The PlayStation Vita doesn’t arrive in North America and Europe for another two months, but we’re way too excited and impatient to wait that long. Thanks to the earlier Japanese launch, we've already got a system in office and we’re already diving into our most anticipated PS Vita games. Visit GamesRadar all this week for updated hands-on impressions with the full imported versions, but note that these may not be the final versions you play in February.
Slated for launch release in both the US and Europe, Touch My Katamari hopes to revitalize the somewhat stagnant series with a new "spin" (sorry!) on the Katamari formula.
What is it? The premise of all Katamari games is simple: roll around a round, sticky katamari to gather larger and larger items strewn about various colorful levels. The goal is always to make as large a spherical clump of random objects as you possibly can. Katamari's strength has always been deeply rooted in its stylish presentation, so it's something that you have to see or play for yourself to really understand the appeal.
What’s new in the PS Vita version? The two biggest additions in Touch My Katamari are the Vita touch controls and the ability to stretch and squish the katamari into oblong shapes using the back touchpad. Swipe your fingers outward on the back touchpad to stretch the katamari into a rolling-pin shape that enables you to pick up wider swaths of items at a time. Swipe your fingers toward the center of the back touchpad to squish the katamari into a tall wheel able to roll up ramps quickly and get into narrow gaps.
How do the PS Vita controls work? If you prefer, you can control the game entirely through touch controls by swiping your finger across the screen to send the katamari rolling in the direction you swipe. It works fine, but the dual analog sticks on Vita are still the best way to control your katamari, and they're a big step up from the single stick on PSP.
Regardless of if you decide to use the sticks or the touch screen controls though, you still need to use the back touchpad to stretch and squish the katamari, which felt somewhat unwieldy at first. Because we're not used to using a rear touchpad, we often had to pause our thumb movement to stretch, squeeze or reset the katamari (double tap the back to return to normal katamari shape), causing our katamari to grind to a halt for a precious split-second each time. Still, the levels we've played so far don't really require that you manipulate the katamari's shape, so if you want to play it as a traditional Katamari game you totally can.
The best parts so far: Touch My Katamari is very Japanese even by Katamari standards, and we're not just saying that because we're playing the import version. Aside from the intro story about the King of All Cosmos's fall from popularity, there's also a side story told in cutscenes about a videogame otaku struggling to focus on his studies and failing miserably. It's a typical tale, but it's told with such classic Katamari style that it's still ultra-charming. It's also good to see that Katamari isn't toning itself down in search of wider appeal – if anything, this is the most balls-out (ha ha) bizarre Katamari game yet.
The not-so great parts: If you're looking for something really different compared to previous Katamari games, this isn't it. That's either going to be a very good thing or a very bad thing depending on your perspective of the series. And while we found that squeezing and stretching the katamari was fun to experiment with in the first few levels, we stopped using this feature as much after awhile. The rolling-pin shape katamari does have a larger surface area to pick up more items, but it also rolls more slowly, which kind of negates the benefit a little bit. We also experienced occasional pop-in issues on some of the larger stages that made areas look empty until we rolled closer. Normally that wouldn't be a huge deal, but it sometimes made judging which area we should explore next difficult because we couldn't see what kind of items it contained from a distance.
Above: Playing through the first areas of the game
When can you play it for yourself? Touch My Katamari is a Vita launch title for both the US and Europe, so if you're planning on a day one purchase, you can start rolling your katamari right away.
Is it import-friendly? The acutal gameplay of Katamari is pretty easy to grasp for anyone who has played it before, but there is a fair amount of gameplay that involves reading, and we couldn't find an English option. We worked around it, but later levels that require rolling up specific things might prove difficult.