Reviewed: April 18, 2006
Released: March 21, 2006
Katamari Damacy was the sleeper hit of 2005. Gamers who were seduced by the low price of the game and the sheer weirdness of its packaging were treated to one of the most unique game concepts in a long time. It was a game that, despite rampant psychedelic imagery and a peculiar Japanese sense of humor, managed to bring together an audience of all ages and backgrounds. I even bonded with my soon-to-be-brother-in-law over Katamari Damacy recently.
Katamari Damacy has already spawned a sequel on the PS2, entitled We Love Katamari, which, while not offering much new in the way of core gameplay, puts creative twists on the original to keep the content fresh and interesting (and get fans to shell out another $30). Coming off the rampant success of the first two Katamari games, Namco has released a new title in the franchise on the PSP.
Now fans that can’t get enough Katamari fun at home can take the game on the road. While Me and My Katamari adds nothing new to the Katamari formula, it does provide more opportunities for clutter-rolling joy.
Katamari Damacy roughly translates to “clump of souls” or “ghost ball,” but more likely the creators of the game just liked the fact that the words “Katamari” and “Damashii” look almost exactly the same in Japanese. The story to Katamari Damacy and its sequels is not very important; in fact, there’s not much of a story at all, just a pretext for inspired weirdness. One night, The King of All Cosmos gets sloppy drunk and knocks all the stars out of the sky, and in the first game, the Prince is forced to create new stars using whatever junk he can find lying around on Earth.
In the second game, We Love Katamari, the King of All Cosmos has attracted a large fan base, and the Prince is tasked with fulfilling the bizarre katamari-rolling fantasies of the King’s adoring faithful (for instance, one mission calls for you to roll as much food into a sumo wrestler as possible to knock a rival sumo out of the ring).
Me and My Katamari finds the King of All Cosmos, the Queen, and the Prince on vacation on a tropical island. While on the island, the Prince meets a number of different animals which want different kinds of islands. The Prince is beamed to various stages and put to work rolling up large islands. The gameplay of Me and My Katamari is almost completely identical to its predecessors.
You, as the Prince (or his cousins) roll a sticky sphere called a katamari around a stage filled with various items of all shapes and sizes. As you roll over items, you will pick them up, provided that your katamari is big enough. As you roll up more items, your katamari grows and you can roll up larger objects and move to new areas. You could start with buttons and coins and eventually grow to the point where you can roll up skyscrapers, islands, even clouds.
One might think that rolling up people and entire cities into a giant clump of garbage is a particularly cruel or rude thing to do, but the game keeps the mood light and cheerful throughout the apocalyptic madness. There’s something darkly amusing about hearing the shrieks of terror and surprise in the skyscrapers that you absorb while a wacky jazz number plays in the background and the King of All Cosmos pops in with inane comments, strange questions, or taunting. One could probably write an essay about the implications of Katamari Damacy, Akira, and Godzilla as rather post-modern treatments of disaster and Armageddon in post-war Japan, or one could just sit back and enjoy the wacky, entertaining, possibly drug-inspired madness of it all.
Instead of stars or planets, the Prince is rolling up islands, but the rules are exactly the same. You are given a certain amount of time to create a ball of a minimum diameter, with bonus points awarded for exceeding the requirement. If you do really well, you can revisit the stage in “eternal” mode, which allows you to see how large you can roll your katamari without any time limit. This time around, the game also tracks how many points you net on a 1-100 point scale, so that you have some idea how much you must improve to unlock eternal mode in a given stage.
Unfortunately, the stages do not offer much in the way of new ideas; unlike We Love Katamari, which had some creative stages, Me and My Katamari only has two types of stages: the classic “roll this large a ball in 5 minutes” type, and themed rolling stages where you are supposed to roll up certain types of objects. For the seasoned Katamari fan, Me and My Katamari offers the ability to take the game on road trips, and for the new player, Me and My Katamari will introduce the gameplay that made the series so popular in the first place.
The controls for Me and My Katamari take some getting used to. While the dual analog stick controls of the PS2 Katamari games felt natural and intuitive, the PSP compensates for the lack of a right analog stick by using the four action buttons. The result is not nearly as fluid as the PS2 games, and can be confusing for new players, but eventually one gets used to the new controls.
Me and My Katamari, like its prequels, is an excellent stress reliever and highly addictive escapist entertainment. Part of the fun of the PS2 iterations of the series, however, was that they were almost as much fun to watch, as they were to play. The PSP makes Me and My Katamari a much more solitary experience, but players who have friends who also have PSP’s and copies of the game can play competitively wireless matches up to four players.
Me and My Katamari looks really good on the PSP. The PS2 originals were never about fancy graphics in the first place; characters and objects look simple and blocky, which was probably a design choice to make the game run smoothly but is now part of the series’ unique style. The graphics look almost exactly the same in Me and My Katamari as they do in its PS2 counterparts. The game is very colorful and runs very smoothly with no noticeable slowdown or loading (other than the predetermined loading monologues that the King cleverly dishes out when your katamari reaches certain sizes).
One noticeable exception is that there is a fair amount of pop-up of objects – sometimes you cannot see what objects there are in a given area until you roll nearby, which can make planning a little trickier. This pop-up doesn’t happen too often, and seems to be most common when you start working on a massive scale of rolling up forests and skyscrapers. Considering the fact that the PSP doesn’t have the same graphical hardware as the PS2, Namco’s engineers did an excellent job at porting over the same look with very few trade-offs.
One of the Katamari Damacy series’ hallmarks is its quirky and infectious soundtrack. The PS2 games each had a host of upbeat songs with a “katamari” theme; most songs were jazz-inspired, but there were also pop and rock-infused tracks which were almost as much fun to listen to as the games were to play. In Me and My Katamari, almost all the music is recycled from earlier Katamari titles, but the songs still have the same ability to stick in your head long after you walk away from the PSP.
The other sound in Me and My Katamari comes mostly from rolling up various objects. From the jingle of coins to the otherworldly whistle of UFOs, everything in Me and My Katamari makes a sound as you pick it up. When you start rolling on a large scale, the shrieks of thousands of people makes an interesting and amusing contrast to the easy-listening jazz or children’s folk song that may be playing in the background.
Me and My Katamari sits at the low-end of the price scale for new PSP titles: $39.99. This makes it the most expensive Katamari game to date; the original Katamari Damacy was remarkable for its $20 introductory price, which allowed many people to make an easy impulse buy and get hooked. We Love Katamari sold for $30, which was still a bargain.
The cost-conscious gamer (and who isn’t?) may have to consider what they get for $40… on the one hand; there is nothing really new or fresh about Me and My Katamari. On the other, it does allow die-hard Katamari addicts to take their katamari-rolling habit on the road with them, and it’s one of those games that is easy to play for as short or as long a time as one might like.
The PSP has been out for a little over a year now, and Me and My Katamari is by far my favorite game for the system to date. Combine addictive gameplay with fun, colorful graphics and a wacky soundtrack and you have a recipe for a good time – even if it has all been done before.
Namco did an excellent job in making the game fun and playable despite the PSP’s disadvantages to the PS2, and any annoyance with the funky control system melts away once you allow yourself to relax and get rolled up in the game.