Review by doktorsquidd

Reviewed: 11/30/04

I want to marry Japan. Not a Japanese person, the actual country of Japan.

Okay, this is it, I'm really going to put my foot down here. If you hate Katamari Damacy, I hate you. There's no way around it. This is arguably the most original game of the year, and perhaps the most original game of this console generation. To dismiss it because "it's too Japanese" or "it's too cute" or "it's too short" or "it's too hard to find" would be to deny yourself the best thing Japan has done for human civilization in this century. I am dead serious. It's clever and fun and beautiful, and if you don't like it, you are stupid. I mean, you're entitled to your moronic opinion, but it's wrong. You can keep buying the same stupid football game every year, but if you pass up Katamari Damacy, you don't know what video games even are, man.

The gameplay is best described as a combination of Blast Corps and Super Monkey Ball and the atmosphere is one of sheer madness. Graphically, the world bears similarity to games such as Earthbound, Jet Grind Radio, Cho Aniki (yes, I said that) and even Grand Theft Auto. The audio is a work of sheer genius. And the kicker? It's only 20 bucks. You need this game.

The story is as follows: the King of the Cosmos had a long and drunken night during which he "accidentally" destroyed all the stars in the sky. As his son, you have to create new stars. How might one do that? By rolling around a sticky ball called a katamari (don't ask me what 'damacy' means, I've even looked it up) and making stuff stick to it. You can describe the game in one sentence. It won't make any sense until you play it, but if you're not salivating already let me explain further:

When you start out, you're only a few centimeters (don't blame me, the game uses the metric system) tall. By rolling the katamari into tiny things, like dice and thumbtacks, the katamari becomes larger and thus can pick up larger things. Before long, you'll be rolling around snack crackers and sushi and playing cards and dinner plates and dogs and fire hydrants and small children and trees and cars and buildings and ultimately, yes, entire continents. It never stops, it just keeps getting bigger. To see this happen in the game, and to actually control it, fills you with a sense of neverending joy, which is something I've felt lacking in the current generation of systems. You need this game.

The storyline itself is presented as a series of sparsely animated cutscenes with a 1950's aesthetic, which is nice. The voice acting is intentionally corny. When the King of the Cosmos speaks to you though, there's no voice acting, which is too bad because he's so charismatic I feel he needs it. I don't feel like this really detracts from the game at all, but I always rag on my Nintendo games for their lack of voice acting, so I'd be a hypocrite if I just let it slide.

GRAPHICS:
Amazing. It's subtle at first, and in screenshots the game is quite ugly, but you have to play the game to appreciate what they're doing. Most of the items are low-poly and the textures (gasp) don't have ANY sort of antialiasing or filtering. Imagine a PSOne game without all the perspective warping. The genius bit comes when you play the game. Start off small and work your way up. As you play, everything you touch sticks to your katamari as you roll it around. Everything. So by the end of the level, you'll actually be pushing around a wad of bridges, trees, park benches, people, thumbtacks, candy, and houses. Watching the game handle so much geometry and detail without a hiccup is truly a sight to behold. When you really get going, you can actually have well over a thousand objects stuck in your Katamari, and the game engine renders it without a hitch, so in the interest of fun I'd say the graphic style works really well.

SOUND:
OMG.

Okay, maybe I should say more than that. This review has to be so many words long, after all. The audio production values in this game are through the roof. I can't even pin this soundtrack into a genre, but I'll try for your benefit: Katamari Damacy's soundtrack is a masterpiece of breakbeat acapella IDM folk J-pop lounge music. No, see, that didn't help at all.

But really, I mean, it blows my mind. 20+ fully-orchestrated CD-quality tracks, WITH vocals, and it's some of the best music I've ever heard in a video game. Most of the tracks have a definite jazz/lounge influence, but the IDM/old-school video game vibe is extremely strong. At times it sounds like a mashup of different songs, and the main melody of Katamari is so catchy I'm actually humming it right now. It's so happy a rainbow will come out of your ass. It's beautiful.

Regarding the sound effects, they're less prominent, but still amusing. Everything you roll over makes some kind of a sound, and there are some really good ones. Humans scream when being assimilated into the katamari, cows moo, giant squid make squiddy noises, it's all quite wonderful and hilarious and keeps you in a good mood even when the game gets challenging.

PLAY CONTROL:
I'd dock points here if I were some kind of curmudgeonly old-school gamer who's been doing this for 16 years, and I mean, I am, but this game is so charming it melted my heart. My main complaint is that the game seems like it should control like Super Monkey Ball, but it doesn't.

You use both analog sticks in tandem to move the katamari. Push them both forward to go forward, pull them both to go back. If you want to turn, push up on one stick. If you need a quick turn, push up on one and down on the other. It's a bit unnecessarily complicated and it leaves no room for camera control. That was my chief complaint, because sometimes the camera will stick on you and you have no way to move it. But with practice, it makes more sense if you imagine yourself actually pushing the katamari. How would you do it? Imagine the analog sticks representing your hands on the katamari, and it makes a lot more sense. It actually feels like you're pushing a huge ball of stuff. Sometimes it's cumbersome, but logically, it's SUPPOSED to be. You wouldn't expect a 10cm katamari to handle like a 100m katamari, so it all makes sense in context. It WOULD be nice to have an analog camera feature, but for the sake of novelty, I think it's a reasonable sacrifice. I mean, any game that you can learn how to play in ten seconds is a winner in my book. It feels weird at first, but stick with it. It's worth it.

EXTRAS:
Thank the King of the Cosmos, you can unlock a sound test and there's also multiplayer fun to be had, as well as cute unlockable costume things and "Eternal Mode" which does away with the timer so you can finally make that thing as big as you damn well please.

Now we're on to the part of the review where I usually explain what (in my mind) the game should have done differently to receive a perfect 10, but this game is a perfect 10. If you get off on that sort of thing, I can nitpick it for you:

The controls are just fine, but the lack of analog camera control is occasionally irksome. Also, the game is maybe six hours long, but hell, that's longer than Contra, and that's a masterpiece. It's longer than Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, and that's a masterpiece. All complaints about the game's longevity are moot because a.)you can play it over and over again and it's always fun and b.)Namco is already working on a sequel.

Also, the game got an E rating from the ESRB, but the King of the Cosmos has a massive, massive bulge (hence the Cho Aniki reference I made in the second paragraph) that you get to stare at after every level. I mean, he's smuggling watermelons. Wrecking balls. Pumpkins. I mean, he's got an entire sausage FACTORY down there. You know how it looks like they gave Taki a bulge in Soul Calibur 2? Yeah, bigger than that. I mean, his junk is actually exponentially larger than your poor, inadequate character. What I'm trying to say is that you may find the King's enormous package to be inappropriate for your children.

And speaking of balls, hats off to Namco for having the balls to push this one onto US shores intact. Thank you a thousand times Namco, and thank you Japan for giving rise to a culture messed up to release such a beautiful game. Whoever decided to give it a domestic release deserves a promotion. I cannot stop lauding this game. It lives up to the hype. It is officially the Viewtiful Joe of 2004. That means, if you can find it, get it. It's like gamer street cred.

And at 20 bucks, hell, I can recommend it to anyone, even people who don't have a PS2. Even if you already own the other two consoles, it's worth getting a PS2 for. If you're old and culturally backward and southern and think that all video games are the devil, you need to give this game a try. If you're amish and aren't allowed to play video games, give up man, give up. It's over and Katamari Damacy wins. You cannot resist. Hell, if you own it, go find an extra copy and just buy it for a random person on the street. Or buy one to pass down to your grandchildren. Katamari Damacy is a game that truly deserves to be played by everybody.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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