Katamari Damacy Review - The Next Level

Game Profile

System:
PlayStation 2
Release date:
September 21, 2004
Publisher:
Namco
Developer:
Namco
Players:
1 - 2
Genre:
Action
ESRB:
E

Katamari Damacy

The best $20 game you can own this season.

Review by Aaron Drewniak (Email)
October 6th 2004

When most fathers get a little tipsy, the worst that'll happen is adding a few more dents to the family car, but when the King of All Cosmos gets drunk, he ends up smashing all the stars out of the sky. Being the responsible parent that he is, he immediately charges his son with replacing them. However, there's a problem of the Prince being a bit on the puny side, to the point that a mouse is like a tiger to him. How can he possibly accomplish this impossible feat? Though the magic of the Katamari, of course.

The Katamari is simply a ball with the not so simple property of adhering to anything smaller than itself that it touches. Gathering up enough odd objects will turn it into a bigger and bigger ball, able to pick up larger and larger things. In the beginning, you might be collecting matchsticks and erasers, but eventually you'll move up to trees, people, and even entire land masses. Objects larger than the katamari can stop it from rolling, and even cause objects to fly off, reducing it back down to size. Animals, people, and autos are especially troublesome, since they can smash into the sphere, and send it careening off in odd and usually unwanted directions. You will mainly be required to reach a certain size within a time limit, set by the King of All Cosmos, who can't wait forever for his son to do his job.

The physics of this strange assignment have been fully realized, from the momentum of rolling downhill, to the struggle to shove the katamari over steps, to even the awkward handling when you pick up long objects like fences, which will cause it to hobble about like a peg-legged pirate on the deck of a rolling ship... one of the few objects not in the game. The visuals are bright and colorful, with many of the items looking like cartoonish versions of their real world counterparts, with everything from teddy bears, to vending machines, to giant octopi to roll over. The animals and people tend to be on the boxy side, likely due to the sheer amount of polygons this game has to deal with at any one time, but this also gives the game a unique feel, especially with the humorous cut-scenes involving one of these boxy families. There's also the various speeches of the croquet mallet head King of All Cosmos, which would feel right at home in a Monty Python skit.

The music deserves its own paragraph. Haunting, lovely, cute, funny... there are any number of positive adjectives that fit, but none really seem to convey the utter brilliance of these tunes that you'll be humming to yourself long after switching the game off. The sound test that allows you to play any of these songs is probably the greatest end of game reward in videogame history. Yes, they're really that good.

Sound effects have also been given great attention, from the squeak of the katamari as you roll it around, to the groan of the sumo wrestler when you add him to your ball. You can hear the sounds of any object you've already gathered by simply clicking on them in your item collection. You can also rotate the item at any angle, and read a short and often humorous description of the insane number of objects strewn throughout this game.

Speaking of extras, not only can collect every single item in the game, but you can also find the hidden presents the King of All Cosmos has negligently tossed into the levels, which the Prince can equip to give him a touch of style, or even a camera to take pictures with. Reach objectives quickly and you'll add shooting stars to your nighttime sky, while creating especially large katamari on certain levels will grant you eternals. Eternals remove the time limit, allowing you to roll about the three areas of the game at your leisure, with no objective needed to accomplish.

I normally loathe split screen multiplay, which leaves both players unable to see clearly enough to maneuver properly. Whether it's due to the nature of the game or a more skillful design sense, I never had that problem here, and was able to challenge friends to build a bigger katamari with ease, though honestly we spent more time smacking into each other and trying to stick them to our own ball to hear them squeal than actual item collecting. While not as fun as the single player game, it's definitely worth a try, especially with friends that normally aren't interested in videogames.

The downside to this strange and wondrous adventure? Well, the game is nearly as short as the Prince who stars in it. Even if the items are different for every objective, there are only three truly different stages, and it won't take you long to learn the ins and outs of each one. Determined players can reach the end credits in a single session, where a final special katamari awaits, but even casual players can finish it off in a long weekend. Sure, it's possible to go back to unlock extras and improve on the sizes of your stars, but there's no real incentive to do so. There are also camera issues when the katamari reaches a certain size, which makes the Tarus and Ursa Minor stages, where you have to avoid certain items, far more frustrating than they should be.

A number of games claim to be for everyone, but either they exclude non-gamers entirely or don't offer enough entertainment for the hardcore. Others aren't really appropriate for younger players, while children's games seem to insult the intelligence of adults and children alike. Katamari Damacy offer simple game mechanics and challenging gameplay set in a pastoral world that anyone can enjoy if they give it a chance. At $50 it would have been recommended, but at $20 it's really a must have for everyone.

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