Katamari Damacy – Check out this wad!

I’ve seen this game on the shelf, and I’ve seen some articles on it.  I finally bought this game after seeing a report on it on G4. And I can give this game a review that has been the benchmark of games that are fun, engaging, and addictive:

My thumbs are sore. That hasn’t happened in a while.

The Prince rolling up anything and everything!Katamari Damacy (which loosely translates to “Clump of Souls”, but could best be described as “Clump of Stuff”) is thoroughly Japanese in character. To sum up the game, you are the tiny heir of the The King of All Cosmos, a giant-sized, lavishly dressed guy who inadvertently destroys the stars. He sends you to Earth to roll a ball that picks up anything it travels over. As the katamari rolls, it picks up more and more stuff, and grows larger and larger. When the time limit finishes, the King assesses your work, and the katamari is turned into a star (or stardust if not big enough) to replace the stars in the sky.

The one aspect of this game that I really enjoy is the sense of shifting scale. I recall an animated short called “Powers of Ten”, where a man relaxing in a park is designated as the baseline scale, or magnification x1, and the camera moves closer, eventually to microscopic and even atomic-sized structures. Then the camera moves away, above the man, out to space, and even further to a point where the Milky Way is just a smudgy dot. All the while a magnification is shown in the corner to give you a sense of scale. In “Katamari” the player starts at the 10cm level, and proceeds to grow throughout the course of the game. You start off collecting small objects around the house, growing to gather up objects around town, and ultimately gathering items from the world (houses, buildings, etc.). The game is almost shockingly low resolution. The items are blocky, with minimal texturing. But this works to the game’s cartoony style: even the people are blocky. The low-res style also allows the game to move seamlessly from the small scale to the large scale. The TV set that towered over you looks the same as the tiny object that your katamari rolls over later in the game. And as you reach the largest scale, even the land masses you rolled on become fodder for your expanding katamari without seeming to jar you out of the feel of the game.

As to its “Japanese” quality I mentioned, the dialogue and the items in the game are clearly from a Japanese viewpoint. You roll over items like sushi, kimonos, daikon radishes, and more. There are students in school outfits, sumo wrestlers, and “Jumboman”, who looks alot like good old “Ultraman” from my youth. As an American, I find this look into a different culture as entertaining as the simple, addictive gameplay.

The game gets replay value because its just that fun. But if that’s not enough, the game tracks each and every item you roll over (literally thousands), so you find yourself replaying levels not only to make your katamari as big as possible, but to find the labeled “rare” items in your collection. The game also has a 2 player head-to-head mode that lets players square off. Lastly, the music is maddingly catchy, in a range of styles from pop-styling to swing, all themed to extol the virtues of the katamari. The wife and I are constantly finding ourselves singing the tunes from the game, and we can’t believe we have them stuck in our heads!

This is a fun, non-violent game for kids and adults (if you consider a massive clump of stuff decimating the world “non-violent”: its good cartoony violence). If you like just strange, culturally unique atmosphere and simple gameplay that gets you coming back, pick up Katamari Damacy (and the upcoming sequel, “We Love Katamari”).

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