Review by clarkisdark
Reviewed: 11/04/04 | Updated: 01/10/05
Let the good times roll
Leave it to the Japanese to think of something as zany as rolling a ball of garbage around. Rumor has it that this little gem wasn't even going to make it to the U.S. for fear it wouldn't be well-accepted. For $20, though, what game isn't well-accepted?! Katamari Damacy isn't going to be a contender for game of the year, but it's definitely one of the most innovative games ever made.
There hasn't been a game that looked this bleary and "cubey" since Cubivores on the Gamecube. Cube. Everything about the world of Katamari Damacy reminds me of those packages of cheap plastic toys you buy at the dollar store. From the people to the animals, all objects are modeled in as few polygons as possible. A slightly more realistic approach would have been really cool, but considering what the game engine has to do, I don't think that would have been technically possible. With thousands of little (and big) objects on the screen that can be picked up and moved by your katamari, that's mighty impressive. And the whole time, the framerate stays constant! What irks me, though, is the troublesome camera. You have no control over it (which is why I put it in this section). It often gets trapped behind walls and stays at a tilted angle so you can hardly see any of your surroundings.
Katamari Damacy features one of the zaniest game soundtracks ever made, on par with Vib Ribbon and Giftpia. It doesn't stick to any one genre, either. One level, you'll hear a digital chorus chanting "Wanda, Wanda." Next level, a lounge singer will be articulating his love. Oh yes, lyrics abound, both Japanese and English. The entire score is strikingly well-done and confoundedly catchy. It will leave you humming the main theme for days ever after. Sound effects, however, can get irritating. Every object makes a popping sound when picked up, and some objects continue to make a sound unique to them. Imagine picking up twenty telephones, all of which have to ring loudly.
The sole purpose of the game is to roll up stuff into one big ball of garbage, also called a katamari. You start out small, maybe the size of a rat, or even the size of a thumbtack. By rolling into objects slightly smaller than you, they will attach to your katamari, making it bigger. In time, your katamari grows and grows until it is grabbing ahold of everything imaginable: bicycles, cars, animals, people, buildings, fences, trees. You may even be able to uproot the very island the city was on! The list of grabbable objects is remarkable. Different objects affect your katamari in different ways, too. If you pick up a lamp post, it may stick out oblongly, causing your katamari to roll "with a limp." Only after collecting more garbage does this defect get covered up. It is such a simple premise, but so addictive and deviously pleasing.
Katamari Damacy consists of different levels that present you with time limits, size limits, or the mission to collect so many of one object. These levels only take place in one of three areas, though: house, city, and world. The house level is relatively small and not nearly as fun as tackling the bigger areas. Like I said, it is remarkably good fun to watch your katamari grow at exponential rates.
This is where Katamari Damacy ultimately fails. It is such a difficult game to control. I'm sure if you got good enough at it, you would really like the setup, but I was discontent with it throughout the whole game. You use both analog sticks to move the katamari. Pushing them forward moves forward. Turning requires pulling back on one of the sticks. It sounds simple, but it is surprisingly frustrating. It feels more like you're trying to control a tank than move a little ball around. A more intuitive control scheme could have really helped out. The katamari also moves ridiculously slow at times.
Katamari Damacy is loads of fun when your ball is small and also when the ball is really big. However, there's that moment when the katamari isn't big enough to pick up large objects, but is too big to fit down the street. What happens is, you get stuck on everything imaginable. Couple this with the difficult controls mentioned above and you will soon find yourself no longer loving this game. It's only a temporary withdrawal of love, though. Fortunately.
One day to see it all. The next day to tidy up. That's really all it takes. There are only about 15 levels in all, and some of these have very brief time limits. Katamari Damacy is a mind-bogglingly fun game, though, so I imagine you'll still have plenty of fun going back to the "eternal stages" and wreaking havoc. Again, though, there are only three actual areas, so it won't be long until you've seen everything and have no incentive to see it again. The included two-player mode sounded very promising, but it's nothing more than a slight diversion. Instead of pitting two players in a city and letting havoc ensue, you are confined to a small area with random objects floating around. It simply isn't very fun. You'd be better off taking turns at the one-player mode.
I was hoping Katamari Damacy would be the greatest video game ever created. It certainly has the potential. This is one of the wackiest and most innovative games I have seen in years. However, I cannot bring myself to give it any higher than a 7. Why? Mainly, the overall experience is too short-lived to last any longer than a weekend rental. That said, Katamari Damacy seems like it would be better suited as part of a bigger project. But it is an amazing, little ditty, and I highly recommend you play it just to experience the wonder of engulfing entire cities in one ball of mass.
+ Innovative and wacky
+ Amazing engine
+ Deviously pleasing
-- Aggravating control
Rating: 3.5 - Good
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