Katamari Damacy, a cult hit on the PlayStation 2, and has grown into a whole series of titles spanning the PS2, XBox360, PSP, and mobile phones. I Love Katamari has rolled its way onto the iPhone, looking to snatch up some new fans on Apple’s platform. Though the same great Katamari style is recognizable in this game, bad controls and performance problems kill most of the fun.
The King of All Cosmos is a clumsy fellow, prone to accidental star destruction, as well as some more mundane character flaws. However, since you’re playing the Prince of All Cosmos, he also happens to be your father, so you’ve got to deal with his foibles. Actually, you have to flat-out clean up after him; as his pint-sized lackey, he will send you to Earth to replace the parts of the cosmos he “misplaced.” The new heavenly bodies are made out of large balls of household and neighborhood objects, called “Katamari,” which you will collect by rolling them up into a big, sticky ball. Like making a snowman, your ball will accumulate material and gradually grow in size; you’ll generally start small, with paperclips and chewing gum, but you’ll soon be rolling up minivans and oak trees.
The world of I Love Katamari is populated by a lot of junk… pieces of sushi, caramel candies, compact cars, and other paraphernalia will become part of your rolling ball of garbage. The game’s graphics are impressive, with large numbers of onscreen objects, and a pleasing, minimalist aesthetic. Considering the number of objects on screen, we thought the game’s frame-rate, apart from a few occasional slow-downs, was decent. However, when your katamari makes a transition into a new size-class, a dissolve effect takes place, which brings the game to a juddering, psychedelic halt for up to five seconds. Unacceptable.
In the game’s Story Mode, you’ll be tasked with collecting something to suit the King’s whims (and they are certainly whimsical). The crazy things the King of the Cosmos says are nearly worth the price of admission, but we found him to be an overly demanding task master. Even on the game’s first level, getting the King’s object of desire can be a challenge for less skilled players. For a gentler introduction to the world of Katamari, you can try the Time Attack, Exact Size, or Eternal modes–race against the clock to make the biggest katamari possible, reach an exact size, or roll as long as you like, without a time limit. However, to progress to the game’s later levels, you must first beat the Story mode for the preceding stage.
Having the option to go straight to eternal time was exciting to us as veteran Katamarians, because in previous versions, having all the time you wanted meant that the sky was quite literally the limit in terms of how big your katamari could be. However, I Love Katamari on the iPhone doesn’t offer this level of growth. In other Katamari incarnations, you could start by picking up household objects, and grow to picking up pieces of the scenery. Instead, the game breaks this progression into several levels which don’t flow together, breaking somewhat the feeling of limitless possibility engendered in the previous games. This limitation is probably explained by the need to fit the game onto a smaller platform, but the absence of this logarithmic aspect does subtract from the overall experience, and definitely subtracts from the “Katamari-ness” of the title.
A problem that isn’t explained away, however, is the mess the developers have made of the game’s tilt controls. Rolling around the world of Katamari is pretty straightforward– except when it isn’t. As you tilt your iPhone/Touch to control the little prince, you might find yourself flipping the device nearly upside down to make the katamari move forward. Only after playing through nearly the entire game, and gnashing through a good set of teeth, did we find a small note on the game’s App Store page describing how to adjust the neutral point in the tilt controls. Apparently, the position of the device as the game begins sets this point, and tapping the katamari during gameplay resets it as well. This perhaps explains the times that the game became completely unhinged. We must have inadvertently reset the neutral point! Not only is hiding this very important control mystifying, its implementation is extremely prone to error. Further, as far as we know, there is no setting for control sensitivity– unless it’s hiding somewhere.
We were prepared to fall in love with Katamari all over again on the iPhone, but this title made it nearly impossible to do so. While it retains the charmingly eccentric flair of previous Katamari titles, with goofy music (including a J-Pop mashup of Sinatra’s “My Way” and the “Katamari Damacy” theme) and the irascible King of the Cosmos, it lacks the previous title’s feeling of scale. Namco needs to fix the control scheme, and make it more adjustable. Until these control issues are resolved, and the abysmal dissolve effect is improved, we advise that all but the most ardent Katamari lovers keep on rolling.