Well the literal translation of Katamari Damacy is basically, ‘clump of souls’. But that’s not entirely helpful. We ♥ Katamari is actually the second game in the series, but marks the first time it’s been released in the UK. Sadly it seems that the game was deemed too obscure for Western tastes, because it doesn’t involve driving or shooting. Anyway, that’s for another debate. The main thing is, we can all play it now.
You play the Prince of all Cosmos, a diminutive little fellow whose mission is to replace all the stars and planets in the sky, because your father, the King of all Cosmos, seems to have, er lost them. You start with a sticky sphere called a Katamari, and you roll it around, collecting objects as you go. As the Katamari grows, you can collect larger and larger objects. When you’ve reached a target size for the round, your Katamaris are given to the King, who flings them into space to replace the missing cosmic matter.
Sounds bizarre? Well yes, it is. And in truth, you simply need to experience it. At which point you’ll probably fall in love with it. But in terms of gameplay mechanics, the best way to think of it is as a cross between Tetris, Super Monkey Ball, and a little bit of Ape Escape. Tetris, because as you roll your Katamari across larger and larger artefacts, you get that same compelling (and addictive) desire to tidy everything up. Super Monkey Ball, well, because you need to negotiate your sphere around a terrain with skill. Ape Escape, because you need to use both analogue sticks to move your Katamari around.
Every now and again, as your katamari expands, the camera zooms out to take in more of the spectacle, accompanied by a satisfying chime and a blurring effect. When you acquire a large wonky object, the rotation of the sphere becomes just awkward enough as to be believable, but is subtle enough to make the new acquisition as satisfying as possible. In fact, so memorable is the sensation of playing the game, that before long you’ll be out in the street fantasising about rolling the real world up.
Sound effects and the music in particular are as unique as the rest of the game. From the lavish orchestral bombast on the surreal cutscenes between stages, to the trippy jazz songs that you hear during play, Katamari doesn’t sound like any game you’ve played before.
Graphically, the game is certainly charming, but it’s deliberately lo-fi. Objects are overtly polygonal, never round, and rendered as simplistically as possible, with flat colour rather than detailed texture. But just like Shadow of the Colossus, it’s true unto itself, and in that sense is more ‘real’ than the latest attempt at realism in an Xbox 360 game, which can’t help but fall short, suspending belief.
You don’t only have to make your Katamari a certain size within a time limit, though. There’s more variety in the objectives in this sequel, and certainly in the themes. For instance, you might find yourself pushing round a flaming katamari so you can light a bonfire, or rolling up the witches’ house made of sweets for Hansel and Gretel (and the witch, naturally). One stage sees you rolling a sumo wrestler around, collecting food for him so he can grow, and therefore dishearten his next opponent. With another surreal twist for this sequel, missions come in the form of requests from earthlings who are fans of the original game. They ask you to perform a certain katamari-related task for them, and after a quick consultation with the King, away you roll.
Multiplayer Vs mode is a huge amount of fun. It reminded me of the first time I played Micro Machines with friends in fact, perhaps partly because you start out at such a small scale, dwarfed by everyday household objects. Saying that, this area of the game could still be better. It doesn’t lend itself particularly well to quick play, and it seems the opportunity for a plethora of quick customisation options has been missed.
Co-operative mode is an acquired taste, but simply must be tried. Both players have to push the katamari in the same direction to achieve motion. It’ll probably bring as many people closer together as it’ll tear others apart, but the charming aesthetics and satisfaction felt upon their success help keep the toys in the pram.
Still not excited by the prospect? Well, then you probably won’t ever be. But for those of you that are intrigued, you simply must experience this unique title for yourself. Anyway, enough talk, there are still some gaps in the cosmos’