The franchising and subsequent beating into the ground of Katamari Damacy is sort of inexplicable, if you stop to think about it. For starters, it's kind of crazy that Namco Bandai was even able to turn this hyperactively Japanese game of world-consuming ball-rolling into something people would buy over and over again. Not because the original games weren't fun, but because, well, let's face it: this series is kinda bonkers. With its cubic art style and cheerful obliteration of the world around you, all at the whim of a gigantic, self-obsessed royal dandy, nothing about Katamari Damacy screams "mass audience appeal."
Maybe that's why Namco Bandai has been so reluctant to really futz with the formula in all the years since Keita Takahashi invented the thing. Year after year, we've gotten sequel after remake after compilation of new-ish levels, new-ish bonus stages, new-ish cutscenes, and new-ish craziness. It's all just variations on a singular theme. The art never really changes, the gameplay never really changes, and the characters never really change. In fact, short of the soundtrack and the layout of the usual objects to roll up, nothing really changes at all. It's like Namco is terrified that making even the slightest alterations to the formula will suddenly snap America awake to how completely ludicrous this thing they've been rebuying over and over again is, and the whole franchise will come to a deadly, screeching halt.
Touch My Katamari for the PlayStation Vita represents the biggest alteration to the Katamari formula in basically forever. It's the closest thing Namco has come to creating something significant within the already existing framework of what Katamari Damacy is. Within the scope of this series, it's practically earth-shattering. Are you ready for this? You might want to sit down...
You can use the rear touch screen to scrunch and flatten your Katamari.
Look, it's not that this isn't a useful idea. In fact, it's minor brilliance. Now all those nooks and crannies you couldn't otherwise access because they were too narrow or too low are easily accessible by quick swipes of your fingers across the back touch screen. It's functional, responsive, and makes the act of playing Touch My Katamari just a bit more fun.
Which is great, really, except for the part where you're doing it in levels that, while purportedly new, feel exactly like the same levels we've already played time and time and time and time and time again. Sure, some of the layouts are different, but the core conceit here is functionally unchanged. You'll start out in someone's house, rolling up tiny objects. You will grow bigger, rolling up larger stuff, then eventually people. Then houses. Then large pieces of landscape. Then skyscrapers. Then Godzillas. And so on and so forth.
It's not that the Katamari formula needs drastic change to be fun, but it could use a few tweaks to the formula to combat the generalized feeling of déjà vu one gets while playing Touch My Katamari. It's extremely telling that the eight or so main levels, which supposedly are new, feel just like every other Katamari level in existence. Even the bonus levels pretty much just riff on the same themes already used in previous sequels.
For some, perhaps that's quite enough. The mere act of rolling a Katamari book-ended by lengthy record-scratched monologues from the King of All Cosmos is enough to get you on board with yet another game in this series. If so, then Touch My Katamari is by all means something worth your while. Thanks to the additional analog stick on the Vita, the game controls as well, if not slightly better than its console counterparts. The art style is the same as ever, but the game runs well, only losing framerate toward the end of the game where you're rolling up giant swaths of scenery. Those sections do get quite chunky, but that's nothing new for this series.
Beyond the lack of newness, the only other major issue with Touch My Katamari is that there just isn't that much of it. With only a handful of levels and some leaderboards to play around with (along with a few of the usual dressing-up accouterments), you'll be done with Touch My Katamari in just a few hours. Sure, there are bonus items to hunt for in each stage, and those leaderboards are a fun enough way to show your friends how easily you've bested their biggest roll, but even if that doubles the amount of play time you'd get otherwise, that's still not very much content.
Most disappointing is the game's conclusion, which lacks the kind of all-encompassing, universe devouring qualities of some of the series' best entries, switching instead to a sort of Rainbow Road-esque fantasy land that just tosses a bunch of random giant things from the other games together into a technicolor slurry. The supreme irony of that conclusion is that it ties up the game's storyline--which plays as something of a meta-commentary on the series as a whole, with the King of All Cosmos suddenly slovenly, lazy, and in need of inspiration--with an all-too-knowing comment about how the King (perhaps standing in for Namco itself) will work hard for the fans and never be lazy again. That it does this in a game that, quite frankly, feels only slightly less lazy than the last half-dozen or so entries in the franchise is maybe just a tad ironic. Hopefully, it isn't an indicator of what's to come for all things Katamari.