The Katamari series proves that having simple game mechanics, a funky soundtrack, and psychedelic colors are all it takes to entice fans to come back for more. Katamari Forever for the PlayStation 3 is a mix of new levels, as well as older levels. All of your favorite cousins are also back, including the diminutive Prince, who can now do the Prince Hop--aka jump. Like in the previous games, your goal is to roll up as much junk as quickly as possible. We had the opportunity to play around with a preview build and found that even though there aren't any groundbreaking changes, Katamari Forever is so quirky and charming that it's hard to stay away--or get the theme song out of your head.
Veteran katamari handlers might recognize some of the older levels because you'll be playing through familiar worlds in an attempt to patch up the memory of the King of All Cosmos. After trying to show off his new jumping skills, the king bumps his head on a giant spiky star. He falls unconscious and loses his memory, which is represented by worlds that are completely devoid of color. You'll have to go through the bleak, colorless levels to pick up anything that isn't nailed down and is of appropriate size until you can bring all the vibrant colors back. While the king was unconscious, the cousins freaked out and decided to build RoboKing to temporarily take his place. Unfortunately the robot immediately goes crazy and destroys all the stars in the sky. You can probably guess what you have to do now. With the King of All Cosmos out of commission and the RoboKing malfunctioning, you'll have to help rebuild memories, as well as new planets. Along the way, you'll also unlock new modes, find more cousins, and gather other collectables.
A tutorial is integrated into the introduction to help newcomers figure out how to maneuver the giant sticky ball known as a katamari. It's almost like controlling a tank because you use both analog sticks to turn and move forward. It takes a little getting used to, but once you've got the hang of it, you'll be rolling over all sorts of crazy stuff with ease. What's new in Katamari Forever is the ability to do the Prince Hop, which gives you more mobility. You can jump by quickly shaking the controller, but it's actually easier to just use the R2 button instead. This allows you to jump over fences to get to new areas, climb onto shelves, and quickly avoid moving hazards. What's disorienting though is the camera, which can be unhelpful if you end up rolling under large objects. Most of the time, there's a peephole that's cut out to give you a clear view of your katamari, but sometimes you'll end up staring at a large piece of geometry until your katamari rolls back into sight.
Like the previous games, your goal is to reach a certain size in a limited amount of time. You start by rolling over small things, such as candy, dice, and earrings, until you've grown large enough to stick to such big ticket items as gorillas or skyscrapers. Depending on the stage, you'll also have other goals, which may include scooping up as much jewelry or as many farm animals as possible. In one of the levels that we played, our goal was to get a sumo wrestler to eat as much as possible. Instead of rolling a katamari ball, we pushed around a person, which changed up the dynamics because he wasn't very round--not yet at least. As you progress through the levels, you'll likely pick up presents, which include clothes and accessories that wind up in your collection from the main menu. The game tracks everything that you pick up, so it's interesting to see the strange and random objects you've encountered, especially after rolling around in a Japanese supermarket or a zoo. There are power-ups to pick up as well, so keep an eye out for hearts sitting in a rainbow column because they act like vacuums and temporarily suck up items around you.
There are more than 30 levels in the game, and each level includes unlockable modes, such as Katamari Drive mode where you can roll faster than usual. Eternal mode is where you go at your own pace with no time restrictions, and Katamari Classic mode lets you play with the original rules, which means no Prince Hop or power-ups. Graphic filters can also be unlocked to give the game a new look, or you can change the new cel-shaded art style back to the old look if you prefer. The levels look like they've been colored with pencil crayons, but you can select filters to give the game a richer comic tone or a more natural look with a wood tone. If you don't like change at all, the classic tone will bring back the original art style, but it will be in 1080p.
There is no online play, but there are online rankings and offline multiplayer modes. You can coordinate with a friend and control a katamari together, so each person uses one analog stick. Depending on how well you communicate with each other, co-op can be incredibly fun or the most frustrating experience imaginable. If you want to direct that frustration at your friend, there are multiple Versus modes, in which you can compete to get the largest katamari or the most items, or you can play keep away. Dashing into the other person will cause him or her to drop his or her items, so if you time it right, you can really mess up your opponent right before the clock runs out.
Katamari Forever is exactly what you would expect from this series of rolling miscellaneous items into planets. If you really liked the previous games and are just looking for more fun levels to explore, then it's worth taking a closer look. We're quite fond of the new art style, but the option to switch is also nice. The music is as catchy as ever, with new remixes of some favorites, which have probably looped in your head for far too many hours already. For more information on Katamari Forever, be sure to stay tuned for our full review when the game is released exclusively on the PlayStation 3 at $49.99 on September 22.