- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 10, 2009

Here’s an abbreviated look at a video game for the entire family.

Katamari Forever (from Namco Bandai Games, reviewed for PlayStation 3, $49.99) — A bizarre puzzle world built on a junk collection has been reimagined into a high-definition compilation offering the definitive version of the popular franchise.

A katamari is a highly sticky ball that grows in size as it picks up nearly any object it rolls over. That’s the basis for the action that finds a player helping pint-size characters control orbs to make them larger.

After the King of All Cosmos bumps his head and loses his memory, as well as the color from parts of his kingdom, a prince and some of his courtly minions build a robot to help. The RoboKing freaks out and accidentally destroys all the stars in the cosmos.

The player must now work through more than 30 levels set inside rooms and outdoors and use katamari to build giant junk balls. He grabs items such as thumb tacks, chunks of cheese, hair pins, mah-jongg tiles, action figures, skyscrapers and planets to turn into stars and repopulate and recolor the Cosmos.

Sounds like a Sid and Marty Krofft production, but it’s pure Japanese game design down to customizing a collection of quirky characters, amassing and cataloging tons of junk, and a too-hip techno and orchestrated soundtrack pulling from every musical genre one could imagine.

Controls are handled via the PS3’s analog sticks. Move both forward to roll or to one side to turn and the Sixaxis motion controls even come into use when jumping the ball onto platforms (lift quickly, of course).

By the way, the kings are unforgiving as timed levels and size requirements for the junk ball must be met to move on. Fail and not only get a tongue lashing, but also get stuck in a minigame where smoldering magma rains down as the prince ducks.

In addition to some very cool levels, such as using the katamari to soak up water and roll over barren terrain in a Flower-esque mission or putting girth on a sumo wrestler, players get new powers such as rolling over the king’s heart to temporarily get a special sucking ability to capture a group of objects.

The developers include plenty of extra multimedia clutter to complement the mess players find scattered among the environments. Included are the episodic cartoon “Adventures of the Jumbo Brothers,” a music room to hear unlocked tracks and a chance to play levels in a fast mode (once beating the game) or go back to original designs from the PS2 days.

The game even monitors what has been found through an ambitious mini-encyclopedia that offers 13 collections of object types from food to stationery and science items. Names, sizes, a short text nugget and occasional sound clip accompany each. A small takoyaki, for example, is a hot food made from octopi or a red sock starts to stink if you wear it long enough.

The colorful graphics appear as if they were plucked from a manga/anime artist’s LSD trip. Cel-shaded items, pop-up book presentations, static watercolor illustrations, three-dimensional terrain and 2-D animation all combine in this mixed-media masterpiece.

There’s no online play, but an added cooperative and versus mode for players in the same room will get the entire family involved. For those who can get past any seizures induced by the eye-popping experience, Katamari Forever makes quite the addictive treat.

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