The Katamari series is a hard one to explain to the layman. Hell, it’s difficult enough to explain to you own brain, never mind someone who’s yet to sample the off-the-wall delights the series has to offer, and now the ludicrous roll ‘em up has arrived on the PS3, a whole new generation of weird and wonderful Jap-tastic shenanigans can begin.
So, what’s it all about then? Hurumph! You had to ask. Well, the Katamari games have always revolved around the downright freaky, ‘King of All Cosmos’, a giant deity who, either through bad translation or some seriously drug-fuelled writing is, how shall we say, a little, erm… Special.
In this particular outing, the King is hit on the head and rendered unconscious. With no King to govern the universe, the Cousins – cute little guys who serve the King – create a robotic version of said monarch, which, upon activation, promptly takes to the skies and destroys all of the stars in the cosmos, as you do.
Crashing back down, he realises his massive blunder and asks the Cousins (that’s you, by the way) to help him restore the stars to the skies. This is done by rolling a Katamari, which is a magical orb that all objects stick to, around various levels collecting anything and everything to make larger and larger balls of stuff, which the Roboking can turn into a star. Makes sense to me.
Meanwhile, the real King regains consciousness and, suffering from amnesia, asks his loyal followers, the Cousins, to enter his mind and restore his memories, this time rolling around monochrome worlds restoring colour to the proceedings, in turn giving the King his memories back. Makes perfect sense, eh? Well, just wait until you sample the actual dialog; you’ll never touch drugs again.
As a true Katamari title, Katamari Forever is as charming as it is odd, and you won’t see more colours this side of an explosion in a Skittles factory. There’s always so much going on, be it in-game or in the many, and often truly bizarre cut scenes that the high res visuals never fail to please. It’s eye-catching, and possibly eye-twitching stuff, and it’s all wrapped around the quirky, core game mechanic.
Using both analog sticks on the Dual Shock 3, it’s your job to roll the Katamari ball around the stages picking up various detritus strewn around the levels. At first you can only pick up small objects, but as your Katamari grows in size, you can pick up larger and larger objects, even capturing some of the enemies that fly around the levels.
Some items are worth more than others score-wise (some levels reward certain types of item more than others due to themed missions), and at the end of each level you’ll be given a score report by the King and his robot counterpart, in their own inimitable style, of course. Most levels are timed, making you work hard to collect enough materials before the sands of time run out, while others force you to find a certain number of objects to progress.
As well as collecting objects, you can also find presents, which can be used to customise the cousins (new noses, ears, legs etc), and there’s plenty of scope to replay missions to please the not too easily impressed rulers of the universe.
Levels are varied, too, and take place in bedrooms, shops, gardens, fairy tales and more, and visually the crayon-style cel shaded approach looks great.
Controls are very tricky to get to grips with initially, and getting used to the dual analog control system can take a lot of patience. With time, it does all fall into place, but it’s not the most user-friendly approach, and little has been done to make Forever more accessible to the newcomer or Katamari skeptic than previous incarnations. Add to that the nonsensical story and dialogue, and some will dismiss this as a colourful mess of gibberish and frustration. This is a mistake, though, as the game has plenty to offer those who keep an open mind.
A couple of new additions have made it into Katamari Forever, including a new magnet ability that attracts items to your Katamari, and the ability to make your little fella jump by flicking the Dual Shock 3 upwards. Sadly, the latter of these features isn’t terribly accurate in operation (yep, yet another motion control failure shoehorned in to a PS3 title), but luckily you can also use R1 to jump, which most players will no doubt resort to.
There’s also the addition of ‘Katamari Drive’. This is a new mode where the Katamari rolls along at high speed. It’s far harder to control, making the game harder, but with a bit of skill makes it possible to amass a Katamari of Titanic proportions, in turn yielding impressive scores.
Apart from these tweaks, there’s really little else new to be found here, through. A lot of old levels that make a return, as well as a few new ones, but when it comes to actual gameplay this is all very familiar. Longtime fans of Katamari will find little new content to warrant a purchase here, having seen a large umber of levels before, and the game still retains the rather tricky to get to grips with control system, so those who weren’t fond of the previous entries will find nothing here to pull them in.
It’s also downright odd that there’s no option to use the SIXAXIS to control full movement. Surely this would have been one game that made perfect use of the motion controls, but no, the analog option is the only way to go. However, with the jump feature so hit and miss, maybe the devs simply couldn’t get to grips with the controller, or were simply worried they’d have a bit of a Lair moment. Either way, it’s a shame, and I can imagine the game taking on a whole new lease of life with some genuinely well-implemented SIXAXIS controls. Ah, well.
All in all, Katamari Forever, whilst still retaining some old faults, is a decent enough and solid game with plenty to offer. If you’ve yet to sample the series, and want to know what it’s all about, this is a great chance to do so. If, however, you’ve played the series to death already, or were unimpressed with the quirky goings on in previous games, then you may want to hold back the readies and rent this one first.
Katamari Forever is out now.