy of eight years ago. A game featuring a ridiculously flamboyant king who goes on a drunken bender, ruins all the stars, and forces his kid to fix them? Oh, and this game features you rolling up random objects into a ball while lounge and swing music plays in the background? That concept doesn’t sound like something gamers would understand, let alone play, but never underestimate the power of absurdity and discount pricing, as Katamari Damacy garnered massive praise and surprising sales. Eight years and four sequels later (six if you count the iOS games), here we are with the eighth game in the series, Touch My Katamari, which represents a chance for Vita owners to get in on the fun. From a concept level, Touch My Katamari still understands the basic concepts of what makes the series fun for players, but changes things around to aim towards being more challenging than its predecessors, while still offering the craziness and amusement of its predecessors. From an execution level, this mostly works as expected, but whether or not it’s enough to motivate you to buy the game will depend on a few things.

So the gist of the game’s storyline this time around is that everyone on Earth loves the King of All Cosmos, but one night, a kid asks his dad if the King is as cool as said kid’s principle, to which the dad is… somewhat less than willing to commit. The King takes this about as poorly as franchise fans would expect, and decides that he needs to become cooler, and as such, it’s up to you, The Prince, to make some Katamari for… some sort of tangentially related reason. The sub-story deals with a guy named Goro the Slacker, who is a lazy otaku who spends all day playing video games and obsessing over anime women, until he sees that the King has become a major loser… which he takes as a sign to turn his life around. The main storyline is basically just there as a way to get the Prince back into the act of rolling around, though the Goro the Slacker storyline is a bit more focused and actually pretty hilarious. The main game is more or less about its rolling, so most of the game’s “modes” are focused on that across the tutorial and twelve normal stages, but there are other options to goof around, like the Fashion Stylist to change the King’s clothes, the High Rollers club to check your level, the Curio Collection to see how many magical items you can find, and more. The game also offers multiple modes of play for most of the stages, once you unlock them, so there’s a solid amount of modes of play available, for the most part.

Touch My Katamari retains the visual flair of its predecessors; that is to say, it’s not the most technically proficient game on any console it appears on, but it just looks so damn charming that it doesn’t need to be. The game environment is all essentially sized in a way that allows it to expand naturally, from being incredibly tiny to absolutely massive, with no significant technical issues coming from this, and the game is just stuffed with personality. The aesthetic is incredibly distinctive, with the square people and animals and the exceptionally vibrant color palette the game uses, and no other game looks quite like any in this series, that’s for sure. Aurally, the game once again features an eclectic mix of electronic infused lounge music and swing-style tracks that give the game an amazing amount of personality, and while this isn’t the best soundtrack in the game’s history, it’s still fantastic. The game only features a couple instances of obvious voice acting, with most of the in-game information conveyed through text, but what voice work is here is pretty good, most notably that of Goro, whose voice actor delivers his absurd lines with such conviction that it ends up coming back around to a level where the lines are just absurdly believable. The sound effects are, as always, comical and well assembled, from the various grunts and groans of the King when he’s pleased or displeased with your Katamari to the various noises everything makes when you collect it, and everything here really works well.

For anyone who’s played a Katamari Damacy title ever, the gameplay here is functionally the same as it ever was, but if you’ve somehow managed to miss the series up until now, here’s the gist: you control the Prince, who is rather small, as he pushes around a Katamari, which is a ball of variable size. The Katamari has highly adhesive properties; in short, anything of a certain smaller size than the ball will immediately adhere to it as if by magic. Your objective is to roll the Katamari around the game world, picking up everything you can with the ball, until you build the biggest possible ball within the time limit. The game offers you the option to play with the classic series controls, where both sticks are used to move, turn and otherwise manipulate the Katamari, or normal controls, where the left stick moves you around and the right stick looks around and aims where you’re going. You can also use the touch screen for some movement functions if you’re so inclined, though the stick controls seem to respond the best overall. The game also allows you to make the Prince jump with the Katamari to reach higher areas or jump over the Katamari to instantly turn around, which can be accomplished with the trigger buttons or, again, the touch screens. Regardless of which control methods you use, you’ll find that after getting used to the controls in the initial tutorial mission, the game isn’t too hard to work with. The normal controls will likely be easier to understand for newcomers to the series, though the dual stick movement system will likely appeal to game fans who are used to it.

The biggest change, mechanically, to the game comes from the addition of the ability to resize the Katamari with the rear touch screen. By dragging your fingers close together or far apart on the rear touch screen, you can, in turn, squish or stretch the Katamari to either allow it to get into tight spaces or pick up items over a wide area, respectively. In theory, this will help you collect more pieces to add to your Katamari, though in practice you’ll likely use the stretching out option more than the squishing option, if only because it’s useful to grab as much as you can as quick as you can. The game also changes up the dynamics of stage designs a bit, reducing the overall piece count from prior games, making it a bit more of a challenge to really get the best possible rolls without some planning. You can still complete the stages without too much of a problem, but the real challenge will be in getting high-grade rolls, which even series fans will have some time trying to really make work out right this time around, which should be refreshing for fans and challenging for newcomers. Depending on how you do, regardless, you’re rewarded with not just a score, but also candies for completing each stage, depending on how you did. The first time you play through, you’re just looking to win, but the second time around you can collect one of the Prince’s cousins, who you can play as if you wish, and the third time you play you can collect gifts, which seem to mostly be clothing items for the Prince. Collecting these also reward you with more candies, which you can use to buy new items from different vendors in the game, so replaying stages can have additional benefits beyond simple scoring. You can also use Candy Coupons to double, triple or quadruple the Candy payout, if you wish, though it’s best to save these for your best possible rolls.

You can plow through the core stages (the tutorial and the eight normal stages) in about two or three hours if you’re not that good, though getting the best scores on those stages and the four challenge stages will be a good bit more complex. The game also rewards you in a number of ways for your performances, so there’s motivation to come back. There’s the High Rollers Club, which allows you to rank up as a player as you play about once a week, with rank-ups allowing you to earn more candy when you play stages. There’s also the Curio Collection, which allows you to review special items you’ve collected in each stage, the Fashion Stylist and King’s Garb, which allow you to buy new clothes for the King and change his style, respectively, the Prince’s Garb, which lets you change characters and accessories for your character, and the Music Clerk, which allows you to buy new tunes to play while rolling. You can also visit the Store Clerk, who allows you to download new stuff, like stages and tunes, or exchange cash for “Fan Damacy”. These are randomly acquired items that can be turned in for Candy or stored up to actually unlock these free DLC stages, and with the ten you’ll need to unlock each stage, you’ll either want to buy the Fan Damacy or you’ll want to spend a large amount of time playing. You can also turn in your Candy for new modes in most of the stages, as you can unlock Katamari Drive (you move faster but you have less time to complete the stage) or Endless (you roll until you get bored) modes for amusement. Basically, there are a WHOLE LOT of things to do with Touch My Katamari, and both casual and dedicated players will have a good amount of fun with the content if they find the game worth coming back to.

That said, if you’re not the sort of person to devote time to replaying the same stages ad infinitum, the game is short, clocking in at, as noted, around two to three hours to plow through the stages once. The unlockables are nice, but earning them amounts to playing through the same stages multiple times, and even though the two stages available are free DLC, you’ll either be buying them with money or spending hours to unlock them… playing through the same stages multiple times. If you LIKE the game a lot, that’s not a problem, and the earlier games in the series aren’t dramatically more robust or anything, but the game simply feels short, which isn’t going to be helpful for new players. The game is also not notably changed from its predecessors, and while there’s probably not a lot that could be done TO change the format, the fact is that you could basically go back to the first game and, aside from the unlockables, find the same game, with the ability to squish and stretch the Katamari. There’s no real online component or multiplayer, something Beautiful Katamari offered, leaving the entire experience about doing the same stuff fans have been doing for the past several games now. Diehard fans will find this to be great, but if you’ve found the franchise has been wearing out its welcome… you’ll not be so enthralled to return again.

Given that there’s likely not much to be done to really change the formula, Touch My Katamari is going to be a game that will best interest diehard fans, newcomers, and those who haven’t spent time with the series in a very long time, but if you don’t find the prior games exciting, or are worn on them, this isn’t going to inspire you. The story is cute enough, and the game generally features the same colorful visuals and eclectic audio as its predecessors, which work just as well as ever. The game offers a few different control schemes that should work well for both fans and newcomers, as well as some additions to the formula to keep players on their toes, and there’s a decent amount of variety to the game to keep it interesting enough once you’ve played through the first time. However, the game essentially boils down to blowing through the content once, then grinding on it for hours to unlock everything, which is disappointing because there’s only a couple hours of base content to the experience, so unless DLC excites you, you’ll have seen what the game has to offer fairly early on. The game doesn’t innovate much and lacks interesting features that would have added more to the experience, which prior games in the series offered, and the end result is all too familiar when compared to prior games in the series. Touch My Katamari is a fine game for fans and newcomers, to be sure, but if you’ve played a prior game in the series you’ve basically played this one, and whether or not that’s an issue will ultimately answer the question of whether or not you need another entry in the franchise in your library.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: ABOVE AVERAGE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: GOOD
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE

FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Touch My Katamari continues the long-standing franchise trends of its predecessors, and should appease diehard series fans while still being accessible to newcomers… but it does nothing to entice those who are long tired of the series as a consequence. The story is endearing enough to entertain the player, and the game retains the same stylistic appeal of its predecessors on both a visual and aural front. The gameplay offers multiple options, mechanically, to allow newbies and fans to jump right in and play, and there are some additions that take advantage of what novelties the PS Vita has to offer. Further, the game offers a lot of novelty content to play with that should make fans happy, and there are a good amount of unlockable toys to play with if you’re into what the game does. That said, the game boils down to two to three hours of first time play and a massive amount of grinding to unlock everything available, and while fans might be fine with this, the repetition that comes along with this isn’t going to be for everyone. Further, for those who have tired of the series, this release adds little of worth to the experience, lacks features from prior games that might be appealing here, and generally feels too familiar to be of interest to anyone burned out on the series long ago. If you still count yourself as a fan of the series, Touch My Katamari should be right up your alley, and if you’re new to the series this is a fine place to jump in, but for everyone else this is more of the same, and as such, it’s limited in appeal as a result.

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