Saturday, December 29, 2012

Touch My Katamari

In the wake of Christmas, among the many gifts I received were some video games, which I will get to over time, among them a PlayStation Vita along with a few games for the system. One of those games, which I am going to discuss in this review, is the next installment in the Katamari Damacy franchise, the unfortunately-named Touch My Katamari. Coming out last year as a Vita launch title, this game seeks to please fans of the franchise while shaking things up with the handheld's unique layout. Having just completed it, as a Katamari fan, I feel that while it is a rather unique game, something feels a little off about it.

It's expected for a Katamari game's plot to be no more than just an excuse for balls to be rolled and stars to be made, but this one felt flimsy even by Katamari standards. What literally gets things rolling (pun intended) is that the King of All Cosmos hears a comment about one teacher being just as awesome as he is, and so he sends his son, the Prince, to roll Katamaris to please the fan base. Otherwise, every other mission sees an installment in the exploits of the crudely-animated Goro the Slacker, who's trying to purchase a study guide while avoiding being distracted by whatever's around him, most especially "babes" (and yes, this does tie in to the main game eventually). I'm not trying to come off as expecting a story of higher quality, since Katamari games can actually pull off having little story, but at least other games in the franchise had their stories serve a greater purpose in-universe (ex. Beautiful Katamari involved trying to save the universe from a black hole caused by the King playing tennis too hard, the end result being the black hole is plugged up). At least the Goro the Slacker sub-plot has more of a conclusion.

The gameplay follows those of the other games, but Touch My Katamari also introduces a twist. Not only can you perform the Prince Hop from Katamari Forever (a mechanic that I liked), you can also to use the Vita's touch screen and rear touch pad to stretch and squeeze the Katamari itself to reach smaller spaces and  gather more objects at once. I rather enjoyed this feature, since I was able to complete the objectives faster, though the game is short and there's hardly anything that forces you to utilize this form of gameplay. Still, I used the new touch functions, especially the stretch feature, whenever I could to (barely) complete some of the tasks. In this respect, I give praise to the innovation displayed in this game and I hope that, if further Katamari titles are released for the Vita, these features will be kept.

I have no complaints about the in-game visuals, since they follow typical Katamari graphics...except for the King of All Cosmos. This game sees him in a different art style than the previous games, and while I like that they tried to give him more fluid animations, it feels a little jarring since they made his face more realistic. I usually have no problems with realism if it fits the game and platform, but the problem here is that his face gives off a slight uncanny valley sort of feeling since, while it appears more real, it clashes with his cartoonish nose and other design features. What I'm saying here is that the King's face is overall kind of ugly, but I do give the animators props for trying. (But did they really have to make his default costume a skin-tight yellow body suit? I didn't really want to get that good a view of the King's bulging crotch.)

The game also introduces a system of currency involving candy, which you get after completing objectives and can spend on things within the game, such as clothes for the King, new gameplay modes, and the in-game soundtrack. You can also collect something called a Fan Damacy within a level, which you can use as one way to obtain Candy Tickets (otherwise I have no idea what sort of purpose they actually serve). Candy Tickets can be used after an objective is completed, when the in-game fan gives you candy based on your grade, in order to Sweet Talk more candy out of them by multiplying said candy in multiples of 2 (you can also buy more on the PlayStation Store, but I don't want to). There are also times where the fans or the King will just give you candy that they found, making your purchases easier to make. (Though I was really disturbed when the King wanted a bridal cape and went into excessive detail over the purchase.) Candy can also be acquired further by collecting all the special objects, or Curios, within each level.

The soundtrack, par for the course with Katamari, is amazing, keeping up the quirkiness of previous soundtracks. Some of these are songs that I would listen to over and over again, and if I could acquire a physical copy, I would try to get my hands on it. The other option is to play them back within the game, which is a feature I enjoy, but, as I mentioned earlier, you actually have to purchase them with candy in order to play them back. This is a feature I disapprove of, since earlier games just added them to a soundtrack spot in the hub world (which here is the King's head) so you could listen to them at any time post-game. However, if I ever play this game again, I'll do what I can to collect the music this way, since that's all I care to spend candy on anyway outside of the other game modes. (They've got to use this new currency system somehow, right?)

Touch My Katamari is a great handheld Katamari game for fans and newcomers alike. Despite what I saw as the game's flaws, this is a game I would actually not hesitate to tell new Vita owners to pick up. Despite the short length that comes with a Katamari game, it's actually quite fun, and you might end up wanting to spend plenty of time (and battery life) playing this game.

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