Review by GrandTheftPikmin

Reviewed: 10/11/04

Grand Theft EVERYTHING

I can feel the cosmos...
It’s rather daring for Namco to release such a quirky game to the US, a country whose developers make violent FPSes, tons of sports games, and crime simulators, rather than games where the main character rolls around a giant ball of assorted objects, people, and buildings. The concept of Katamari Damacy is that the King of All Cosmos gets piss-drunk one night and destroys all the stars in the Earth sky, as well as the moon. Oddly enough, the tides of the Earth aren’t affected at all by the sudden lack of gravitational pull from the moon. Just in case, the King of All Cosmos employs you, his rather petite son (the Prince of All Cosmos), to make stars and constellations. Rather than make stars out of… well, whatever stars are normally made of, he must take these special balls called Katamaris that manage to collect anything smaller than it. And by anything, I mean ANYTHING. Since you start out small, you start by collecting things like thumbtacks and pieces of candy. As you progressively get larger and larger, especially in the later levels, you collect televisions, seesaws, vehicles, and even large buildings. Basically, in the later levels you can pick up anything that isn’t the ground itself. Yes, even clouds.

How is this fun, you may ask (if you have the habit of asking aloud while reading reviews on the internet)? Well, the katamari isn’t the only thing that attracts things; this game grabs onto you and drags you in mercilessly. Collecting a variety of objects (while looking out for royal presents that the clumsy King dropped onto Earth) becomes massively addicting, constantly beckoning you to beat high scores and find every possible item that you can pick up. The variety of level design stops things from ever getting boring. Also, when you aren’t building stars, you’re recreating constellations by picking up specific items that the constellation represents. For example, Taurus requires you to collect bulls, Cancer desires crabs, Gemini needs twins, etc.

As an addition, you get the best soundtrack in recent memory. Although the ear-piercing techno on the 7th Star level (“Angel Gifts”) is unbearable, the rest of it is catchy and joyful. My personal favorite is the 4th Star level song, “Lonely Rolling Star”. Sure, I don’t understand a word of it, but it’s the catchiest song of 2004. Other notable songs: “Katamari Mambo” and “Que Sera Sera”, but the latter has nothing to do with the older American song. The variety between the songs is astounding, jumping from the orchestral theme song to simple love songs to catchy J-pop and even including some jazz and techno in the midst.

The control style of the game is perfectly done using the two analog sticks and the occasional shoulder button. It reads pretty complicated, but it’s incredibly easy to get used to. And anybody who’s played the Ape Escape games before should feel right at home.

A lot of people have complained about the length of the game because you could beat the game in about 5 hours. That is, if you simply rushed through without trying to get royal presents. And even after you beat the game, the replay value easily has you glued to the game, trying to beat high scores, get royal presents, and unlock extras. Amongst the extras are Eternal Stages where you get to play some specific levels without being bound by a time limit. You might think that will take the challenge or intensity out of the level, but it actually is a lot of fun to just try to pick up everything you can.

It's impressive how the US release bravely retains the game's quirky style. The charm of the King remains as insane and bizarre as it would be in the Japanese release. Also, as the story progresses, cutscenes are shown that follow a small family during the Prince’s quest. The family consists of a particularly clairvoyant girl who can sense the cosmos, a curious boy who notices that the stars are missing, and a rather unfazed mom. It doesn't take itself seriously at all, and it's an amusing addition.

The game isn’t perfect though. My major gripe is that even though it’s loads of fun to simply roll around places picking things up, it doesn’t do much else. The level design is successfully different and the constellation levels are a nice addition, but a little more variety would've helped. Also, the Two-Player mode feels like it was slapped on as an afterthought. Sure, a competition every now and then might be fun, but it feels incredibly lacking when compared to the singleplayer.

At a budget price of $20 and with the most original game concept of the year, Katamari Damacy certainly stands out from the average fighting games, FPSes and sport games. Even if the innovative idea doesn't get you, the addicting gameplay will. I can’t think of a reason not to get it. And if you ever get tired of saving the world, fighting badguys, or scoring touchdowns, then by all means, get this game.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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