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Katamari’ rolls into PSP gaming scene

Trevor Gass | Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Namco keeps the ball rolling with its latest release in the Katamari series; the outrageously outlandish yet enjoyably eccentric “Me and My Katamari.” Not only is the game a dashing display of the undeniable prowess the Japanese possess in the ways of proper English grammar, it is also a testament to their ability to create ridiculously wacky, dangerously addictive video games.

In a spring break blunder of preposterous proportions, the charismatic King of All Cosmos inadvertently creates a tsunami that washes out a number of nearby animal inhabited islands. It is now up to the young Prince to set things right by creating specialized katamari islands to fit each animal’s needs.

Though the “Katamari”series has gained popularity since the release of “Katamari Damacy”for the PlayStation 2 (PS2) in September of 2004, it is still quite a niche game. For those unfamiliar, the premise is simple as rolling a snowball into a snowman. But instead of snow, the player picks up everything and anything in sight.

As the mass of the katamari grows, it is able to consume larger and larger objects. During the initial stages, attractive items to collect include thumbtacks, pencils and bananas. However, during later levels, people, cars, buildings, ocean liners and even the Eiffel Tower are ready to be rolled up and await the King of All Cosmos’ island-creating Royal Puff. Think of it as combining the excitement of professional snowball rolling with the satisfaction of competitive rubber band ball assembling.

As opposed to earlier Katamari games where the sole goal was to turn a 10 centimeter katamari into a 10 meter katamari, “Me and My Katamari”adds different variables that need to be attended to. When a small worker ant requests a sweet-as-sugar island for its queen, the pint-sized prince is charged with the responsibility of creating a candied katamari packed with enough sweets to give a dentist nightmares. Points are awarded afterwards based on the relative happiness of the animal requesting the personalized playground.

Though the gameplay has not deviated too far from its predecessors, the control scheme has dramatically. The inescapable problems programmers propitiate when porting a platformer to the PlayStation Portable (PSP) is the handheld’s unfortunate lack of dual analogue controls. Gaining a basic understanding of the controls takes a couple rounds whereas complete mastery of the katamari art takes a considerably longer time.

The soundtrack offers little new material – simply a rehashed remix of tunes from previous katamari games. The pleasantly quirky melodies are interesting but nothing spectacular.

Graphically, “Me and My Katamari”is much like its PS2 counterparts. Objects and environments are intentionally blocky and unrefined. Even so, the PSP lacks proficient processing power to render all the objects on the screen, requiring periodic loading pauses during maps.

The replay for this game varies depending on the gamer. Hidden throughout the stages are the prince’s cousins (also playable characters) as well as a wardrobe of items that can be equipped to create a customized character. However, level design is one area where this latest katamari hurts. Layouts are repeated multiple times throughout the game, offering only minor changes dependent upon current gameplay progress. This setback can be combated by the fact that up to four friends can connect Ad-Hoc and race to grace by rolling the largest katamari.

Though lacking in some categories, Katamari is a solid game for fans on-the-go. However at the fearsome price of $40 (double that of the first Katamari game), the wary should first experiment with their neighbor’s copy for the PS2.