Me & My Katamari Reader Review
I should probably tell you this before I start: When it comes to the concept behind the Katamari games, I'm very biased.
I suppose it has something to do with the fact that We Love Katamari (for the PS2) entered my life somewhere shortly after the death of my mother in 2006, when my life was a depressed mess. Me and my dad played the game together and it saved us from the gaping void of losing a loved one. As I rolled the sticky ball and my dad watched, a sort of goofy grin spread on our faces. I call this the "Katamari Grin", and nearly everyone who plays the game begin to show signs of it only a few minutes after beginning. This is also the case with Me & My Katamari, the series' debut on the PlayStation Portable.
A holiday gone weird
Those of us who have played earlier installments in the Katamari series know basically how it works by now. While on a holiday on Earth with his son (the Prince) and wife (the Queen), the flamboyant and mildly insane King of All Cosmos manages to all but wipe out an entire island while demonstrating his majestic swim strokes. The problem is that the ex-island was the home of a lot of animals, and now they have nowhere to go. It is therefore the duty of the Prince - and his cousins, once they have been found - to roll up stuff so that the King can create new islands for the animals (by using his new technique: the Royal Puff).
This is where it begins, and by now the Katamari Grin will begin to spread on your face like an infectious skin disease. You won't be able to stop it.
Once you've landed on the tiny little island which is your starting point (and which you can call whatever you want, by the way, as long as it ends with "Island"), you meet your first animal guest, a tiny white mouse (later revealed to be - oh, lord, the horror! - a rat) who simply can't remember where he came from. The King responds to this plight by making the Prince run through a tutorial stage to brush up on his rolling skills. This is where it becomes interesting.
The art of rolling
For those who are very familiar with the dual stick control mode used in the earlier games (like yours truly), the new controls will take some time getting used to. The same general technique applies here, but instead of using control sticks you use a directional button (or the control stick, but this is not really an option as it's way more cumbersome) in tandem with a symbol button. For instance, pressing UP and TRIANGLE at the same time will cause the Katamari - a sticky ball that picks up everything it touches - to roll forwards, while pressing DOWN and X will cause it to back up. It's actually quite logical when you think about it, and it works fairly well; After a short while you'll do it without thinking, and this will feel very satisfying. Expect some trial and error issues, though.
Once the tutorial stage is over you are free to explore your very own island, which is actually three islands clumped together. The main island is where you save your game, check your collection of things rolled up thus far and your stage records, enter Ad Hoc multiplayer skirmishes and control sound options, as well as chatting with animals whose stages you've already completed. The Beanstalk Island is where your cousins will wander around once you've rolled them up in the various stages. Finally, the Volcano Island is home to animals with... unusual requests. While the main island usually contains animals who just want a really big katamari, the Volcano Island animals will demand something different. Not to give anything away, but let's just say that in one of these stages you will actually be rolling up years. Yes, you heard that right.
The new features
Me & My Katamari seems to be Namco's way of saying: "Okay, we saw what you liked and disliked about the last games. This is what we've done for you based on that experience." Not much has been added, but it's enough to make the game just a little bit more fun.
For instance, some stages are multi-part stages, where you start off with a small size requirement and, once you've completed that, you continue on a larger scale with a larger size requirement and a time bonus based on how well you did in the first part.
The multiplayer game has been overhauled and is now based on gathering more points than your opponent, a big improvement from We Love Katamari where the multiplayer mode grew very boring after one match.
And speaking of points: Your success in the game's stages are now rated through the size of the katamari, the time it took to reach the target size, how well you fulfilled the theme the katamari was supposed to have (warm, cute, etc.) and points which are based on the above factors. This makes for a very satisfying system where you will want to replay all the stages as you get progressively better at handling the katamari, just to beat those scores.
The island(s) is/are also much more interactive and enjoyable than the Select Meadow from We Love Katamari, featuring a very nice day-night system and some very lovely graphics.
An "Eternal" mode has been added, and this is a stroke of genius. Once you've satisfied certain conditions for each stage, an "Eternal" version of that stage will be unlocked. You will not be able to create a new island with this mode, but there is no time limit, giving you all the time in the world to hunt down those pesky cousins, find the royal gifts you might have missed and generally just roll around having fun. This means that every single stage could become something like the Snowman stage in We Love Katamari, where you were given a task and no time limit at all. As previously stated, this is pure genius, and it makes the whole game that much more enjoyable because it removes the whole stress behind having to find everything in a single run through a stage.
There are many other things - new cousins, more insane gifts for you to wear and more things to put in your collection of things rolled up - but they should be left for you to discover. Suffice to say, even though you might be able to "beat" the game fairly quickly (depending on your skill level) you will want to return to all stages often to improve your rating and find more cousins and presents in the Eternal mode.
The very essence of fun
The various stages you'll encounter are brief periods of rainbow-coloured madness. You will - for the majority of the stages, at least - get an objective, consisting of a target size and a time limit, as well as an additional condition which is new to this game: The katamari needs to contain items with certain characteristics. Some will need to contain mostly hot items, others may need to contain cute items, and so on. And then you're launched into the main stage, which is where the meat of the game lies.
There are many things to think about when you roll a katamari. The first is the controls, which will undoubtedly feel clunky and awkward for a few minutes before instinct takes over. The second is the fact that the camera can be relentlessly unhelpful, blocking your view when you're trying to see around a wall of stuff, and third, the game will lure you into a false sense of security and then suddenly bite you in the neck, usually through a very tight time limit or a deceptively low target size. Once you're prepared for these three minor issues, you are ready to roll.
And what a joy it is.
The first thing that will strike you as you begin to work your way through the first stage is that everything feels very slick and smooth. The occasional slowdown can be expected, but otherwise the game runs along at a steady pace. The visuals in Me & My Katamari follow suite from earlier games, and are very strange indeed. Everything has a kind of Lego-esque feeling to it, and since every single item from a piece of candy to the Eiffel Tower can (in some cases) be found on the same stage you can expect some very weird sights as you roll through the wonderful game world (one famous example is the bulldog running around with a huge ceramic pot balanced on its nose). You won't mind, however. The quirky and slightly insane feel is what makes this game work, and it will enable you to look past the issues that it has.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place
As mentioned above, there are a few minor problems with Me & My Katamari that, oddly enough, were not that obvious in the old games (perhaps due to the larger screen size).
The camera is, at times, extremely annoying. It will occasionally swing round and block your vision completely, especially if you've grown a slightly too large katamari for a slightly too small location. The controls will make your fingers hurt badly if you play for too long (like yours truly, who couldn't stop playing it for several hours). There exists the occasional slowdown that will make the game seem covered in sticky syrup for a few seconds. And sometimes you get stuck if you try to maneuver your katamari through a gap between two not yet pickable items. This is particularly annoying, as it will sometimes impede your progress for several seconds as you try to wiggle free, and in the more devious stages those are seconds you just can't afford to lose.
Still, I consider these to be minor issues. They may be irritating, but the game's overall irresistable charm more than makes up for them.
"Yo, rori roori staaa..."
One of the highlights in Me & My Katamari is the music, which is a truly colourful mix of nearly every musical genre you can think of. You have your basic J-Pop ("Lonely Rolling Star", which is sung by a Japanese woman and therefore sounds like the title above- "Rori roori staaa") and offbeat techno ("DISCO*PRINCE", including some really amusing samples of Japanese rapping), but there are also some real gems, including the main Katamari theme (which is pure brilliance in every one of its variations), an endearing country-inspired piece called "Cherry Blossom Season" (complete with a Japanese children's choir singing charmingly out of tune) and "Que Sera Sera" (which isn't the one you're thinking of, but rather a laid-back swing tune with excellent vocals). Then, of course, you have the general synth weirdness that have been prevalent in the previous games.
It should be mentioned that nearly all of the game's musical tracks are taken directly from the two previous games. This might seem like a bad thing to some people, but for others (like me) who never got to play the first game, it's a great treat and gives Me & My Katamari the feel of a collector's edition with the extra songs thrown in as a bonus.
The final word
There are issues in Me & My Katamari. Many who have reviewed it have pointed them out and lowered their final grade because of them. Others say that the game is too short, feels repetitive and/or doesn't add enough new things into the mix.
They are missing the point by several miles. And then some.
Because the point here is to roll. To roll every single thing you see into a huge, wriggling ball of rainbow-coloured joy. The point is to laugh at the King's many odd pieces of dialogue, hum along with the quirky and beautiful soundtrack as you pilot your sticky sphere through the stages, grin as you finally get to roll up that pesky whale who's been bothering you for the last two minutes, sighing with contentment as you finish the stage and manage another record, and having fun while doing all these things.
Nitpicking just isn't justified when it comes to this game. If Me & My Katamari had been a pretentious piece of garbage by someone who couldn't pull the concept off properly, then yes, one could lower the grade several notches and whine about the small problems. But since this game is so wonderfully insane, takes itself very much less than seriously and only tells us to have fun while we roll up some stuff, there is only one thing to do.
And that is to sum all of this up by saying: This is a truly wonderful game which will make you smile and laugh. Do yourself a favour and buy it. You will not regret it.
9 / 10