Katamari’s Vita Debut Continues to Miss the Point «

Remember Katamari Damacy? Remember how it caught our attention and earned our affection by being like nothing else we’d ever played? Remember how original and fresh it felt? Me, I’m having a tough time recalling. I’ve just spent five or six hours with Touch My Katamari for PS Vita, and suddenly those days of invention and newness feel like another lifetime.
Don’t get me wrong; I still like Katamari Damacy a lot. The fundamental concept of rolling around cluttered homes and cities, agglomerating everything in sight into a massive ball of stuff to satisfy the whims of a callous cosmic monarch, is still fun. My complaint isn’t with the concept at all; it’s with the way Namco has done practically nothing to expand on that premise since the game’s first sequel, almost seven years ago.

Touch My Katamari isn’t exactly like its predecessors, because it offers a few new control options to take advantage of the Vita’s capabilities. You can use the touch screen to squash and stretch the Katamari, making it either tall-and-thin or short-and-wide, which is a huge help for squeezing into narrow nooks, rolling beneath low ceilings, or simply gathering more material at once by covering a larger swath of ground. A tap of the L trigger reverses your direction (a welcome simplification of the older games’ more complex scheme) and the R trigger allows you to jump, which makes maneuvering out of tight corners a lot easier.

This is all Touch My Katamari really brings to the table, though. It gives you new ways to do the same old thing. Anyone who’s played any entry in the series since We Love Katamari will find Touch to be instantly familiar — quite likely too familiar. The basic game structure is exactly the same as before; fans of the King of All Cosmos ask you to roll stuff up for him, so you start out in a Japanese living room. Next time you make it into the garden. Then you roll up the neighborhood. Next, the town. Then the countryside. I haven’t tackled the final stage yet, but I have a hunch it’ll involve rolling up all of Japan.

There are alternate tasks, of course, but you’ve seen those before, too. Roll up as big a Katamari as you can before collecting anything related to cows or bulls? Done it. Roll up as many calories as possible? Yep. Clean up someone’s room as quickly as possible? I vaguely recall one of those, too. It might not be so bad if these were some of the available tasks, or if the designers had at least extended the courtesy of dressing up the objectives in slightly different clothes, even, but no; Touch is basically just a compilation of other Katamari stages, not unlike the PSP game. And by “not unlike” I mean “exactly like.”

Click the image above to check out all Touch My Katamari screens.

Touch My Katamari is fun, of course. The music’s not as good as in the older games, but the graphics and controls are much better than they were on PSP. The game doesn’t suffer from crazy slowdown like the iOS version, either. The goofy humor and did-I-just-see-that? surrealism are still out in full force for those who pay attention to what they’re rolling up.

I do have my doubts that Namco really put the full potential of the Vita to use, though; there’s a ridiculous amount of pop-in, and objects will suddenly appear from thin air just a short distance ahead of your katamari. Given the deliberate simplicity of the visuals, I find that kind of mystifying. Sure, not every Vita game can be Golden Abyss, but I’m pretty sure the system can perform better than this.

I suppose Touch could be regarded as a safe, predictable compilation of the series’ essence in a portable version that’s finally properly playable with no significant compromises. On the contrary, unlike the PSP’s clumsy rendition of the game, Touch actually improves on the control scheme and makes it more playable. Whether that’s enough to justify owning the game is ultimately a question of how much you love the series, I suppose — and why you love it. As someone who was drawn to the series’ unconventional nature and quirky sense of originality, watching it wallow in rehashed predictability (while lauding itself for its greatness) is a little painful to see. I enjoyed these stages and challenges the first three or four times I saw them, but I was hoping for something a little fresher in this sequel.

 

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