The original Katamari Damacy in 2004 was so charming in its surrealistic simplicity that, five years and a handful of sequels later, the franchise has been able to subsist by coasting on its initial premise and not adding anything other than more levels and a colorful new box cover. Katamari Forever is the series’ latest entry, and it breaks with tradition by infusing some new elements into Katamari’s otherwise unchanged core: rolling up giant balls of earthly miscellany (“katamari”) for your father, the towering King Of All Cosmos, who repopulates the night sky with stars and planets made from what you’ve gathered to replace the originals he lost.
Forever’s premise hinges on one of the title’s new elements: the ability to jump. That might not sound revolutionary, but in the Prince’s Sisyphean task of rolling up junk like thumbtacks and coins, and eventually elephants and skyscrapers, leaping with your ever-growing katamari to different vantage points whenever you please is a welcome change of pace. Actually, this harmless hopping springs Forever’s story into action: The boastful king, seeing your mindless jumping, skyrockets into the stratosphere to outdo his son—but winds up with amnesia after a black star bumps him on the head. The Prince and his many cousins then build a robotic replacement, but RoboKing proves meek and useless after going on a rampage and accidentally destroying every planet and star.
It’s in that clichéd amnesiac main character that Forever puts a bold fork in the road of the game’s arc: You’ll be restoring the King’s memories by revisiting black-and-white versions of levels from previous games (which is sure to please everyone who doesn’t have backward compatibility on their PS3, or doesn’t own the previous Katamari games), when you aren’t restoring proper order to the sky for the apologetic RoboKing. That injects some rejuvenation and diversity into the otherwise familiar territory, for instance in the parched desert level that needs moistening from your rolling sprinkler-katamari. Many of the newer levels, it should be noted, have merciless time limits and are genuinely challenging—something Katamari has never been before.
Although half of Forever is a self-congratulatory trip down memory lane with remixed music, it’s doubtful Katamari disciples will take issue with that; it’s just frustrating to see a new entry in an originally bizarrely innovative series shy away from making too many changes. Forever takes a tiny half-step forward, but has its other foot self-consciously planted in the past.