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Katamari Forever

The King of All Cosmos has amnesia. Despite all his power, getting hit by a passing meteor was enough to take him down. Now that he’s out of the picture, there’s no one left to manage the Cosmos. You’d think the Prince and the rest of the royal family would be able to step up, but it’s kind of hard to replace one of the most flamboyant and over-the-top characters in recent memory. Instead, they create the RoboKing, a giant mecha capable of doing everything the King could do…without the style, of course. The Prince must really hate his father if he thinks some hunk of metal could take his place. The RoboKing lives up to its predecessor’s legacy in only one way: destruction. His first act as the new ruler was to go berserk and wipe out the entire Cosmos. Planets, stars, constellations, everything. Not only is the true leader gone, but now his kingdom has been torn apart. All because the Prince thought he could replace the ruler of the universe with a robot.

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Regardless, you’ve got to help the Prince restore the Cosmos to its former glory. A daunting task, but he’s got a tried and true approach: the katamari. It’s a ball capable of sticking to and picking up any object smaller than itself. While it may be only able to nab little stuff like coins and thumbtacks initially, all of the nabbed objects add to the katamari’s size and weight. What begins as a small collection of trinkets will lead you to batteries, food, shoes, books, plants, small animals, furniture, people, and beyond. Eventually, the katamari will grow so big that you’ll start accidentally uproot trees, buildings, cities, mountains, countries, continent, even planets. Nothing is safe from your katamari’s firm grasp. But if you accidentally crash into too large of an obstacle, pieces of your makeshift structure will go flying and reduce the katamari’s size. Since the shape and size of the objects also alter the ball’s rolling physics, you’re going to have to spend as much time carefully guiding the katamari as you will picking stuff up. Roll up enough stuff in a given time limit, and the ball will be converted into a star to decorate the new Cosmos.

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It’s a simple concept, but it’s a lot harder than it sounds. Especially given the kinds of levels you’ve got deal with. Katamari Forever is a collection of the best stages from previous titles, with only a few brand new challenges thrown in for good measure. Some are straightforward, like getting the katamari to a certain size. The majority, however, are unique tests of your understanding of the mechanics and skills with the controls. Diehard fans will notice that nearly every unusual level from We Love Katamari – the bonfire, collecting fireflies, racing, and building snowman stages come to mind – are back in all their glory. The same goes for Beautiful Katamari; many of the areas will seem familiar, but with different layouts and items. Some levels might have you pick up items based on their monetary values, while another might force you to only nab hot items to increase the heat of your katamari. Ironically, it’s the revamped levels from the original Katamari Damacy that pose the most threat; with so few items and a relatively short time limit, you might have more trouble with them than with newer levels. It doesn’t really matter, though; even if you fail, there’s no penalty (aside from a morbid but entertaining mini-game) for retrying.

If you’re a seasoned Katamari veteran, the lack of new levels probably sounds disappointing. Rather than giving the fans anything really new, the game designers tried to make up for it by letting you play through the stages with improved controls and new features. While the analog stick controls have remained unchanged since the first title, Katamari Forever introduces the Prince Hop, which lets your katamari make small jumps. It can be useful when you’re trying to climb stairs or obstacles, but it seems pretty gimmicky at first glance; you have to thrust your controller downward, and the game doesn’t always register the command. Instead, you’ll end up just using one of the shoulder buttons to pull it off. If you’re struggling to get to a bigger size range, the new King’s Heart item speeds up the process; if you roll up the heart, it’ll suck in the rest of the nearby objects in the blink of an eye. But if your prefer something a little less broken, subsequent playthroughs will unlock gameplay modes with faster speeds, no time limits, or challenges without the new features. It’s a great way to keep people playing; not only do these unlockables give you the incentive to keep playing over and over, but it allows the fans to experience levels in new ways.

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Even if the levels aren’t exactly original, there’s still plenty of stuff to do on the side. Multiplayer and co-op challenges are always available, but not for online gameplay; that’s limited to just uploading high scores. Besides, you’ll have your hands full trying to complete the single-player mode. The obligatory game trophies are one thing, but the sheer amount of collectibles is mind-boggling. But you’re also rolling up a whole planet full of stuff, and the game catalogues every last one of them. You’ll be able to keep track of everything from the differently-colored chalk to the minor gods you’ve rolled up during your crusade. There are also a wide variety of presents you can collect; aside from a camera that lets you take in-game screenshots, these little pickups let you dress the Prince up with different outfits and accessories. But if you get sick of playing as the royal son, you can roll up one of his many cousins and switch avatars. That’s on top of the mini-games, cutscenes, and everything else this impressive array of features has to offer.

But if you’ve played any of the previous titles, chances are you’ll head straight for the soundtrack. The series is known for its music, and Katamari Forever goes out of its way to celebrate the most memorable tunes. Some of these remixes are really good; the English version of Everlasting Love, techno-style Sayonara Rolling Star, and revamped Houston tracks steal the show. Others are a bit more questionable, though. Katamari on the Swing has been redone a few times, and the fully-synthesized remix will garner as much hate as it will love. It’s a shame that the original versions of the songs weren’t included, though. As much of a nostalgia trip this game is, having the actual tracks would have made the experience perfect. Even if you haven’t played any of the previous games, it’s worth going through the entire playlist at least once; the soundtrack has a such a diverse lineup that you’re bound to find something you like.

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The same can be said for the style. The game boasts different graphical filters that let you alter the colors and textures of the levels. Tired of the normal, bland visuals? Switch it to Comic Book Mode to brighten things up. Or to Wood, to give it some artistic flair. It’s also worth noting that the game can run with high definition displays, even if the series has never been known for graphical details. Besides, nothing seems to save the gameplay from the occasional animation slowdown. You’ll probably be too stunned by the sheer size of the levels and the amount of pickups to notice, anyway. Every building, sidewalk, and landscape is littered with stuff. There’s nothing quite as funny as watching people try to escape and hearing them shriek in terror after you’ve captured them. It’s the sense of scale that makes the difference, though. You might start off on some seemingly endless field of color, only to realize that you’ve been rolling around on a table, which ends up being inside of a house that’s located in a bustling town, which leads to a larger city, the countryside, the world, and Cosmos beyond. By the time you’ve reached the final areas of the game, your katamari will have grown far beyond anything the previous games could muster.

That’s the point of Katamari Forever: revisiting what made the series awesome, and making it even better. It’s a combination of all the greatest and most challenging stages, spanning across all of the major titles. While there should have been more new content added, there are enough tweaks and new features to make older stages interesting. The inclusion of the Prince Hop and heart pickups add a bit of spice to the established gameplay formula, the additional modes add plenty of replay value. Same goes for all the collectibles, movies, mini-games, and other unlockables. The music is a mixed bag, though; they should have included the original tracks alongside the remixes, which would have offered a serious amount of nostalgia. At least the graphic filters make the game look cool, even if there are times when the animation slows to a crawl. But hey, don’t let that stop you. Katamari Forever has some of the best gameplay you’ll ever find in the series. So if you’ve never played any of the other games, give this a go. Katamari is on the roll again.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

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