I received We ♥ Katamari as a birthday present a few months ago. I have yet to regale you, my adoring audience, with tales of this game because I honestly wasn't sure if I could write my customary eight hundred words on the subject. Somehow this game manages to simultaneously be a simple video game targeted towards children and a game that defies all description. It's just plain weird. The entire game feels like an acid trip.
The basic premise of the game is simple. You roll a ball around, collecting objects scattered on the ground as you go, and the ball gradually gets bigger. The bigger the ball (or katamari as the game calls them), the bigger the objects you can pick up. Each mission has specific requirements, but the constant rule is the bigger the katamari the better.
It's the backstory and the characters that make this game so delightfully odd. The King of All Cosmos has sent his son, The Prince, to Earth to grant people's requests. Interestingly enough, once his son is dispatched the King loses almost all interest in completing any of the requests. However, his reluctance to pay attention is overcome quite easily by a few pretty words. In fact, one complementary adjective is all that is required. It makes you wonder how he found himself in charge of the Cosmos.
As if the wishy-washiness of the King of All cosmos wasn't enough, there's also the matter of his appearance. He, his wife, and his son all have heads shaped like cardboard tubes. In keeping with the cartoonish feel of the game, they are all garbed in bright colors and clashing patterns. The entire game looks like a jumble of basic shapes stuck together to form larger objects. The polygons are obvious everywhere and no attempt is made to disguise them. The game looks like it belongs on a previous generation console and yet the style works really well. As I said before, words fail. You have to see this game to believe it.
Anyway, the game starts with a simple tutorial. You almost exclusively use both of the analog sticks on the PS2 controller to guide The Prince. This takes some getting used to, especially when one is accustomed to using only one stick to control a character's direction; I still don't have the hang of it. You roll around and pick up the random objects lying on the ground, and one of The Prince's cousins to complete the tutorial. Throughout the game you can also roll up a large portion of the royal family. As you do so, the family members become playable characters and you can substitute them for The Prince. As far as I can tell switching characters does not affect gameplay, but I could be wrong.
The missions are as bizarre as the rest of the game. Some are straight forward time based mission – get your katamari to a certain size before time runs out. One of the first missions is cleaning up some boy's bedroom so his mother doesn't have to. This first mission led me to suspect that I'm not very good at this game or that I don't have the observational skills of an elementary school student. No matter how much crap I rolled up in a ball, this woman wasn't happy with me. It wasn't until my boyfriend took a turn at the game that I realized that the yard outside was also a playable area. Sigh…
In all honesty, I have no idea if I'm any good at this game or not. No matter what you do, it's impossible to earn any praise from the King. Even if your katamari is so big that you can roll up whole skyscrapers and Godzilla along with them, he's never satisfied. It's maddening. The developers do eventually show you why he's so stingy with praise. After successfully completing a mission you are rewarded with scenes from the King's past. They center mostly on his relationship with his father, the previous King of All Cosmos. The previous King was also stingy with praise. The result is that the King has daddy issues and he seems determined to pass them on to his son. I'm amazed that such themes are included in a game targeted at Japanese school children, but I've never fully understood Japanese culture. Sailor Moon still confuses the hell out of me.
All in all, I would recommend this game. It's good, clean (provided you ignore the acid trip aspects) fun. I'm not sure it's worth the fifty dollar price tag, though. After all, the gameplay is extremely repetitive. But it's certainly worth renting or picking up at a discount. It's not everyday that you can lay waste to a city and be rewarded for your efforts.
This columnist would love to hear your thoughts on her work. All glowing praise should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and all hate mail should be directed to the person who cancelled Firefly, exactly where it belongs.