Thursday, August 6, 2009

Preview: Katamari Forever

Taking the odd trip to the Japanese PlayStation Store almost always yields a cool little treasure that you can't find anywhere else. This time I scored the Japanese demo for Katamari Forever, which doesn't come out here until September 22.

Since it's entirely in Japanese, the language barrier only adds another level of insanity to the already crazy Katamari series. I have no idea what was going on in the dialogue and most of the menu options seemed to want to just kick me out to the start screen, but it's still completely playable for a non-Japanese speaker.

There are two levels in the demo, one of which has you rolling around in somebody's super messy house, and the other tasks you with watering sandy ground to grow plants. You can't really go wrong with the first level since it plays it so safe, but the second level just doesn't have the same spark. Growing plants is a cool idea, but ultimately you're just rolling around on flat ground, not collecting anything, so it just isn't as interesting.

It plays as you'd expect a Katamari game to, so it's kind of wacky, kind of clunky, and kind of unwieldy, but they did add a jump button that helps to make navigating the environments a little less awkward. Ultimately though, it feels to me like every other game in the series has: like it still needs some tweaking.

I always expected that when the Katamari games finally hit HD consoles, they'd go completely bananas with the environments and have buildings singing and bouncing with the music, cars getting up and dancing with top hats and canes, etc. Alas, they seem content to design PS2 environments for HD, which do look really good for what they are, but I can't help imagining what could be.

The soundtracks are always totally amazing, and it's sounding like this one will be no different. The music for the watering level isn't particularly memorable, with a mellow drum beat and funky guitar that fades into the background and sounds more like it was designed for a '70s porn flick than for a Katamari game. The messy house level fares much better with a jaunty saxophone and trumpet melody punctuated by catchy vocals that yell things like "MAMBO!" and "MERENGUE!"

My favorite part of the Katamari games has been finding some side area that I hadn't noticed previously and discovering whatever madness was hiding there, like accidentally rolling up God in We Love Katamari. The levels in the Katamari Forever demo seem a little more straightforward, but still have a pinch of magic.

Based on this demo, I have to hope that Katamari Forever doesn't turn out to be full price, and it really should just be a PSN download. It isn't as ambitious as I would've liked, never exceeding my expectations, so hopefully the full game will take more chances.

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