You control the pint-sized Prince, whose dad, the massive King of All Cosmos, seems to have inadvertently blotted out every star in the night sky. Now, your old man is sending you on a mission to go down to Earth – a planet blessed with a lot of stuff – to gather that stuff into large sticky clumps called katamari. You start out small, picking up tiny everyday items like pushpins and matchsticks, but as your katamari grows in size, it can pick up larger objects – frogs and mice, crabs, dogs and cats, people, cows, cars, trees, and eventually even things like buildings and giant squids. At the beginning of each stage, you’re tasked to accumulate enough stuff to grow your katamari to a predetermined diameter, and once the timer runs out for that stage, your katamari is either launched into the sky to become a new star (don’t ask us about the astrophysics on this one, because this game’s universe throws the whole hydrogen-and-helium thing out the window), or the King of All Cosmos returns to chide you for your puny efforts and makes you start again. There’s also a split-screen battle mode where two players can not only build up their katamari, but hurl their katamari at each other; a katamari of sufficient size can engulf your opponent and his katamari too! (Namco, 2004)
Memories: I love Namco. When I go looking up my favorite classic arcade games of all time, they’re almost all by Namco. And some of them are so strange. I mean, think about Pac-Man on a purely conceptual level. Or Dig Dug. Or Phozon. Now apply the same attempt at a logical explanation to Katamari Damacy. (Good luck.) Give up? Even a generation later, Namco’s still turning out some great, offbeat, innovative, fun games.
One of this game’s many simultaneous strokes of genius and beauty is its sheer simplicity. The heart of the game is nothing more than an intuitive, easy-to-learn system involving both of the PS2‘s analog joysticks…and almost nothing else (the only other controls used are for non-mission-critical moves that mainly have to do with getting a different view of the playing field). No fancy action button combo moves requiring the fingerwork of a concert pianist. No hidden worlds or power-ups. It’s just down to you, your katamari, and your ability to steer it without damaging it. And did I mention a total lack of violence? Nobody fires a shot or throws a punch in this game. The closest thing to trauma-inducing that Katamari manages is the flailing of arms and legs as humans and animals are picked up in your katamari, and if that traumatizes you… well, you just need to drop the video games, back away slowly, and you’d better avoid the opening scene of Raiders Of The Lost Ark too, while you’re at it.
The graphics are amusingly cartoony and boxy, and they’re amazing in and of themselves. Whatever makes up the most recent “layer” of your katamari is quite clearly visible as you tumble it toward its target diameter. Animals trying to wiggle free, people waving their hands in panic, trees…the level of detail is impressive. The level of detail is also vital to the game – an object like a pencil or a ruler or a screwdriver can affect the balance of your katamari, and therefore its maneuverability. And despite some of the usual pitfalls that accompany a 3-D graphics engine, namely camera angles, very seldom do the game’s graphics actually get aggravating, or detract from the fun. You can easily regain control of the camera by repositioning the Prince, but this costs you game time needed to achieve your mission for that round. And that’s literally my only complaint with Katamari.
Katamari is an aural delight as well, with some cute sound effects, an effective collision warning, unmistakable time cues, and the voice of the King himself. The biggest treat, of course, is the game’s simply amazing soundtrack, which contains some of the best music ever made just for a video game, but I’ve already waxed rhapsodic about the soundtrack – available (and worth getting) as its own entity in theLogBook.com Store. The cheerful music, colorful graphics, bizarrely-worded directives from the King and simple (but not necessarily easy-to-beat) gameplay add up to what is, quite simply, one of the most entertaining family-friendly video games to come down the pike since Pac-Man itself.
Though it can’t be too different without affecting the basic game play, I look forward to seeing what the upcoming sequel, Minna Daisuki Katamari Damacy (“Everybody Loves Katamari Damacy,” almost certain to be retitled Katamari Damacy 2 in the western world) is like. The original game’s fun factor is so singularly infectious, the team behind both games will have a hard time topping it. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up, as it may well be the best game I’ve seen on the current generation of consoles.