IGN Review of Me & My Katamari
In the upper echelon of really bizarre deities, The King of All Cosmos is one creepy dude. A codpiece-wearing star-freak from the tail-end of the Universe, the ruler of all-things sticky truly loves to send his princely son on a variety of grand adventures. Of course, these quests always require the young noble to roll things up into a continuously-growing sphere of junk, but if you've played either of the two PlayStation 2 Katamari games before, then this shouldn't come as a surprise. Besides, using the smallish prince to collect bigger and bigger "balls 'o stuff" is what the series has always been about.
In Namco's latest jaunt to the weird, however, the previously-charming world of the prince (this time called "Me and My Katamari") wears out its welcome just a bit. You see, despite the game's solid transition from console title to handheld pick-me-up it feels like something is missing... and that something is variety.
Bear in mind that with a game like this, variety is a very big deal. After all, the entire gameplay concept is as simple as "steamroll whatever items get in your way before the time runs out while getting bigger." That's all there is to it. But when you have as straightforward an approach as that (without the benefit of mind-blowing graphics, insane speed, or some other attention-grabbing gimmick), maintaining the player's interest is what keeps him coming back.
To its credit, Me and My Katamari does benefit from an excellent gameplay engine. Basic as it may be, accumulating hundreds of different items onto a single ball is strange and addictive fun. At its core, the game is one part puzzle and one part actioner that simultaneously tests your planning and maneuvering skills. Evolving from the smallest of the small while collecting paperclips, thumbtacks, and other miniature items to eventually become larger than a house is deeply satisfying -- and figuring out how to weave your way into hidden nooks and crannies to acquire the goodies needed to get you there is all part of the fun.
One of the things I particularly appreciated about the game's move to PSP is that it has been made slightly more difficult. Antagonist AI is much more aggressive than it was in the console versions, and the stricter time limits and challenges beyond just collecting whatever you want (some missions are "themed" with your goals) help a lot too. Moreover, the lack of a second analog stick has been replaced very effectively with the face buttons (which serve as your steering devices) and the interface looks greats with plenty of cool things like stats, music, players, et cetera to go along with it. In short, this is obviously a game tailor-made for experienced Katamari players.
But as I alluded to earlier, Me and My Katamari's biggest flaw (fun as it may be), is that there just isn't enough diversity in the gameplay... at least, not enough to put it on the same level as its award-winning console brethren. This game encourages you to explore and collect, after all, but there isn't enough real estate to let you do that.
The problem with Me and My Katamari doesn't come from the smaller-scale focus either (this time the Prince is creating islands for needy animals instead of the much-larger constellations), nor does it from the number of items available (there's a giga-ton of those). The main issue is with the level selection and how much there is do once you're inside of one.
To be more specific, Me and My Katamari only benefits from roughly six small little areas with a couple of slight differences each time you return to them. There's a whole lot of backtracking that you're going to have to do too, and to make matters even worse, the stages near the end are just the previous levels piggybacked to one another over and over again. The stages themselves aren't that imaginative either -- and just seem to be re-imagined versions of areas we've seen in the other games. And for a title that prides itself on keeping you collecting over and over again (especially with the number of stats it keeps track of), small and repetitive environments aren't going to do the trick.
The amazing thing about Me and My Katamari, however, is that despite its poor level design and its tendency to cramp your hands after about 15-20 minutes (the system's ergonomic design flaw, not a fault of the game), it still turns out to be a pretty good little handheld experience. Having an ad hoc multiplayer option for up to four players doesn't hurt one bit either, and though I miss the ability to use infrastructure to play people not in my immediate area, the multiplayer that we do get is pretty decent.
It should also be mentioned that the game's graphics are surprisingly detailed and sharp for having such a simple artistic design. Though I can't claim that it's technically better than its PS2 counterpart, it certainly seems that way on the smaller screen. Unfortunately, the visuals do suffer from a surprising amount of slowdown (more so than its console cousin) and the typical camera issues associated with the franchise.
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