Beautiful Katamari - hands-on

Katamari devs freely admit the series doesn't lend itself to online play, but that's not preventing them from devising a versus mode. There'll be 10 separate levels (though they prefer you call them "tasks") to play around in, bumping and bounding into your friend's katamari in hopes of whittling it down to a more manageable size. The developers suggested that only five of the 10 tasks will be online, however, so we'll have to see if that's really the case or if all 10 will make the leap to Xbox Live land.

As for cooperative play, it's still offline. We're not sure how to feel about that. On one hand, two players controlling the same katamari becomes extremely draining and confusing, but yelling at your friend through a headset to "stop pushing that way!" sounds kind of fun. It's also possible that between now and the game's release date the developers will discover a better way for co-op to work. There are 19 tasks overall in the offline game - we'd assume they're all co-op, but the word's not out yet.

The final tidbit on Beautiful's XBL content is its welcoming leaderboards. Gamers can share not only their stratosphere-breaking katamari sizes, but also their strangest concoctions. If you can make a clump of junk comprised of rats, bridges and monstrous lizards, you probably deserve some recognition.

Prince this, Prince that - what happened to all of his countless cousins that permeated the earlier games? Oh, they're back in full force. Eight brand new Prince-like buddies will be playable in Beautiful Katamari. And with any word of cousins must come word of new presents, the equippable goodies that make your Prince stand out from all the rest. Look for 15 new items for your head, face and body, the operative word being "look" - there's no sharing or trading items over Live. You can only show off your collection, not barter with pals.

Another seemingly useless yet undeniably charming addition is Princeland, a hub world where you choose your next course of action. From this multicolored planetoid you can interact with various items to start the game's different modes (approach a rocket for online play, for example) or just tool around and mess with your cousins. Prince is able to float around on a cloud and send rain blasting down on his relatives, but this of course does nothing. It's just funny, and that's it.

Ultimately, it's this simple, unfiltered fun that makes the Katamari games so endearing. The gameplay takes all of five minutes to explain yet players of all ages have spent countless hours trying to craft bigger and better katamari. It's a setup that's worked for three games now and there doesn't seem to be an overwhelming need to change things up - not that we wouldn't mind some crazy new way to view the franchise. Until that day, we'll gladly roll around with the little Prince in his glossy new next-gen universe.

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