While the Katamari Damacy series may not have revolutionised the world of gaming, people who have played any of its incarnations no doubt have a soft spot for the franchise. Whether it's the awesome J-Pop, the catchy Katamari theme, the very concept of rolling a giant ball of stuff, or just the extremely masculine but possibly homosexual (although he does have wife and son, he may be in the closet) King of All Cosmos. After bursting onto the current-gen scene with Beautiful Katamari on the Xbox 360, the series is once again returning to its PlayStation roots with Katamari Forever hitting PS3s later this year.
The Katamari series began with the humble Katamari Damacy on PlayStation 2, a title which was released in NTSC territories but never in PAL. We began our love affair with big rolling things with the sequel, We Love Katamari. Since then, we've had variations on PSP and iPhone, which re-cycle levels while occasionally adding a few new ones. Katamari Forever is a kind of continuation of this trend, as its 30 levels are composed of both new and old stages. Some fans will groan at this, but at least they've created a reason for this re-tread of familiar territory with the game's plot.
The King of All Cosmos needs the Prince to bail him out. Again. This time, he's been stricken with amnesia, so the levels which are re-cycled from older games take place in the past, inside his memory. These levels are black and white, and are gradually re-coloured as the Prince rolls more and more. In the present, the King's been replaced by Robo King, who as you might expect goes on a rampage and destroys all the stars in the sky (again). It's up to you to roll up katamaris and replace them. He's also invented a new katamari that squirts water. This katamari has some interesting gameplay possibilities, as instead of simply sticking to objects and picking them up, as in previous games, it's used to spread water transform the scenery from faded and bland, to rejeuvinated and green. You only have a certain amount of water, however, which is lost as you roll, which means that you have to return to a lake or pond before you can continue.
The Prince also has access to a range of new moves. The Prince Hop allows him to jump to reach objects floating in the air, and is activated by either flicking your controller up (three cheers for shoed-in motion control), or pressing a shoulder button. Robo King's presence affects the gameplay further, in that his 'heart' or 'broken heart' can be found in the levels. Finding his heart will allow you to pick up objects a lot quicker than normal, while finding his broken heart allows you to suck in objects around you, letting you pick up larger objects that are within your range over a short period of time.
While Katamari Forever hasn't made the full leap into photo-realism that perhaps the series could benefit from (that is, if you wanted realistic destruction and mayhem as you crush cities and roll living people, but maybe that's just us), it retains the charming art style of the previous games and updates it into full high definition 1080p. As well as increasing the resolution, the game has a number of filters which you can activate, to make the graphics cel-shaded, appear to be made of coloured pencil, or even wood-grain. These appear to be nice little bonuses for fans, although we can't imagine playing the game for too long with, say, the wood-grain filter on.
Katamari Forever isn't exactly re-inventing the wheel, but at least it seems to be giving the players more variety in the format than, Beautiful Katamari did. With levels taking place in the King's deformed memory, and levels taking place in the future with a bizarre robotic version of the King, the game certainly promises to be as incomprehensible and loveably crazy as all of its past instalments. It remains to be seen whether the new gameplay additions are as fun and addictive as the simple rolling mechanic the series has been built on, and whether additions like SIXAXIS motion control will further the fun or only serve to frustrate further. We'd love to play Katamari Forever, and hopefully this latest game will give us good reason to.