If ever there was a title that defied explanation it is Namco’s Katamari Damacy. Where the vast majority of today’s console and PC titles can easily be classified by the traditional game genre definitions, Katamari Damacy is an entirely different experience than anything else that you may have played before. At its core, the game is a puzzle game, but one so unlike any other traditional puzzle game that it should compel both casual and hardcore gamers to lose themselves for countless hours in its depths. Perhaps the simplest means to define Katamari Damacy is the best. This title is the embodiment of what gaming should be – fun.
The game begins simply enough. You are the miniscule Prince of the Cosmos, and your father, the King of the Cosmos, has gone on somewhat of a mad bender and destroyed everything in the night sky. You heard that right, dad got wasted, broke things, and now he expects you to fix it all. Suddenly you are tasked to go to Earth and use the Katamari to rebuild the night sky, rolling up everything in sight to create stars, constellations and even the Moon. In fact, the game unfolds as simply as its beginning. New levels open as prior ones are completed, and you get the most curious, quirky and cryptic cut scenes before and after each level. Even when you finish all of the available levels you can revisit them to try to beat your personal records. In addition, there is a two-player mode where you can go head-to-head with someone else. Though the two-player mode is limited it is still enormous fun, especially when you roll up your competition.
At this point, you are probably wondering what I mean when I say that you ?roll something up’? Each level has a goal for the gamer to meet, which consists of either building a Katamari of a certain size or one with as many of a particular item as possible. To keep it interesting each goal has an associated time limit, and there are presents from the King to be found, which are hidden in each area as well. Using only the analog sticks (and very rarely L1 or R1), you move the Katamari around each level, and when you roll over something small enough then that particular item attaches to your ball of stuff. If an item is too large you will bounce off and run the risk of dislodging items that you have already collected. As you collect more and more items, your Katamari becomes larger and can therefore pick up subsequently larger items.
Though this sounds easy enough in theory there is a subtle layer of strategy that stems from the design of both objects and levels. As you collect objects the Katamari can take on odd shapes which will affect the way in which it rolls, and, depending on the Katamari’s size, there will be areas that will be inaccessible. The design of each level provides an additional layer of depth in that it can be easy to miss accessible areas due to elevation changes or various objects that may partially block the player’s view without actually impeding progress. What makes the straightforward gameplay so engrossing, however, is that you will rarely move through a particularly area the same way twice as there is such an extraordinary variety of objects at your disposal – all providing a multitude of options for completing the task at hand.
Graphically, Katamari Damacy shines in its own unique way as well. All elements of the game convey the title’s singular sense of style, something that many titles in the current console era lack. Eggs hatch as you grab them, people kick wildly and try to break free, and the King of the Cosmos even makes periodic appearances to comment about items you have collected. Even more impressive is the sense of scale within each level. When the Katamari is small, tables, people and other objects tower overhead. Giant objects like monsters, rainbows and buildings loom in the distance, apparently out of reach. The more you roll, the more you grow, and suddenly even giant objects feel within your Katamari’s grasp. Incredibly, there is also a sense of mass associated with every object that you can feel, especially when your rolling ball of destruction becomes extremely large. Equally amazing is that the game maintains collision detection for every object that you’ve pulled in, and if you rattle the Katamari around enough you can knock object after object off. At times, though, items sometimes lock together on screen, making it tough to dislodge the Katamari from larger objects that cannot be moved. Technically and aesthetically the graphics for Katamari Damacy are near perfect and serve to make the game a true joy to play.
For the audiophiles out there, Katamari Damacy proves to be a true aural gem. Both sound effects and background music are crafted to work in unison with the graphics and gameplay, and certainly impress upon the gamer the title’s sense of style. All living objects – and quite a few non-living ones as well – have associated sound effects. There are very few things in the game quite as satisfying as rolling toward a group of Policemen and having them break into hails of gunfire, only to hear their screams as they are sucked into the Katamari. The songs emanating from the game’s background lounge singers blend so seamlessly that you will find yourself humming along to the tunes without them ever overpowering or interfering with the sounds of the game itself.
Many of today’s game titles, regardless of budget, developer, or publisher, tend to feel as though they were built in a modular fashion. Rather than feeling built, Katamari Damacy presents itself as crafted, as though all of the design team members felt a deep personal attachment to the title. The end result for all their hard work is a title that breathes fresh life into the art of game design, and Namco should be commended for having the bravery to design and publish a title that deviates from the norm so wonderfully. Polished, undeniably fun and addictive, and available for only $20USD, Katamari Damacy is a title that no self-respecting gamer should be without.