Review: Touch My Katamari
The thing about a Katamari Damacy game is that nothing has to make sense — any sort of lucidity after you hit the start button is a bonus. You would think that a game about rolling random junk into giant balls would be about an engaging as…well, rolling random junk into giant balls. But the Katamari franchise has always had a way with these things, pairing the rolling action with an eclectic, catchy score and the sassy dialogue of the King of All Cosmos.
Touch My Katamari is a self-parody of the series at large. The first two titles in the series — Katamari Damacy and its self-referential direct sequel We Love Katamari for the PlayStation 2 — drew fans in with its oddball humor and creative collecting missions. However, the string of titles that came after quite literally dropped the ball. Multiple attempts at kooky storylines framed within a series of levels copied and pasted from game to game left the King and the tiny Prince out of favor — which is where Touch My Katamari finds them.
The King of All Cosmos is a haggard has-been, wandering the streets eating fried chicken and letting his gut hang out of his shiny yellow jumpsuit. Realizing that he has lost the ardor of his fans due to his own laziness (see above), he has decided to start letting them approach him with complaints about the series (like complaining on a message board). From there he sends his pint-sized son into action, rolling up sizeable katamaris within a certain time and object category constraints.
At the same time the King’s deteriorated state attracts the attention of an unmotivated, unambitious, complete and utter mess of a gamer. Seeing the King in shambles inspires him to heed his own wake-up call, and from there a hilarious story unfolds in quirky Japanese-style animated cutscenes. Without a doubt, this particular incarnation of the classic Katamari formula simply works — this is the craziest, most colorful, engaging game to date.
Unlike the series’ previous portable incarnation, Me & My Katamari for the PlayStation Portable, Touch My Katamari gets the full-on treatment, allowing for use of the Vita’s dual analogue sticks for some old-school style katamari action. Players also have the option of using the front touch screen; although, you have to continually push the katamari along and this becomes tedious after a while. In addition to the traditional control scheme, players can use the front or back touch screens to stretch and compress the katamari wider or taller, depending on the side of the area you want to cover or squeeze through. This makes item grabbing instantly easier, allowing you to cover a greater surface area in a shorter amount of time. This strategy becomes key in later levels, when your time frame seems almost unfairly small compared to the size the King demands of you.
Each level is inspired by the complaints of a fan. For example, one fan complains that the King has put on some weight, and so our royal highness decides that he only wants you to roll up fitness-related things. Other challenges including getting as large as possible with only a set number of objects or only rolling up the largest version of a bear or cow that you can find. My absolute favorite is the calorie-counting level, where the Prince must roll up as much food as possible but only has 30,000 kcal to burn. This necessitates that you strategically avoid those huge pieces of cake right at the start of your roll.
Each level is unique and stuffed full of interesting things to roll up, but at its core nothing has really changed. This is a Katamari game, there will always be crazy eye candy, pedestrians shouting as your roll then up, and the ever-present King with his infamous teleporting Royal Rainbow. The big differences in Touch My Katamari is that the control scheme has been tweaked to suit the Vita and everything is funnier.
Outside of katamari-rolling gameplay, there is a plethora of new options to fiddle around with. Players can oogle collectibles obtained in levels, choose their favorite tracks for background music, and put pretty outfits on the King. Dress-up items can be purchased from the game’s Stylist, a very fabulous man in a pink jumpsuit.
I should also mention that the game’s currency is quite literally candy. Players earn Candies for completing levels. The higher your score, the more Candies you receive. Sometimes you earn a Candy Ticket, which you can use to haggle with whoever is giving you Candies. Each Candy Ticket multiples the number of Candies you are offered by two. You can only carry three Tickets at a time, though, so use them sparring, and only when you are desperate to buy the King some dandy clothes. And from him, the demand for dandy clothes is high.
The King will actually model these clothes for you, dancing around with his typical Cosmos swagger. While you can’t purchase clothes for the Prince, you can switch him out for one of the Katamari Cousins, a dozen or so creatures just like him that sport different colors and shapes.
While Namco Bandai has truly given the Katamari franchise a jolt of freshness, it still holds true to the same formula. This is the same game you’ve played before, with flashier colors and better animation. The King himself has been fully rendered with moving facial expressions and a realness of movement that dips perhaps a little too far into the uncanny valley.
However, it’s hard to fault this game just because it follows its series traditional cookie-cutter model. The story is funnier with a ring of truth to it — how many gamers have criticized the Katamari games from becoming too cliche, accusing them of wandering into “milking-it” territory? Surely somewhere down the line we’ve all gotten bored of the shtick — King screws up bigtime, Prince must roll katamaris to fix it — and the same old control scheme? Touch My Katamari makes excellent, comfortable use of the Vita’s rear touch screen, allow players to warp their katamari to suit their needs and back again without skipping a rolling beat.
The best part of the game is absolutely its self-awarness. The storyline offers up a hefty dose of self-parody, recognizing that the franchise has veered off-course and is long overdue for a wake-up call. Through the story of the King trying to redeem himself and our sloppy gamer protagonist swearing he’ll get his act together, we are watching Namco Bandai make a promise to bring the Katamari games back on track, reverting to the dish we have loved so much with a touch more added flare and spice. Players who absolutely must obtain a perfect score on everything will find endless hours of amusement, as not every level is as easy as just rolling crap up in a ball.
Touch My Katamari is worth the money you pay for it, but only if you are willing to play a game that isn’t one-hundred-percent new from scratch. But for a latter-day franchise title, this Katamari is pretty spot-on, entertaining and hilarious until the credits roll.