C'mon, Just Touch It!

We did as told and got our hands all over Touch My Katamari.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: January 20, 2012
It's doubtful creator Keita Takahashi could have known his simple concept of just "rolling stuff up" would have struck a chord with an international audience when he dreamed up Katamari Damacy. By all accounts, it should've have been a hit; saddled with blocky, intentionally low-res textures and an absolutely incomprehensible cast of characters translated with a flair for the absurd above all else, the sheer insanity of it all just... clicked.

In a perfect world, that would have been that, but the success of the original begat (begrudgingly) an aptly-titled sequel under Takahashi's hand before he departed Namco and the company took up the mantle of cranking out a steady stream of follow-ups that never deviated from the absurdity but rarely reached beyond the basic concept. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, though there was something of a feeling of diminishing returns; the basic gameplay of starting smaller than a pebble and growing so large that entire contents were being rolled up is something that just doesn't get old, but there's no denying the Katamari formula was starting to feel more than a little repetitive.

Let it never be said Namco isn't willing to change -- at least a little. The PlayStation Vita offers a host of technologies that help bring it up to date with both other portables and the apparent looming threat of cell phone gaming. Fittingly, though, it's the truly unique part of the Vita tech that is being capitalized on here: the back touchpad. By sliding your fingers toward or away from each other on the back of the Vita, the katamari (that ultra-sticky ball used to roll everything up) can stretch to become a long, wide, cylindrical tube or a tall, thin disc to fit between close objects or under low ones.

It sounds like a simple change, but because the action is analog, meaning the farther apart or closer together your fingers are when "stretching" the katamari, the more or less things change shape. No longer is the Prince of All Cosmos stuck just missing a smattering of adjacent objects because of the game's tank-like controls (more on those in a second); he (and, by extension, you) can just widen the katamari and grab the whole bunch. You're limited to the same sort of height and size conditions of the normal katamari, so there's a little strategy to be had here, but some of the tedium has been stripped out.

The result? Well, you still roll stuff up, but now it's a little easier, and not surprisingly Namco has laid out plenty of rollable objects in those familiar configurations, as well as altered the level designs to afford squeezes through and under objects to best scoop everything up on the way to delivering the mandated katamari size (the plot this time around is that the King of all Cosmos, in typically self-aware fashion, has realized how played-out he's become, and charges his son with restoring the people's faith in him as a proper object of respect and adoration), not to mention the more recent games' requirement of specific types of objects that make up the bulk of the katamari's rolled-up goods.

One of the best parts of the Vita, of course, isn't even in all the fancy touch controls or gyros or that gorgeous screen, it's the fact that it has a second analog stick, finally allowing a portable Katamari experience in line with the console games. To that end, the game offers a trio of control options, one that uses a single analog stick, another that uses both, and a purely touch-based option that's far more the former than the latter. Touch is available at all times, and the single/dual stick setup can be toggled by simply hitting the Start Button, and choosing something different from the Controls Menu.

Yeah, sure, it's familiar stuff, but it sure seems -- at least initially -- like it's just different enough to get us to take the Prince for one more spin. We'll know for sure when Touch My Katamari hits with the Vita day and date February 22nd.