There are those who regard my import shopping habits with suspicion. They've probably got a point; I'm pretty excitable. For every Phoenix Wright or Ouendan there's a Lunar Genesis. I buy Ridge Racer games even when they're obviously rubbish. Sometimes I buy Japanese RPGs and can't even get off level one. I'd probably buy magic beans from you if they came in a DS box.
HAHA though, I thought, because Me & My Katamari was a dead-cert. Even when Namco tried to foul up We Love Katamari, it was rescued, and wound up even better in a lot of ways than Katamari Damacy, which was so brilliant in the first place that we've stopped bothering to describe the basics even though half of you have never played it. Me & My Katamari is out on PSP in Japan now, and it comes with a PSP pouch in the shape of the prince's head.
But what's this? The pouch is a sort of plastic pencil case thing that looks like it cost 99p? Hrm. Oh well, at least you can pop your PSP inside the original spongy slipcase and put that inside. But what's this? Me & My Katamari is lazy, repetitive and slightly tedious port that completely ignores most of WLK's best ideas? WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS HAPPEN TO ME.
To be fair, I'm not totally convinced it's bad. It's clearly got the same sense of humour: the intro movie's lovely, and when you set off to make a new katamari you stand on top of a hill and then ride a slingshot past the King's crotch. Also, you can wear a giraffe's head again. But actually, that's kind of the problem. It's nice to be back with the King and the Prince and all the silly squeaking creatures of the world (this time you're creating islands to drop in the sea, rather than planets), but the music's mostly the same, the objects you roll up are mostly the same, the rewards are mostly the same, and the fundamental objective is mostly the same: make a big ball.
We used to like making balls. We'd roll around picking up paperclips and crabs and jazz (sometimes actual jazz) and it'd all make funny noises, stick to our ball and change its movement characteristics, and scream and yelp as we rolled it down a hill. But We Love Katamari's shifted our expectations. We liked rolling up sumos, zooming around a racetrack, picking our way through pond-life. We don't just want it to continue in this vein; we want it to be even more diverse and imaginative.
The most imaginative thing about the PSP game is its solution to the problem of requisite dual analogue control. Here the d-pad and face button quad stand in for analogue sticks; the tank-tracks style of game control remains, allowing you to push forward by holding up and triangle together, and so on. Moves like the charge roll, overhead camera and camera flip are done through particular combinations, and L and R rotate the camera. Adjusting to the control scheme takes time, but soon the only danger is that you'll blister your thumbs.
Even including the 2D retro stages, which are admittedly cool, there are scarcely more than a handful of objectives more diverse than "collect stuff until you're this big". Over and over, you'll roll through the environment getting stuff to stick to you until you hit a certain size, and then the King will pop up with a loading screen while the PSP refreshes the level contents to a larger scale, removing the smaller clutter. As you get to levels further on, it'll let you get bigger, then load stuff in again; even bigger, load more stuff in. That sense of being able to go inside a building and then roll it up from the outside later was one of the game's key selling points; with loading screens, it doesn't really feel like you're doing that. WLK may have done this, but the effect here is much more pronounced. This here is a retrograde step.
Particularly since, for the most part, you'll be going into and then rolling up the same buildings anyway. The game is set in a few key environments, as ever, but feels very small by comparison, often just using different seasons or times of day for different ball sizes to change the level set up. And when you hit the larger sizes, you really start to appreciate the boundaries. You felt like you had a whole world to gather on the PS2; here you feel more like you're paddling around a rock-pool. There's a proper big one, true, but that's the last. Annoying considering We Love Katamari improved on the environment variety massively.
What's most peculiar is that it's still very engaging. I want the presents dotted around each level, I want to collect all of the Prince's cousins, I want to take photographs and put them in my album. It's still fun to pluck flying saucers out of the air, and listen out for funny noises when you roll over something you can't identify; it's still gratifying when you pass some imperceptible threshold and that stupid cat that's been annoying you meows its way into the collective.
And yet something's missing. You don't find your eyes probing the scenery for funny little sight gags, you don't look forward to the next level's music because you've probably heard it already, you don't laugh at Ultraman or the drunken salarymen. It's a bit old hat now. Like the pencil case PSP pouch, you've placed too much faith in the pictures and the reality is that you already have something that does the job fine.
Which is all a bit harsh when you consider it's still one of the best games on the PSP, even with all that said, or when you consider that, as I said, half of you probably haven't played any Katamari at all yet. And hey, you definitely should. But make it We Love Katamari, alright? This might pick up something in translation, but it's probably best to wait and see how it does when we get hold of the US version in March.
Me & My Katamari is due out in Europe later this year, with EA handling distribution.