I am not ashamed to admit that I love the Katamari series. I don’t understand it, nor do I ever really want to, but I enjoy the quirky presentation and love the simple but addicting gameplay. So of all the upcoming Vita titles, this was one that I was genuinely excited to review. I had high hopes for it.
The results were mixed. In terms of gameplay and bizarre storytelling, the game met all my demands. For those that haven’t experienced the Katamari series before, you are the Prince of the Cosmos. The King, your father, tends to walk with one foot on the insane side of the street, and his irresponsibility generally leads to the Prince needing to collect materials to create (or occasionally replace) stars. To do this, the Prince uses an object called a Katamari, which roughly translates to “giant ball that items stick to, including things like coins, pencils, and babies.” Actually it means lump, or bundle, but the idea is the same.
As the Prince, you roll your katamari through houses, streets, cities, and eventually the world, collecting ever larger items. To begin with, you aim small and collect things like thumb tacks, erasers, and random nick-knacks. By the last level, you collect buildings, landscapes, and the odd Japanese giant monster. It is a simple, but incredibly addictive gameplay mechanic.
In this current outing, the King is having confidence issues. The people have grown tired of him, so he tasks the Prince with addressing the complaints of the people and collecting items that will make him look good. In action, the story really doesn’t mean much, but it does add some humor through the weird — and very-Japanese — interactions.
If there is a theme to this review, it is “weird,” and with good cause. Throughout the game are sprinkled a series of cut scenes featuring a Japanese geek (specifically an otaku), who is trying to get his life in order, but is continually thwarted by the gravitational pull of women. His life is changed when he — actually, you know what? It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t make a lick of sense, and has almost nothing to do with the game.
Yet somehow it doesn’t seem out of place. It is Katamari at its most Katamari-ish.
In terms of the gameplay, Touch faithfully recreates the game. The formula remains the same as always, with the only exception being the addition of the ability to stretch the katamari ball using the touch screen or touchpad on the back. This can make collecting even easier, and also allows you to morph the katamari into a shape that will allow you to get into difficult to reach areas. You don’t need to use the ability to pass each stage, but it makes a good — albeit minor — addition, and it is sometimes necessary for collecting hidden items.
The goal of each level remains the same as in all the other Katamari titles — the primary levels ask you to increase the size of the katamari to a particular level and anything beyond that is for bonus points. There are also a handful of specific challenges, like rolling the katamari for as long as you can without collecting a cow or a bear, or trying to collect certain food items to obtain the highest calorie count with a limited number of food items. If you have played any of the other Katamari games, then you have played these levels before. Mixing it up and using some new tricks would have made sense with the new titles, and while the “if it aint broke” mentality works fine for this type of game, the lack of risks Namco Bandai took is a shame.
The graphics are about the same as ever. The transition to the Vita didn’t miss a beat, but the graphics were never that demanding to begin with. But they have a peculiar charm to them in their own, bizarre and blocky way. They look fine, and steering away from realism is a good thing anyway. When you think about it, the katamari is actually somewhat horrific. You roll around and eventually collect people, even little children and babies. You can even hear them scream. Best not to think about it.
The old-school graphics do occasionally cause problems when you are trying to find individual items like certain foods, but it’s only an inconvenience.
Touch is a faithful addition to the Katamari franchise, but the biggest issue comes from the content — or lack thereof. You can complete every mission in around three hours or less. There are bonus challenges you can purchase with the in-game currency (candy), but they only extend the game by a short while, maybe an hour or so. Of course, you can always go back and replay certain levels to try to attain a higher score, but for each stage, there are a few pathways that will always give you the highest output. Once you find them, and once you have discovered all the collectibles in each stage, playing the game again is still fun, but becomes repetitive.
There is also a wide selection of collectibles and unlockables, including new costumes for the King and skins for the Prince. For multiplayer, a lobby allows you to connect through the Near program and compete with others on a scoreboard basis. All of that is nice, but doesn’t really add anything to the game.
If you have played and enjoyed the Katamari series in the past, then the gameplay will immediately feel familiar to you. If you enjoyed it before, you will probably enjoy it again. Even the levels are the same as always, just with an original setting. Mixing the objectives up and adding some new elements would have been a good move, but what there is, is worth playing. The biggest problem is that there just isn’t enough content.
Replay is always an option, but doesn’t excuse the fact that there are only a handful of levels. Even the challenge stages have been done before, and there are only a few of those as well. If Namco Bandai had doubled the content of the game — which wouldn’t have been tough given the Vita’s capabilities and the somewhat limited nature of the game to begin with — this would be one of the must-have games of the Vita’s launch. The saving grace is that the game is already a discount buy at $29.99. It could have been much more, though.
Score: 7 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita on a copy provided by Namco Bandai)