If Namco is good at anything, it’s making sequels. Just look at the six games in the Tekken franchise (seven counting Death by Degrees), or the pile of games featuring Pac-Man. So when Katamari Damacy became a breakout hit in 2004 we expected a sequel, and a great one at that. Thankfully, Namco doesn’t disappoint fans with We Love Katamari, though they probably won’t win any converts.
There’s no mistaking this sequel. The disturbingly tight-fitting pants are back. Rainbows and bright pink pandas are liberally splashed throughout the intro. The King of all Cosmos is present, sitting in his throne, barely making sense, and constantly referring to a “we” that apparently includes himself and his chin. This time he didn’t go on a bender and destroy all the stars; he is the star, taking requests from his Earthly fans as he continues to populate the night sky.
If you’re familiar with the first Katamari, you’ll be able to dive right into this one. For those who aren’t, the concept is simple: you have a ball (the Katamari) that picks up small objects when it rolls over them, growing bigger which allows it to pick up larger objects. The idea is that if you pull enough crap together you can make a star, kind of like Mariah Carey’s career. With every stage set in a slice of Japanese life, think of it as Marble Madness meets Japanese culture.
Namco knew better than to screw with the good parts of Katamari Damacy, so the control layout relying simply on the dual analog sticks is still intact as well as the game’s cheeky sense of humor and flair for the bizarre. What they’ve added are more levels and entirely new goals, making We Love Katamari feel like a true improvement, not just a rushed update for the sake of sales. Fans will be even more delighted to hear that the soundtrack is just as trippy and uniquely Japanese, and includes a heap of all new, all original tracks.
Now that the King is taking requests, the object of the game is no longer simply to build the largest Katamari possible within a certain time. While some levels stick to the original formula, others have goals that could only come from the minds of the Katamari creators. One level eschews a time limit altogether as you roll up a head for a snowman. In another you help an undersize sumo wrestler by rolling him over food to make him bigger before his bout. The ability to go underwater is new, with one stage starting at the bottom of a pond where the increased drag of the water affects the Katamari’s physics and it can even be caught and reeled in by anglers.
The two player competitive mode returns, but the real News is two player cooperative play. It’s more fun and amusing than it sounds, especially with plenty of friends and beverages of choice. In co-op mode both players control the same Katamari, using the standard game controls but each only controlling half of the ball. Coordinating analog stick movements is harder than it sounds, and co-op games degenerate into wild shouting matches that might be even more fun for onlookers than for players.
The visual style of the first game has not been changed, for better or worse. If you like people and animals that look like they’re made of Lego blocks, you’ll be happy. The environments feel larger and are filled with more stuff — all of it interactive, of course — but this comes at a price. Every now and then a particularly busy scene will causes some slowdown and stuttering, something that seems odd considering how simple all of the objects look. While this is rare, it is noticeable and it’s unacceptable for a game so devoted to a unique visual style.
The audio, particularly the music, hasn’t been tampered with either, and as opposed to the graphics is flawless. The songs are all new and original, there are more of them than before, and they still capture that distinct Katamari feel. The tracks can now be selected or chosen at random, and there’s a jukebox if you just want to listen to a specific song — or annoy people with it. Ambient sounds have been bumped up a notch, with more talking, singing, screaming, and shouting from people and distinctive sounds when rolling up certain animals or objects.
We Love Katamari does have a few problems aside from the occasional slowdown. While the new goals and settings expand the game, there’s nothing conceptually new here. If you weren’t a fan of the first game this isn’t going to turn you into one, especially if the flamboyancy of Katamari Damacy was a turn-off. It’s also a very quick game to complete. In as little as five hours an experienced player can run through the whole thing, including the final “roll up the sun” stage. Of course, this doesn’t mean the game is over; the fun is in filling up the item rosters, searching for hidden items, and accomplishing secret time and size goals. But let’s face it, most gamers will rush through and consider the game done, then move on to the next Grand Theft Auto clone.
But Katamari Damacy wasn’t designed for the average gamer, and neither is We Love Katamari. It’s one of the best sequels to come down the pipe in a long time, leaving the good parts of the original well enough alone while adding just the right amount of new content to keep things fresh. This does come at a price; while part of the first game’s charm was the $20 price tag, We Love Katamari sells for $30. This is still a bargain any way you look at it. Start placing your bets, because this game is sure to be on many 2005 best-of lists.