Touch My Katamari marks the second portable iteration of the series that started nearly eight years ago as a budget-priced slice of Japanese wackiness. It’s been held in high regard by fans due to its quirky humor, addictive music, and fun dual-stick ball-rolling gameplay. The goal of every entry has been largely the same - get a ball called a katamari as big as a stage requires and then move on, with some variations on what needs to either be put onto the ball or avoided.
It’s a formula that works well, even on the PSP when massive control sacrifices had to be made due to its lack of a second analog stick. However, nothing really new has been done to mix things up, leading to a sense of “been there, done that” for newer installments, along with a much higher price tag than the PS2 entries. Touch My Katamari keeps the latter, unfortunately, but does at least attempt to mix things up with the addition of changing the size of the katamari using either the front or back touch panels. You can either stretch it into a giant steamroller-esque thing to collect a lot of things over a wide area or squish it into a big wheel and go through tight spaces.
Theoretically, this is a great feature and one that can really change the core gameplay, but in execution, it winds up being something you can only really use a lot either after you’ve met a stage’s conditions or in extra playthroughs of a stage because it’s kind of awkward to touch either the front or back panels while trying to use both analog sticks. It’s a handy feature at the end of a stage when you’ve met the criteria and can then pick up a slew of extra items, but it’s rarely practical in most stages. It winds up being a bit of a gimmick, but one that doesn’t hurt the game and does add a little something to it.
The basic formula is intact, and it’s one that remains fun. The twin sticks allow it to control like a dream, and I’m glad they included the previously console-only jumping feature since it really added a new dimension to things. I still play every installment of the game every now and then because they’re pretty much endlessly replayable and at least on the consoles, gave you a lot of stages to play (with the PS3 version being a bit of an exception due to its reuse of older stages mixed in with new ones). However, Touch My Katamari features a paltry amount of stages - about a dozen total, and winds up feeling like it’s really lacking in content. The PSP incarnation had the same kind of feeling, but not to this degree.
Part of it might be due to that being the first attempt on a portable, doing the concept justice, throwing in the bonus 8-bit mini-game, and really delivering a very good, albeit scaled-down game. It‘s a half-decade later and the Vita is clearly capable of delivering a full version of the game, and yet this incarnation feels even more stripped-down. Part of that is due to the quirky sense of humor feeling off. The King says goofy things, but they feel more goofy for the sake of goofy than genuinely funny. There’s also an issue with the soundtrack, which features some of the series’ lesser music and some new stuff, but restricts the best stuff to the PlayStation Store, meaning that if you want to hear really good stuff, you have to pay. It’s worth noting that there’s also some free DLC on the horizon that will add some stages, but since they’re not available now, I can’t really count them as helping remedy the lack of content.
Visually, Touch My Katamari usually delivers the goods. It lacks the awesome graphic filters of the PS3 incarnation which let you make the world look like a black and white drawing, or gave it a cel shaded look, which freshened things up a bit, but not having it hear doesn’t hurt the game. The developers focused on delivering a smooth-playing game, and they definitely succeeded. The PSP incarnation was a technical marvel, but had some sacrifices - it had in-stage loading and quite a bit of slowdown, two things that this version thankfully lacks. However, it keeps things that have bugged me for a long time about the series, like the problematic camera and the King’s in-stage messages taking up a ton of on-screen real estate, which is a huge issue when you’ve got a tight time limit and 1/3 of the screen is covered up by words that you can only skip by trying to press a button while also trying to move both analog sticks perfectly. It’s not quite a game-breaker, but is incredibly annoying when it happens.
I’m torn by Touch My Katamari because I liked the game, I’m sure I’ll get a lot of use out of it in the future, and yet I still feel disappointed by it due to the lack of content, relatively poor music given the series’ usual high standard, and the comedy simply not being funny this time around. It gets the basic idea of a katamari game right and does deliver fun, but not as much as prior installments. I’d recommend it as a rental or a heavily-discounted purchase, but there’s no way I can recommend it as a full-priced purchase for anyone.
This review is based on a retail copy of Touch My Katamari purchased by the reviewer.