London's Namco Centre, the location of this evening's hands-on event with Katamari Forever, sits almost exactly opposite the Houses of Parliament. Cast in the tall shadow of Big Ben, this busy arcade - the likes of which you'd never find in a marginal constituency - provides an ideal stop-off point for MPs to throw down some expenses on a quick game of Time Crisis after work.
While there are no Members in attendance tonight, Eurogamer nevertheless catches a glimpse of the Prime Minister silhouetted in one of Westminster's high-set gothic windows. He stares down longingly at the event across the river, wishing no doubt that he could skip across the Thames, take up a katamari and roll his bankrupt, broken country into a gigantic ball, cleaning up his mess and firing it into space before anyone can call "general election!"
In his preview fantasy, Brown would roll his giant sticky ball along the Thames embankment, discarded lollipop sticks, diseased pigeons and spray-paint street mimes sticking to it with satisfying schlups. Then, once the tangle of debris reached about 12 metres in diameter, he'd move on to rolling up red buses and taxis and trees, the sphere expanding till it could absorb the capital's great monuments one by one: Nelson's Column, St Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London.
Gaining gleeful momentum, he'd nab the Michael Jackson-less O2 arena, before pulling the whole of London's Docklands from the earth's crust, and then merging it with Watford, Southend, Birmingham and Grimsby. Soon, Gordo would be rolling up countries in an instant, then planets, then entire star systems. Mars, Mercury and the Milky Way: no celestial body would be safe from the unstoppable snowball of detritus, pushed along by a tiny Scotsman laughing in maniacal deadpan: "PUBLIC INQUIRY THIS, MOTHERF***ERS."
And herein, of course, lies Katamari's problem. Without even sitting down with the game, the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can guess exactly what he's going to get with Katamari Forever [I suspect he probably can't - Ed]. When Keita Takahashi designed the first Katamari Damacy for PlayStation 2, he had a plan. He made a game with a beginning, a middle and an end, one with a natural, graceful trajectory plotted from rolling up the micro-debris of modern living all the way to rolling up the planets and star systems at its conclusion.
There was no need for a sequel because, once you've wiped out the cosmos, there's nowhere left for a sequel to roll: the full scope of the idea had already been explored. Additionally, Katamari Damacy itself was an anti-capitalist statement. We have too much, it said. If only we could gather all of humanity's idiotic clutter and fire it into space, then perhaps we would be free again. As such, the very concept of a Katamari sequel goes against the spirit of Katamari. And yet here we are: caught in a feedback loop, playing Katamari Forever.
Katamari Forever, just like every other sequel in the series, plays very much like Katamari Damacy. The core campaign presents 30 stages, each one featuring a larger katamari ball and requiring you to roll up ever-larger objects until, in the end, you are rolling up stars and planets. It is consigned by the brilliant comprehensiveness of the original to add mere bulk to the format and for that reason, no doubt, Takahashi has had no involvement with this forthcoming PlayStation 3 release. Perhaps it's his distance from the project that has redoubled the resolve of its creators - who have been working on the game since may 2008 - as, right from the off, it's clear that Namco is eager that Katamari Forever deliver, if not the first Katamari experience, then at very least the definitive Katamari experience.
"The game runs in full 1080p at a consistent 60 frames per second," explains a Namco employee breathlessly. "All of the camera problems that players had with the Xbox 360 title, Beautiful Katamari, have been resolved and we've given Prince a jump move, so that, by flicking the Sixaxis, players can leap out of tight corners." And indeed, the game moves smoothly, controls elegantly, and, with its collection of graphical filters, including an exquisite 'Kid's Book' crayon overlay, looks more beautiful than its predecessor ever did. But these back-of-the-box boasts, while welcome and expected, do little to demonstrate that Namco has been able to squeeze new ideas from - and applications for - the original's well-loved mechanics.
"Ah!" exclaims the demo-giver. "Let me show you this." He switches to a desert level, unexpectedly devoid of any objects to clean up. The katamari sits next to an Onsen (a Japanese bath), which is incongruously placed in the middle of the sand. "You must first soak the katamari in water," he explains, "and then paint the desert to bring life back to the area. When the water runs out you must dash back to the bath and refill it. As you restore more colour and life to the stage, so more animals and creatures are attracted. Katamari has always had a strong environmentalist theme running through the series, something we wanted to continue with in Katamari Forever."
It's a clever idea, one explored a little by THQ's excellent Wii title de Blob, and this switch of the game mechanics, from using the ball to clear up an environment to using it to restore an environment, makes repeated appearances across the game's main campaign. As ever, the story and dialogue is as leftfield and inimitable as ever. Some stages take place in the mind of your character's father, the King of All Cosmos, who is suffering from amnesia after bumping his head. In these stages you paint a black and white world with colour, restoring his memory in the process, another application of the paint-'em-up system.
Many of the classic modes from previous games make a return, one level requiring that you roll a tiny sumo wrestler around a Japanese town, each new item adding to his body mass before a final face-off with a rival wrestler. Manage to stick your opponent to your roly-poly sumo wrestler and you win the level, but bounce off him and it's instant game over, the challenge being to successfully gauge when you've collected enough items to beat your rival, while keeping an eye on the clock.
Katamari Drive is a new mode that allows you to play the entire Katamari experience at double speed, with seven minutes to grow your ball from street level to a size of 10,000 km. Then Eternal Katamari allows you free reign of the game without a time limit while the final Classic Mode promises four extra game modes that Namco is unwilling to discuss yet. There's no escaping the fact that aside from a couple of minor inventive additions, Katamari Forever is more of the same, but the welcome news is that it appears to be an awful lot more of the same.
Few games make cleaning up one's mess so compelling. While there's a sense of disappointment at having to roll up the world once again in much the same way as we have before, there are still thrills to be derived from the task. Perhaps, Katamari Forever seems to imply, our work will never be done. And perhaps that's alright: sometimes the means are more important than the ends.
Katamari Forever is due out for PS3 this autumn.