I've got to hand it to Namco Bandai, during the first ten minutes of Touch My Katamari they're quick to accept that fans of the Katamari franchise have been left wanting over the past few games, or felt that the quality just wasn't there. As someone who has been a fan of the series since I first laid hands on it I find myself to be in that camp. I just haven't felt the same after the latest games were shorter affairs and DLC was brought in to fill the gaps. The gameplay was always solid, but it felt like the king had sort of, sold out, and let the soul of Katamari escape with series creator, Keita Takahashi while he went on to make the eccentric Noby Noby Boy. Touch My Katamari is a decent attempt at recapturing that magic that made Katamari Damacy a sleeper hit nearly ten years ago, and there's something to be said about that magical concept of just rolling up stuff that feels oh so right.
The King of All Cosmos is back and as fabulous as ever, and with him is the ever loyal price, charged with rolling the katamari to create stars for the King, to be shaped in his royal belly, which has gained some heft in the three year absence from Sony's platforms. So once again the player fills the prince's shoes, doing the King's dirty work to clean up his image amongst his once adoring fans. If this is meant to be taken as a sort of apology from Namco Bandai about the direction of the franchise since Keita Takahashi's departure it's kind of curious that by the end of Touch My Katamari it turns out the whole thing was a ruse and that the King felt the fans were always there supporting him. And then we're back on the subject of additional DLC available post launch, only with a different twist. But I'll take off my tin hat here for a minute, because what's present in Touch My Katamari is actually a pretty healthy dose of rolling up random stuff that's just lying around, and the DLC situation is one of the best options available to gamers these days.
Katamari Damacy has always been about rolling stuff up, using your katamari you collect an assortment of items to make the katamari as big as possible. Over the years there have been a few more objectives added to the mix but the spirit has always remained the same. Touch My Katamari brings us the fun gameplay of the console versions with the touch controls present in the mobile games and combines the two in to a tight little package for the PS Vita launch. The touch controls being the biggest addition to the game, they are tight and feel just fine on the Vita's screen, if you don't mind getting smudges all over the thing. The back pad is used in a new way, allowing you to stretch or squeeze the katamari in to different shapes to allow movement in to cramped spaces, perfect for getting under beds or in between tight gaps. For those who prefer old school controls, the Vita's dual analog sticks are perfect for Katamari's gameplay.
The katamari franchise has never been about fancy graphics, even when it moved on to HD consoles like the PS3 and 360, so if the expectation is that there will be some crazy new graphical improvements for the Vita hardware I want to squash that now. The game still looks great and runs quite well, maintaining a solid framerate even when the screen became cluttered with a sprawling wonderland of clutter. The music is still as wacky and zany as before, and whether or not that's a good thing is an obvious point of contention, but for me it has always complemented the game perfectly. In one of those scummy DLC moves, Namco Bandai has a few tracks available for download from previous games, and they would have got me had they included Everlasting Love from We Love Katamari.
Now the rest of the DLC is actually an interesting shift in what I feel is the right direction for DLC. New levels are available for download, and they are free. But to unlock them, a trade is in order, with a special collectible called a Fan Damacy. These figures randomly appear in the thirteen stages, with the King making their presence known. These figures can then be traded in to unlock the levels. For impatient sort the Fan Damacy figures can be purchased online to shorten the amount of time spent searching for them. I appreciate that Namco Bandai decided to allow players to unlock the downloadable content for free in exchange for their time. If I'm going to be playing through this game anyway thanks to the multiple playthroughs of levels it's nice that I have a bonus waiting for me.
For a Vita launch title, Touch My Katamari is a rather impressive effort. It offers up a few new gameplay aspects and doesn't feel like a quick cash-in. The gameplay is as fun and addicting as ever, and while it's possible to blow through the main campaign in as little as five hours there is plenty of other ways to play the stages, offering up a lot of replay value. Add in a DLC option that doesn't require any further investment from the player other than time and you've got a solid launch title that anyone picking up a Vita should add to their growing library.
Touch My Katamari is a step in the right direction for the franchise, it's a lot of fun. Best of all, it doesn't cram the Vita's touch controls down your throat and makes good use of the hardware.
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