For a game that basically encourages you to turn it off, it’s highly addicting.
Full disclosure: I have been in love with the Katamari series since the original Katamari Dymacy on PS2. There hasn’t been a Katamari game yet that I haven’t purchased, though that isn’t to say they’ve all been as good as the original. The Katamari series has had a few duds, and it just so happens that most of them have fallen on mobile platforms. The first real attempt (ignoring a Japan only game developed for a specific model of phone) at the mobile gaming crowd, 2008’s I Love Katamari, featured aggravating motion controls and buggy gameplay. The second foray, Katamari Amore in 2011, attempted to fix the troublesome control scheme. However, it was crippled by a pay-to-play system that meant gamers were restricted to one two-minute level, with no real incentive to do anything else.
Five years later, the Katamari franchise returned with Tap My Katamari, a game that by all accounts should not work. It takes the signature aspect of the game, rolling an adhesive ball into various objects, and reduces it to simple taps anywhere on the screen. Levels are no longer brackets to the experience, but instead flow into each other without pause, ticking away at the upper left corner of the screen. The only playable character is The Prince, but to say you play as him is an overstatement, as you never actually assume any real control over his actions. In fact, most of your interaction with the game involves tapping, selecting a few options, and then turning off the app.
And yet, I’ve been playing it for a month now. Both it and Pokemon Go share the honor of being the only games on the ‘main’ screen of my iPhone.
Breaking it down to the core, Tap My Katamari encourages small, easily managed bouts of playing with no real way to ‘lose’ anything. The Katamari itself is always rolling forward, even when you are not tapping it. Coins, gathered from rolling up objects in its path, can be spent to increase the rolling speed and power of The Prince, as well as unlock a few fun abilities. Coins can also be spent to call for the aid of the Prince’s menagerie of cousins. These little helpers, when summoned, contribute an overall bonus to the rolling power of the Katamari, and can be individually leveled up to provide other bonuses as well. In fact, most of the game revolves around powering them up, then going about your day as they tirelessly churn out coins for you to return to collect.
It’s a simple structure, but where it shines is the execution. There is just something innately satisfying about completing a stage, and doing so over and over can easily result in a ‘just one more’ type of thought process. Combined with sugar-sweet colors and animations, and the whole thing becomes a fever dream of tapping and instant gratification. Nestled on top of the experience is the usual Katamari music, a mixture of jazzy lounge tunes and catchy pop, that serves as a finger tapping-background. There’s also a healthy dose of the standard Katamari ‘weird translation or strangely obtuse’ dialogue, though thankfully the ability descriptions and instructions are kept simple.
There are a few drawbacks to the overall game, but nothing to major. As with almost any mobile game in the last four years, there are plenty of options for micro transactions, but the game progresses naturally and easily without them. There are also occasional boosts that can be activated by watching a short commercial for another mobile app, but these are always optional. In fact, it’s totally possible to ignore the entirety of the paid portion of the game and just happily tap away.
Tap My Katamari isn’t a game that will win any awards for revolutionary gameplay or device-pushing visuals. However, in the realm of enjoyable time-wasting, it ranks very highly, working best in quick bursts of boredom. Add in the fact that micro transactions are never necessary and easily ignored, and you have the perfect example of how a fun, light mobile game should roll up.