Katamari Damacy Review
Katamari Damacy is far and away one of the strangest, most original games to come along in years.
Katamari Damacy is far and away one of the strangest, most original games to come along in years. The gameplay concept, the visual style, the soundtrack, even the backstory are all conceived and executed with such a unique flavor that, when presented as a whole, it's difficult not to be drawn in by all the weird little idiosyncrasies. It's not a complex game, nor is it especially challenging, or long. It is, however, unapologetically surreal, which can make it tough to look away from, and its toylike gameplay model makes for a surprisingly satisfying experience.
There have been many a puzzle game that has laid down a flimsy backstory for the sake of context, but none have had a flimsy concept as totally strange as Katamari Damacy. It seems that the King of All Cosmos, a colossal celestial being who is equal parts Hunter S. Thompson and the King of Spain, and who diligently speaks using the royal We, got a little "crazy" one night and woke up the next morning with a headache and the realization that he had lost all the stars. Now, the King of All Cosmos is a real think-outside-the-box kind of monarch, so he sends you, the Prince of All Cosmos (we can only assume this is his full name--the King only ever refers to him as Prince), to Earth to collect enough stuff to create a whole new set of stars by rolling up anything you can find into a big ball. Though the game takes a few liberties with the translation, the localization is really solid, and the writing for the King of All Cosmos is consistently weird and funny, and you definitely get a keen sense of him as a character.
While the King of All Cosmos is incomprehensibly large, the Prince is only a few inches high, and when you start the game, you are given a katamari (which roughly translates to "clump" in Japanese) not much bigger than yourself. You're ordered to roll it around the world, collecting anything you can to increase its size. Basically, you stick stuff to your katamari just by rolling over it, and almost everything in the world around you is fair game--the catch is that your katamari has to be big enough to take all these items on.
Using the analog sticks exclusively, you'll roll the katamari around with tanklike controls. Pushing both sticks up moves the katamari forward, pushing both sticks down moves it backward, and pushing one stick up and one stick down will cause it to turn. There are a few other tricks, such as moving both sticks up and down really fast to gain a quick boost, or pushing in on both sticks to hop on the other side of the katamari and quickly change directions--but this is basically all you'll need to know in order to control it. However, controlling it well is a more nuanced thing. The shapes of the things you collect will affect the overall shape of your katamari, thus affecting how it actually rolls. So, if you roll over a bunch of pencils or a ladder or some carrots, it can make your going a bit more challenging.
Most of the levels in Katamari Damacy are simple races against the clock--you have to make a katamari of a specific size before the clock runs out. However, there are certain constellations that require a katamari to be built out of specific stuff that corresponds to the shape of the constellation. For example, Pisces requires you to collect a number of fish, while you'll need to find the biggest bear that you can to create Ursa Major. As you progress, the scope of what you're rolling up gets bigger and bigger. The game starts you off inside a Japanese home, then moves you out into the yard, then into town, and it just keeps going from there.
Once you complete the final level, which takes the game's steadily increasing scale to a gratifying extreme, there are a few formal pieces that can keep you coming back. Many of the levels contain a royal present for the Prince, which, if collected, can be worn by the Prince. The presents include odd random bric-a-brac like scarves, headphones, and championship wrestling belts, though sadly, you can't adorn him with more than one of the gifts at a time. There is also a split-screen versus mode, where two players race against time and each other to build a bigger katamari. This mode isn't nearly as engaging as the single-player game because it takes place in the same small arena, effectively removing the grand sense of scale that makes the game so cool in the first place.