While I enjoy the big budget spectacle as much as anybody else, my true love comes in the form of weirdness and oddity. From The Adventures of Dizzy to Deadly Premonition, I have played and loved weird games, so when I saw 2015’s Tap My Katamari, an offshoot of the often quirky, always adorable Katamari Damacy series, on my phone’s app store, I figured that I could feel that same love of the weird while being out and about. I was wrong.
The premise of Tap my Katamari is, at its core, the same as the rest of the series: playing as The Prince, heir to the King of All Cosmos, the player must use their katamari ball to roll up objects of ever-increasing size, only to restart by turning the jumbled up clod of squirrels, pens, whales and people into another star in the night sky. As a clicker game, or more aptly named tapper game, it nails that premise start to finish, of that there is no denial. Tap your screen faster to roll your katamari faster, thus gathering more and more items to grow in size. It seems like a great fit for mobile platforms, especially since it hails from a franchise that is both visually attractive and immediately appealing. The problem then lies in what there is around that aforementioned core: far too little that it might as well be nothing.
Chewy Insides, Flaky Outsides
While the Katamari games of yesteryear had their style and charm, Tap My Katamari manages to convey only a glimmer of what made the previous games so enjoyable. The adorable little cousins return, each one riding a cloud and acting as the player’s off-line ball rollers for when they aren’t physically tapping on the screen. The King of All Cosmos’ head floats around waiting to be tapped so as to release a bounty of upgrade items on the player via glorious rainbow vomit, and there’s even some great music that plays as you furiously attack the screen with your fingertips. And then? Well no, there is no then. That’s it. Those are the nice parts of the game, and the rest lives on to remind you that what could have been a great mobile game is instead just another disappointment.
The smallest details in the original Katamari games are what Tap is missing, and it’s all of those details that make up the franchise’s charm and delight. While the console games had bespoke levels ranging from Mother Nature’s Memorial Zooquarium to Instituto Exactamundo, Tap’s entire playing field is composed a a katamari ball forever rolling in its Sisyphean torment against the static backdrop of a boring road. There is no sense of speed, no sense of wonder, no sense of scale with Tap My Katamari. The feeling of growing larger and picking up more wild and weird objects, like elephants, buildings, cities and islands, is completely lost in this mobile translation. Through its nature of being a passive clicker game, entire days will go by before being able to purchase the upgrades required to get to the next size, and by then, the joy of the growth is has been completely lost.
While time-gated progress is the crux of mobile games, it is the bane of a game of the Katamari name, a name that has built itself on being enjoyed in 5-10 minute bursts of exuberance, joy, and bombastic growth. Tap My Katamari has been built to be enjoyed in 5-10 days of back-burner idleness, boredom, and unchanging visuals. And yet, perhaps the worst offender of Tap My Katamari isn’t how much it strays away from its predecessors to come to mobile phones, but how it stays the same, notably, in its music.
Funky Flow, Gotta Go
The music of Tap My Katamari is great, not only in relation to that of other mobile games, but all games together, which makes it such a problem with how it is implemented into the game. Upon booting up Tap, one song is randomly chosen from its list of remixes and original work. Great if you’re only playing for two minutes in a secluded area where playing music from your phone would be okay, but if you’re standing in line at the grocer’s, sitting on a toilet at work, or waiting for a date to arrive at a restaurant, having Japanese jazz come out of your phone probably isn’t going make you the most likable person in the room.
The problem with the music is that it’s far too good for a mobile game, especially a game that is fundamentally built to be passive on your phone and looked at once, maybe twice a day. Even if one were to play the game on their couch at home, that great music that plays? It is only one song from its track listing, and it will play on repeat until you close the game all the way and boot it back up. Simply minimizing the game pauses the track so that you can hear it again and again. The music is great, but the nature of the game and the implementation of the music greatly detracts from the experience.
Tap My Katamari fails to live up to not only its namesake, but its entire potential as a mobile game. With a few interesting quirks strewn about, the disappointment isn’t simply that the it’s a boring clicker game, but a bad Katamari game. The possibilities of what could have been peek through the cracks and around the edges and because of that Tap My Katamari feels like a solid first draft, With a few refinements and changes in the design and implementations of the visual feel, it could have been a solid game, but as it is, I’m left with just the idea of what could have been. Every moment that I played Tap My Katamari had me jonesing for the merriment of the PS2 and PS3 games, but my phone’s katamari ball still seems to be chasing that dragon.