Reviewed: October 4, 2004
Released: September 22, 2004
Do you want a quick, easy, and legit way to turn $20 into a possible small fortune…or at least double your money back? If so, pick up Katamari Damacy, a unique action/puzzle game for the PS2 that originated in Japan. You had better hurry, though, because it may not be around forever.
Quirky, Japanese-based games like Katamari Damacy that are lucky enough to see release in the US are usually produced in limited quantities, since their success isn’t exactly guaranteed over here. Even at $20, Katamari Damacy – which roughly translates into “clump of souls” – is not expected to land on many stores’ best-seller lists, due in part to limited exposure and availability. In fact, at the time of this writing, various reports around the Internet suggest American gamers have already had a difficult time securing a copy. Inevitably, Katamari Damacy will command some serious moola when the game’s purportedly limited supply runs dry and demand intensifies. Video game investors will want to keep a watchful eye on eBay.
But that’s enough about Katamari Damacy’s potential worth. The important question is, does it have any value as an actual game? Simply put, heck yeah! You wouldn’t expect a game that’s essentially about collecting “junk” and restoring order to the cosmos to be very fun, but it is…seriously. The gameplay is simple, energetic, and highly addictive, with whacked-out images and sounds that will leave you perplexed and teetering on the edge of insanity. Make an appointment now to see the shrink because this game will surely drive you bonkers – in a good way.
OK, here’s the situation: The colossal King of All Cosmos has inadvertently decimated all the stars, and now it’s up to his son, the prince, to deal with the catastrophe. This is where you come in. Playing as the nameless, pint-sized prince, your job is to amass a heap of objects on Earth using your katamari, a round sticky clump that can be rolled around the environment, collecting almost everything in its path. Inexplicably, the various things you gather, ranging from office supplies and toiletries to vehicles and buildings, will somehow be used to form new stars and constellations. Try not to put too much thought into it – this game is from Japan, after all.
The controls certainly don’t require major thought, as they consist primarily of the left and right analog sticks. In an unexpected twist, you use the analog sticks in concert to control movement. For instance, to have the prince roll the katamari forward, you move both analog sticks up; to move backward, you press both back, and so on.
Turning is a bit more complicated, since it involves tilting the sticks diagonally in the direction you want to turn. So, for example, if you want to turn left, you must press both sticks diagonally to the left.
Conversely, braking simply involves moving the sticks in the opposite direction you are traveling. A 180-degree turn is possible by clicking both analog sticks (i.e., the L3 and R3 buttons), which makes the prince jump over the katamari so he can begin rolling it in the opposite direction. Additionally, to fine-tune movement, you can circle the prince around the katamari by pushing one stick up and the other down. Finally, rapidly moving both sticks up and down in an alternating manner executes a dash. This move lets you quickly escape hairy situations and better traverse obstacles, like hills and steps.
There are other control functions besides those designated to the analog sticks. The shoulder buttons enable you to scope out the environment, while the face buttons serve mainly to trigger special actions. Regardless of whether or not the control system seems natural to you, rest assured the game immediately starts you off with a tutorial and gently eases you into play.
And you may need that time to get your bearings. Each stage plays out in one of three settings, and you’re tasked with building the katamari to the size set forth by the King of All Cosmos in the time allotted. (You know a game is engaging when even the lengthiest time limit seems like only a few short minutes.) Sometimes the king will instruct you to collect specific objects needed to rebuild a constellation. Things start simple, but you’ll eventually have to devise strategies to satisfy some of the king’s lofty demands. You must also contend with a finicky camera and occasionally sketchy collision detection, both of which can throw you off your game plan.
Growing the katamari is the bread and butter of the game, and it’s where the true fun lies. The environments are littered with a myriad of objects of various shapes and sizes. You must begin collecting small stuff first (like pieces of food and stationery) so you can later tackle the larger things. In fact, bumping the katamari into relatively large objects will cause pieces to break off it. And although the prince is impervious, animated elements, such as animals and automobiles, can be extreme nuisances. Also, gathering oddly shaped objects makes the katamari roll unevenly.
Chaos ensues once the katamari becomes supersized (the prince, however, remains a small fry). Only then can you pile on the really big stuff – like, say, an entire metropolis. Think Super Monkey Ball meets Godzilla and you’ll begin to get the picture. As the katamari enlarges, though, it becomes slower and more difficult to control. That being said, certain areas of the environments are only accessible when the katamari reaches a particular size. These areas tend to be laden with objects that will help you fulfill the king’s tasks, so building the katamari efficiently and fully exploring the environments are key ingredients to ensuring success.
Exploration is rewarding, too. Presents are hidden throughout the levels, and obtaining them unlocks special items, including accessories to adorn the prince and a camera to snap pictures. Moreover, you can replay any stage you have completed to attempt to build the katamari bigger than before and amass more stuff, thus adding additional scenery to the night skies. The game even records all the items you have collected, as well as the different sizes of the katamari.
Ultimately, if you don’t find the gameplay in Katamari Damacy the slightest bit appealing, it’s arguably time to hang up the controller.
Something Katamari Damacy doesn’t impress with is the latest in graphics technology. Instead, it grabs you with a captivating and wonderfully imaginative artistic style (even the menu screens ooze with style). The Japanese are known for creating some bizarre-looking games, but this one takes the cake – then proceeds to slam your face in it. Truly, the game’s offbeat visuals slap you upside the head with their utter zaniness. Look at the screenshots, for crying out loud: That’s a tiny thingamajig pushing around a giant blob of earthly matter! Things don’t get much zanier than that.
Oh, wait, yes they do. Did we mention the King of All Cosmos is a rather odd-looking fellow and about a zillion-feet tall? On top of that, humans and animals have a suitably goofy, blocky appearance. Furthermore, the vibrant and commodious environments, including a cozy house and bustling town, contain a plethora of peculiar sights. The cutscenes also warrant special mention because they are just plain outlandish.
From a strictly technical standpoint, Katamari Damacy’s graphics may not compare favorably with those of PS2 blockbusters, but they are perfectly competent, albeit clipping and camera issues occasionally spoil the mood. Since the game does not push a huge number of polygons or display highly detailed textures, the action is consistently fluid, even when the katamari reaches epic proportions and all hell breaks loose.
Character animation is nothing to write home about, but the physics system for the katamari is quite impressive. There are some cool special effects, too, including disorienting motion blur. Of course, the last thing the graphics need is to be any more disorienting.
Katamari Damacy’s sound deserves a perfect score for the eclectic and magnificently demented music alone. Much like the game itself, the music is total insanity, inducing a state of deliria while providing great motivation to reach the next stage. Just when you think you have heard it all, another catchy, bizarre tune tickles your eardrums with absurd beats, vocals, and rhythms. Soundtrack of the year? Perhaps. We can only hope some brave company will release the soundtrack in the US. Otherwise, fans of the music will have to make due with the sound-test option, which becomes available upon completing the game.
Rolling up mounds of stuff is made all the more satisfying by quirky sound effects. The prince and his katamari make silly little noises, as do many of the objects that fill the environments. Unique environmental sounds further flesh out the audio and give each area a special flavor. In terms of voice acting, there are few real voice-overs in the game, as the King of All Cosmos and his son do not utter any words, emitting sounds instead. As a result, you can expect to read a lot of text, but at least you’ll get a kick out of reading it.
If you’re craving humorous dialogue, Katamari Damacy has plenty. Nothing is more hysterical than when the mighty king berates the puny prince by pompously belittling his performance and poking fun at his short stature. Overall, the irreverent dialogue has undergone smooth localization, and it promises to elicit chuckles from most anyone.
On a final note, the entire audio presentation comes through loud and clear. Despite not being encoded in any of the current surround-sound formats, like Pro Logic II, the game sounds surprisingly good through a home-theater setup. Indeed, audio enthusiasts may end up double-checking the back of the game’s box for a Dolby logo.
Twenty bucks gets you a completely off-the-wall gaming experience, one that you’ll likely want to relive multiple times, particularly since it’s relatively brief. Even though Katamari Damacy doesn’t pack in a tremendous amount of challenge or replay, it remains strangely alluring and definitely gives you your money’s worth.
Once you finish the main story portion, there are incentives to revisit the levels and unlockable goodies (hooray for free play) to check out, along with a neat two-player mode that challenges players to see who can build the biggest clump. When all is said and done, Katamari Damacy is not a game you will be playing for months on end, but it will probably become a permanent fixture in your collection all the same.
If you like weird video games, few are weirder than Katamari Damacy, at least in the US. More than just a novelty, it’s outrageously entertaining. Best of all, the price is right. There are games retailing for $50 that lack the pure playability and excitement of this budget title. Treat yourself to some Japanese-flavored wackiness by nabbing a copy of Katamari Damacy immediately! You won’t regret it.