Review by midwinter
What Stars Are Made Of...
Katamari Damashii is a typically Japanese game. And by that I don't mean to infer that it features school girls. Actually for that matter there is also absolutely zero tentacle content and the mandatory giant robot action is mysteriously absent. There are no hard working maids, no panty flashes, no sailor suited defenders of the universe, nada. Heck, there isn't even a single fireball, be it a sho-ryu-ken or otherwise! That Katamari Damashii has forgone these tried and true staples of Japanese pop culture is irrelevant for its heritage runs far deeper than that. Rather than indulging in those trite over utilized stereotypes, what we have here is a level of weirdness that could only have been conceived by a pure bred Japanese. Ducks and giraffes will sing, the sky will fall and a tiny prince will roll it all up into a giant clump of junk so that it may be used to repopulate the heavens... oh dear, I think I'm getting a migraine. Players would do well not to look for meaning in such insanities. You won't find it anyway so you might as well just accept it for what it is and go with the flow. This is a Namco game after all, you can trust them right?! So off you go. Be sure to hold onto those warm safe memories of Tekken and Ridge Racer though, they will serve you well on this journey into the insane...
The sky is falling, the sky is falling!
Sooner or later even Chicken Little will get it right. If she had been screaming that the sky was falling at the exact same moment that the drunken King of the universe broke the stars, perhaps people may have thought that she was in fact a stand-up citizen after all. Alas though she did not have that luxury, and the great King Kosmo had found himself in quite a pickle. One of the benefits of being King however is that you don't necessarily need to clean up after yourself. That's what others are there for is it not? With that in mind who better to do the dirty work that his own son, Prince of Ouji. It's thusly charged with restoring the heavens that he is sent to Earth in order to find the stuff that stars are made of. Though modern science is likely to balk at this theory, it turns out that stars are little more than rolled up balls of junk. Bicycles, pencils, battery operated dancing monkeys and the occasional high school girl... anything and everything will suffice. So having learnt of this radically new outlook on life, the universe and everything, Prince of Ouji arrives on Earth with a tiny sticky ball in tow with which to get the job done. Of course the fact that the prince stands less than 1cm in height is totally irrelevant.
So how does a wee little prince carry out such a large responsibility? Viewed from a third person perspective, the prince must roll his aforementioned sticky ball over anything and everything that gets in his path thus increasing it's overall size. The more objects that get stuck to his ball, the bigger the clump gets. While the initial concept may seem simple at first, players are limited to exactly what can be attached and when by the size of the clump at the time of contact. As an example, a clump with a diameter of 50cms isn't going to have much luck sticking to and holding a bus, but it just so happens to be the perfect size for a collecting any number of little nick-knacks. Collect enough of those however and your clump will soon grow, enabling you to pick up bigger and far more interesting objects. Round and round this cycle will go as the ball of junk slowly begins to grow in size, eventually dwarfing everything around it. See that oil tanker far off over there in the distance? Why not pick that up too? Whereby your ball may have started life as a tiny speck in someone's backyard, the game won't be complete until you've literally rolled it across entire islands collecting buildings, towering skyscrapers and Godzilla sized monsters.
With the illumination of the universe at stake, players won't be able to dilly dally in their duties for too long. Each level places the strictest of time limits upon the player's actions, and should you fail to meet this deadline you'll find yourself unceremoniously dumped back at the start of the stage. Remember then, roll it hard and fast people! So that Katamari Damashii's action is kept as fresh as possible, Namco have added little variations to the objectives of certain levels. Though the standard quest has you simply growing your clump to a specific size, others may force players to collect as many of a certain type of object or as large an object as possible within the given time limit. In his infinite wisdom, King Kosmo has also scattered a number of hidden gifts around each level thereby giving extra-keen players something special to look for. Hats, shirts and belts for Prince of Ouji among other customizable garments round out the selection of gifts on offer and though they may not be much, they do go a long way in adding to the highly desirable replayabilty factor. After all, you're always better off with something than without it right?
Twinkle twinkle little star...
As strange as the game may sound initially, it actually makes for a wonderfully compulsive experience. The originality displayed by Namco in crafting Katamari Damashii truly defies belief. So much so that one must wonder what was put into their drinking water in order to dream up such an alien concept. That being said, the sense of satisfaction garnered in growing your clump to monstrous proportions is certainly first class. And the fact that it is also happens to be one of the most original game concepts in recent years is simply icing on the cake. No matter the size of his clump, Prince of Ouji controls incredibly well... once players have come to grips with the unusual control system that is. Confusing at first, Katamari Damashii's control set up would seem to be more at home in a full blown mech simulator than a quirky little title such as this. By using the 2 analogue sticks in tandem, Namco have given players near perfect control of their clump at the cost of a brief though intense learning curve. Within minutes however any player worth their weight in salt is sure to have the their clump rolling and spinning with the best of them.
Katamari Damashii's appeal isn't just limited to it excellent play mechanics either. To be sure, this is a game with an audio/visual style all of its very own. King Kosmo and Prince of Ouji stand as perhaps two of the most bizarrely designed heroes of all time. One a giant, the other a midget, their can shaped heads and outlandish fashions are sure to catch even the most apathetic of eyes. Even the between level cinemas that showcase the adventures of a Lego-esque Japanese family display a level of creativity and humor rarely seen in other similar low key productions. Though a few of the textures appear to be somewhat blocky at times, consideration must be given to the fact that the landscape is fully scalable. And what a landscape it is! As an adjective, the word ''huge'' barely seems adequate in describing exactly how awe-inspiring the world of Katamari Damashii can be. Virtually every corner of the map has been filled with 1001 different flavors of whacked out Japanese lunacy. From the tiny little crabs that circle strafe each other with water pistols to the young high school boys with foot long Regents, players will always find something new to chuckle over.
If anything stands ready to really hammer home Katamari Damashii's overt insanity then it going to be its outlandish soundtrack. So good is it that the infectious mix of eccentric easy listening sounds and groove setting mambos is sure to get your feet tapping within seconds of starting a new game. With a good variety of both styles and tracks to choose from, players will find that they perfectly compliment the unique gameplay much like a matured cheese compliments a fine wine. As their clump of junk collects new victims... eerrr star stuff, the sound effects begin to take on a life all of their very own. Pedestrians will flee in terror as cows moo their displeasure at being collected and cries of ''Oh my God!'' ring forth. With literally 100's of different items, people, animals and vehicles to collect and an accompanying sound effect for each, the cacophony of effects generated can become a tad overwhelming at times. Remember this though... as cute as it all may seem, those collected are destined to be transformed into a star. Which really is kind of a downer when you come to think about it...
As shiny and bright as Katamari Damashii may have sounded up until this point, there was always a single dark cloud hanging far off over the horizon. I've tried to avoid it until now, but finally here at the end of this review I am sadly out of time. It's then with a heavy heart that I must report that from beginning to end, Katamari Damashii is little more than 4 hours in length. This is not an under-exaggeration, nor is this the record time of someone who has sped their way through the game. It is however the sad and honest truth. Those 4 hours may have been tremendously enjoyable, but in the end 4 hours is still only 4 hours and that quite simply is just not good enough. While I can understand that there is a limited amount of things you can do with this concept, there should have been something else that Namco could have done to extend Katamari Damashii's lastability. Hunting gifts and collecting items for a gallery may be fun, but they are no substitute for additional challenges or extra levels. If you've got the money to burn then by all means, this is a game that comes highly recommenced. For those of us on a budget however... buyer beware.
* One of the most unique yet enjoyable gameplay experiences the PS2 has to offer
* Namco have provided a little variety to go with the standard roll and grow action
* The many great character designs bring Katamari Damashii to life
* Once players grow accustomed to the controls they will find even the biggest of junk balls easy to maneuver
* There's a great variety of different items to collect in your travels
* A single incredibly large environment makes for some fantastic exploring
* The soundtrack is an excellent mix of eccentric easy listening and addictive mambos
* The 2 player mode helps to improve the game's lastability
* The sight of a 600m rolled ball of junk is simply spectacular
* 3-4 hours, this game gives new meaning to the word short
* As much fun as it is, some players may be turned off by its uniquely Japanese nature
* The controls can be overly difficult to begin with
Rating: 3.5 - Good
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