Review by guru_roodypoo

Reviewed: 11/12/04

Lead the pint-sized Prince on his journey to roll up garbage and restore the stars to the cosmos.. yeah, something like that.

To call Katamari Damacy quirky would be something of an understatement. Not only is it wildly different from any other game you've ever played, it's also charming, humourous, innovative, and distinctly Japanese. As you probably know by now, the premise of the game has you controlling the Prince as he uses his blob - the "katamari" of the game's title - to roll up whatever assortment of riff-raff he can muster up. Each stage gives you a time limit, of which you're tasked with rolling up a ball to a given size before the clock runs out. To be sure, the concept is a fairly simple one, but the sheer variety of items available for collection and the delightful atmosphere the game puts you in makes this one of the most engaging games you'll come across.

Even the most casual of gamers can jump right in and start rolling up a katamari. The blob is controlled by only the two analog sticks, and while this setup isn't the most intuitive, it ultimately proves to be very flexible and becomes second nature within the first hour of playing. Once settled in, the challenge of the game comes from picking up objects that help your katamari grow, all while experiencing the joy that comes with discovering new items. Starting with tiny objects like mah-jong tiles and erasers, you increase in size until you're able to collect tuna sushi and live mice, then cats and dogs, and eventually people. The expanding of your katamari and the accompanying scale-out effect are handled very well, giving you the impression that you're growing at a rapid pace.

All of this collecting comes in the context of a surreal yet innocent setting. The game's visuals won't tax the PS2's processor with high polygon counts, but they have a certain alluring quality that's at once cute and fascinating. Living things in the game, such as sheep, chicken, and people, look like they came out of a Lego box, which helps to distance rolling them up from what might otherwise be observed as a violent act. You will run into instances, however, where the camera gets stuck behind a wall and you're unable to see where you're going. While not frequent, this is still jarring and detracts from the overall experience. I should also make note that this is the only game to ever give me motion sickness - though I'm fine when playing FPS's, I came out noticeably queasy after one 90-minute session of playing. Though this won't happen to the vast majority of people, I should still leave that as a warning.

The game's best feature is easily its soundtrack, which contains a number of high-spirited, catchy tunes. Musical genres represented run the gamut from J-pop to lounge music to a children's choir, but everything is presented in an upbeat fashion, which further enhances the atmosphere. Though there isn't any spoken dialogue in the game, every item you collect makes a noise as you run it over, and these range from amusing to outright hilarious. Animals squeal, people scream, and cars honk as you add them to your blob, providing for some very entertaining moments.

A dedicated gamer could finish all of the game's levels in 5 or 6 hours, but there's a lot of replay value beyond that. Like many classic games from eras past, players are urged to go back and repeat levels to set a higher score, if only because there are many ways to go through any single level. The amount of items that you can add to your in-game collection is staggering, and there are bonuses once you finish the game, such as finding all of the Prince's oddly-shaped cousins throughout the stages. For the ambitious, there's enough content here to keep a gamer satisfied for weeks.

In a sea of derivative platformers, shooters, and beat-em-ups, Katamari Damacy is a unique gem of a game that stands out from the pack. Fun and laughter are the order of the day while playing this game, and all the while you will draw in non-gamers who happen to be watching. There aren't too many better deals today, in video games or elsewhere, for only $20.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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