Everyone loves Katamari. That is to say, everyone who's played the PS2 games - Katamari Damacy and We Love Katamari - seems to love them. To bits. And that includes us, so we had high hopes for the first PSP instalment in the series. Unfortunately, since we started playing it, our hopes have been - well, not quite dashed exactly, but sort of rolled down a hill and smashed into a giant barking dog so hard that some of the bits have come off. If you love Katamari, you'll know what we're on about.
You'll also be familiar of the basic principle of the game, which is this: playing as a little green fellow known as the Prince, it's your job to roll a giant sticky ball round all manner of environments, picking up all manner of objects. To start off with, that'll mean small things (drawing pins, flowers, biscuits etc.), but as the size of the Katamari increases, so will the size of the objects it's capable of picking up (whales, skyscrapers, the actual SUN and so on).
In Me & My Katamari, the basic principle is the same. But this time, you're tasked with creating a series of islands for a load of animals, whose tropical home has been destroyed by a giant tidal wave. And the best way to do this, obviously, is by creating a load of big fat katamaris into the sea.
You're guided in this task by the animals themselves, who are a picky lot (the canary wants a "bright" island, the cicada wants a "loud" one and so on - which means you have to roll up special items) and the King of All Cosmos. Yes, he's back once again, rambling on about all sorts of nonsense in the third person, and quite frankly crossing the line between amusing and wacky more than once in our opinion. "Let us calculate: colour plus size minus love over dream plus spirit equals..." equals whether or not we can go onto the next level, doesn't it, so why not just tell us that and stop bothering with all this blather you beardy old hippy.
So, anyway, yes, the basic principle is the same. Unfortunately, so are far too many of the levels. It won't take long before you notice that the same environments are appearing again and again, albeit with different weather conditions or items to roll up, or during a different time of day. But that's not really good enough, is it.
It doesn't help that the environments are generally quite small, either, or that you're frequently interrupted mid-level while the next area loads. The King pops up on these occasions to inform you of how much he hates loading times, too, but this just makes you want to join some kind of campaign for an elected head of state.
Points of view
Part of the problem is that this game just doesn't quite work on a screen the size of the PSP's. One of the best aspects of the PS2 games was the sense of scale - there was great satisfaction to be had from watching your Katamari grow bigger and bigger, and become capable of picking up larger and larger objects. Here, once your Katamari reaches a certain size, the game has to rejig itself and change the perspective so you can still see what you're doing, and you lose a few of the bigger objects you've collected along the way. Yes, you can still pick up skyscrapers and the like, but rolling around a much more enclosed area from what feels like a much further away perspective just isn't as much fun.
The PSP's controls aren't quite suited to the game, either. Since there's no right analog stick, you'll need to use the face buttons to help move the Katamari around. You can still pull off quicker manouevres like spins and dashes, but you have to learn the particular button combinations for these and it doesn't feel quite as intuitive.
That's not to say the control system is awful - it does work, although there are perhaps too many instances where you'll find yourself trapped between a couple of giant objects and having to fiddle away for ages to get out. But it is slightly awkward, certainly to start off with, and we challenge anyone to play for more than half an hour without ending up with crabhands.
There are some nice extras to be going on with - you can look at the collection of objects you've rolled up, pick up presents such as new hats, view snapshots from places you've visited, play as any of the Prince's cousins you've collected and so on - but it's all familiar stuff.
Fun with friends?
The multiplayer mode isn't exactly revolutionary, either. You and up to three friends get just one environment in which to roll around, racing to build the biggest katamari possible within the time limit. You can bash into other katamaris to knock items off them, but that's about as strategic as it gets. Hardly the type of multiplayer game that's going to have you huddled over your PSPs for hours on end.
It all just feels a bit... Lazy. Okay, so the graphics are perfectly decent (despite the odd moment of slowdown), with lots of lovely detail and sharpness and funky colours. But then there's the soundtrack, which is just a rehash of tunes from the console Katamari games - and much as we enjoyed them the first time around, we were hoping for something new here.
Which pretty much sums it up. Me & My Katamari doesn't move the series on at all - in fact, it sort of rolls it backwards a bit, what with the smaller levels, slightly shonky control system and limited multiplayer modes. Not to mention the fact that you're constantly having to play through environments you've already explored, which is just tiresome.
If you're a hardcore Katamari fan there's some fun to be had here, but don't go expecting anything new, and be prepared for disappointment. If you've never played a Katamari game, don't start with this one - it may well put you off for good. And that would be a great shame, because Katamari Damacy and We Love Katamari will charm you, surprise you, thrill you, and generally make you feel like the sun has come out in your brain. Me & My Katamari, sad to report, will not.