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Being a newcomer to the world of Katamari, this game introduced me to a bizarre and unique experience that had me simultaneously spellbound and puzzled. The unnecessary time limits on the levels were a source of frustration for me and my son but together we managed to eke a few enjoyable hours rolling up Katamari's and embracing the full-on bizarreness of Katamari Forever.
I must confess to never having played a Katamari game before. In fact, the whole series has remained hidden from me until the game appeared on my doormat and I wondered what on earth a 'Katamari' was. It turns out that this game in particular is perhaps best suited to someone new to the world of Keita Takahashi's bizarre creation, as Katamari Forever is in many ways a greatest hits of the previous Katamari games.
Drawing on years of video game experience I can sum up my first few hours of the game in three simple words, 'What the Hell?'
That's when my son entered the equation and brought an element of competitiveness to my experience, turning our whole gaming session into something a bit more interesting.
Katamari is the most bizarre and unique mainstream game that I've played for a long time, and within the first few minutes I knew it could only have come from the mind of a Japanese developer. There's something so quirky, so odd and yet instantly charming about most Japanese games away from the Role-playing game genre and Katamari really seems to hang off the edge of the sanity cliff and dives gleefully into a sea of madness.
I think my reaction is down partly to the simplistic nature of the game - rolling a ball around so that it picks up various objects and eventually swells in size reminds me only of doing the same to a big ball of blu-tack when I was young. In that instance I only got a clip round the ear for getting cat-hair and biscuits crumbs caught up in it, but in Katamari you get rated on its size and what collection of oddities you've used to create it.
For the first few levels I was still amazed at this bizarre concept but I was also getting a little tired at the basic mechanics. Rolling a ball around a virtual arena can only last for so long before it gets a little boring. But that's when my son entered the equation and brought an element of competitiveness to my experience, turning our whole gaming session into something a bit more interesting.
We spent many hours on a single level playing over and over again to see who could get the highest score or biggest percentage of sweet food objects - or whatever bizarre detritus we could find to roll up. In this regard I found the sections starting to resemble a more puzzle-based design than just simply a stage to roll through as quickly as possible in order to progress.
My son especially enjoyed the retro sections with the pixilated art-style and chip-tune version of the classic themes that played alongside each level.
But once either of us played the game alone then the magic began to die off. The arbitrary time limit was a big problem and made the levels feel a lot more rushed than they needed to be. What stung even more was finding out that the free time mode was only available after completing the game. I think we would have got a lot more use out of it if this had been unlocked from the start and it remains a frustrating mystery as to why the game had to be so awkward about this.
Split into two distinct sections it was obvious that Robo King represented the new levels and the Sleeping King was a collection of the classic levels from the previous games. What I enjoyed most was how the visual style differed from the two and made each of the worlds unique and instantly recognisable.
My son especially enjoyed the retro sections with the pixilated art-style and chip-tune version of the classic themes that played alongside each level. What we didn't get quite so much were the cut-scenes in-between each level. There a certain quirkiness I love about Japanese design but these slightly alliterate animations were just a little too bizarre to make even the tiniest bit of sense - especially when dialogue is repeated so often.
But as a family experience, Katamari Forever for the PlayStation 3 was a huge hit when played together with my son. We spent many hours trying to out-roll each other's Katamari's and the integration of the PlayStation Network, with comparing Katamari sizes with our online friends, made the experience even richer.
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