By: Matthew Striplen
Want Katsuma Unleashed summed up in one simple math problem? Neopets + Super Mario = Katsuma Unleashed. While certainly not the most original concept I’ve seen, this game has its charms. You play as the eponymous Katsuma on a platforming quest to free the Moshis from the oppressive Dr. Strangeglove. Yes, you read that correctly. Despite the somewhat provocatively named villain, this game is sweet and innocent from start to finish.
The player has two methods to command Katsuma: the d-pad and circle pad. The programmers failed to take advantage of the circle pad’s analog capabilities and programmed it in the same fashion as the d-pad. In other words, the d-pad allows for only one speed while the circle pad could enable various speeds, but it doesn’t. A sprint function is available by pressing another button, which is extremely useful, but a slow function would be equally beneficial.
Several special abilities can be activated by using the touch screen. Reaching the touch screen is awkward and also renders Katsuma temporarily immobile because the player’s thumbs are away from the other buttons. Failing to choose a safe location to power up can easily spell death. Other than the speed omission and power-up awkwardness, the controls are intuitive and responsive.
At first glance, Katsuma Unleashed looks great. The colorful cartoonish style lends itself well to the children’s genre. Unfortunately, a problem immediately arose. Whenever the camera shifts, which happens almost constantly in platformers, the screen lags and blurs. This worsens when the player changes directions quickly and especially when 3D mode is engaged. If Katsuma moves at a steady pace, however, the effect is negated.
The soundtrack is lively and upbeat, making the atmosphere cheerful. The music remains comfortably in the background, not disturbing its surrounding. I know this is silly, but one of my favorite parts of the game is the little sound effects. The chime noise when collecting “Rox” is oddly satisfying, and the little grumbles uttered by enemies are undeniably goofy and cute.
Katsuma is essentially a Mario clone with a few tweaks. Most enemies can be defeated by jumping on them and coins have been replaced with Rox. The similarities continue on for a long while, but I’ll focus on what sets this game apart from Mario.
Power-ups are handled in a very different way. Instead of finding them in boxes, these powers are permanently earned by freeing Moshis after each boss. After a power has been obtained, the player is free to use it anytime, provided enough energy is available. Simply being in a powered-up state consumes energy and using said ability consumes even more. Energy can be reclaimed by eating cake slices (yum!) or simply turning off the mode. These powers allow players to access previously unavailable areas, which are very common throughout the game.
Each level contains four secrets to collect: a coin fragment and three imprisoned Moshis. Collecting Moshis adds them to the “Moshipedia.” Not all Moshis can be obtained in game, however, as Katsuma is connected to the massive online world of Moshi Monsters, a virtual pet simulator with many similarities to the famous Neopets franchise. By meeting specific goals, Katsuma will provide the player with an Internet code to unlock a Moshi. In order to obtain these special Moshis, an online account must first be created.
One of the best gameplay aspects of Katsuma are the long, in-depth levels. Most children’s games are painfully short, but not this one. If a player is searching for every secret, expect to sink at least 10 minutes into a single stage. Since each level is so huge, I expected lots of fun tidbits to be hidden deep within the game. Much to my disappointment, the formulaic levels were merely large in size, not in scope.
Katsuma is a very easy game. A hard mode is unlocked after beating the final boss, but the changes are minimal. I kept waiting for something challenging or intriguing to happen, but it never did. Each level followed the same formula: find the coin fragment, free the Moshis, collect as many Rox as possible and get from point A to point B unscathed. The collection mission is far from a new concept, but it can be taken in many different and challenging directions. Much to my disappointment, after all the power-ups have been collected, finding every secret requires only a little bit of exploration. I realize Katsuma is intended for kids, but a good game has something to offer everyone.
With its generic plot, I expected Katsuma to take me back to the days of when cute exteriors concealed hardcore platforming gameplay. Instead, anything that could be perceived as difficult was spoon fed to me. The secrets scattered through each level have tons of potential for innovative game design but instead fall under the generic category. If you’re looking to buy a game for a younger audience, forgo Katsuma and stick with the classics of the genre.