Ever since Namco's Katamari Damacy first rolled onto the gaming scene (literally), the unique franchise has struck a chord with gamers. Some are enticed by the simple gameplay, others by its funky look and tunes. No matter how you look at it, the Katamari games have that rare universal appeal that you don't see too often these days. So far, the series has been progressing pretty well; this year's enjoyable sequel has kept its momentum going. After getting a taste of the game at this year's Tokyo Game Show, we've been eager and excited to see just what the upcoming PSP version of the game has to offer. Namco finally caved to our demands and popped by recently with a work-in-progress version of the game, dubbed Me and My Katamari.
It seems the Prince of All Cosmos and his family invite trouble to follow them wherever they go; this time, disaster strikes while the group is vacationing on a tropical island chain for some rest and relaxation. When a natural disaster strikes and wipes out a number of islands in the surrounding area, the cosmic family is tapped to help. Well, one of them, anyway. Yes, the Prince gets stuck with the dirty work yet again. This time out, he must rebuild the destroyed islands so the mobs of animals left homeless can settle back down.
The game's tropical island theme offers more than a new angle for the game; it has a winning impact on the whole game interface. You'll navigate through different menu options by traversing a compact collection of isles in a handy boat. In much the same way the We Love Katamari levels unfolded, you'll access this game's different levels by talking to the various animals as they appear and ask for help. When you agree to help, you'll be shot to the level via the most disturbing transportation method we've seen since the likes of Earthworm Jim and Boogerman: a slingshot ride straight at your pop's junk ("junk" being a euphemism for crotch). When in a level, it's all about collecting enough stuff onto your Katamari to make an island. You'll find some variety to the experience because you'll be required to make specific kinds of Katamari. So, for example, when tasked with making a "sweet" one, you'll want to make sure that you go heavy on the candy and dessert items. The single-player game features several enhancements over the previous games: You'll find new presents, which you'll now be able to equip on different parts of your body for full-on hotness. The whole assortment of cousins is back to lend a hand, including some never-before-seen relatives. In addition to the single-player game, you'll find ad-hoc multiplayer action for up to four players.
Control in the game, which is likely to be one of the biggest concerns for fans of the console version, isn't that bad, really. You'll simply rely on the PSP face buttons and the D pad, which serves as the second directional input. Though it's obviously not as precise as a second analog stick, using the buttons is a good solution that ends up working out nicely. Turning, charging, and 180-degree flips are handled in basically the same way, though with some tweaks. Turning relies on you holding right or left on the D pad while holding circle or square. Charging requires you to alternate between the D pad and triangle. The quick 180-degree flip is done by holding the circle button and left on the D pad. Though it's technically the same style of control as in the console game, there's a bit of a learning curve involved--but it's very manageable.
The visuals in the game are, unsurprisingly, comparable to its PlayStation 2 cousins. The franchise's simple, blocky visuals make what appears to be a flawless leap to the PSP. Though the levels are all new, they remain true to the aesthetics of the previous games. Though the camera can be a little tricky and the frame rate has occasional bouts of inconsistency, the game looks great. We saw two levels, one associated with a turtle and another you're sent to by a canary. They both share the same basic indoor/outdoor structure that lets you gather your crud in new and exciting locales. The new twist is that some indoor locales will feature the environmental effects seen in We Love Katamari, so you'll find cool things like wavy water effects on full display.
The audio is also on track to match the PlayStation 2 versions of the game. You'll hear all the familiar effects re-created on the PSP, as well as a number of recognizable tunes. Though Me and My Katamari's soundtrack will draw on music tracks from the two PS2 games, it will also include original music.
Based on what we saw and played, Me and My Katamari is shaping up to be a portable entry in the series that lives up to its predecessor. The game contains all the quirky charm its console cousins do, and it takes a funny spin on the typical formula. The control works out well, despite the loss of the second analog stick and the multiplayer modes, and the new enhancements should make for some nice additions to the experience. All told, we're pretty excited to get our hands on the final game when it ships this spring for the PSP. Look for more on Me and My Katamari in the coming months.