You can't really pigeonhole Beautiful Katamari. Despite being the fourth game in the series, rolling things up on an increasingly large sticky ball still hasn't got old. You can't help but get a little excited when you finally roll up a ball big enough to pick up people or, later on, houses. It's completely crazy and makes little to no sense, but is ridiculously good fun. The problem with Beautiful Katamari on Xbox 360 is, quite simply, that it's not as good as the first two games released for the PlayStation 2.
Things take a slight turn for the worst as soon as you begin, with the ever-present King of all Cosmos coming across as a little desperate for a laugh, rather than the witty guy he's been in the previous games. It's as if he's being wacky for the sake of it and after a while you'll feel like skipping over his remarks completely. Considering his comments before and after levels were among the most entertaining parts of the original games, it's a real shame that he's lost his way.
Anyone familiar with the gameplay of the previous games won't have any trouble getting started here. As before, you use the two analogue sticks to roll your ball around the level. Newcomers may find things a little clunky at first (push both forward to move forward, one at a time to turn, both to the side to side-step, etc) but it's not nearly as complicated as it may at first appear. More troublesome will be the camera, which just can't stay out of trouble, constantly getting stuck behind objects - something that the game simply can't cope with.
It's the tasks within the levels that let the game down the most. Whereas the previous games have excelled in being incredibly simple, Beautiful Katamari messes with the formula a little. The King decides he wants Katamaris made of a certain type of object, so instead of just making a ball of a certain size it'll need to be formed of mainly drinks or enough hot objects to reach a certain temperature - rolling over cold items like snowmen or cool boxes reduces your heat. With the added objectives the game quickly loses some of its appeal.
Anyone expecting a lengthy game will be disappointed by Beautiful Katamari's woefully short campaign, but there is plenty of replayability to each of the levels. On your first few runs you'll probably get nowhere near the size of Katamari that you're capable of and there are plenty of unlockable items to earn. There's an added incentive to go for large Katamaris thanks to the online leaderboards and you can also play cooperatively or against another player - although only versus mode is available over Xbox LIVE. Quite questionably, considering the small number of levels on offer, numerous new levels are to be made available through the Xbox LIVE Marketplace - we can't help but think they should have been on the disc to begin with.
On the Xbox 360 you might be expecting a more graphically rich title, but sadly what we've got is little more than a high resolution PlayStation 2 game. Part of the previous series' charm comes from the blocky visuals and that has been retained, but there's little extra detail in the environments and the frame rate inexplicably starts to chug fairly frequently. The audio features a number of reworked tunes from previous games and in general it's in keeping with the series. There are times, though, when the music doesn't seem to fit with what you're doing, which is strange for a series that usually excels in this area.
Beautiful Katamari is a fun little game, but it's a long way short of the game the Xbox 360 deserved. Whether the King of all Cosmos is getting a little old or the designers have just lost their way slightly, this latest Katamari game lacks the quirky humour of previous games, favouring more obvious quips, and in turn the whole game feels a little forced. Newcomers will likely find everything a little bizarre and wonder what all the fuss was about while fans will wonder why this next-gen debut pales in comparison to previous entries in the series.