Review by DJ cream

Reviewed: 06/06/05

A little something that no one has ever seen before.

Japan is a unique place, is it not? It seems like the American culture and the Japanese culture are very different. At one point, Katamari Damacy was a very obscured Japanese title that every gaming magazine raved about as they explain that this very game will most likely stay in the land of the raising sun. As the word spread and popularity grew both in Japan and in the hearts of hardcore American gamers, it was only a matter of time before this “Only in Japan” game would be released in the states.

Katamari Damacy is filled to capacity with Japanese influence that Americans would find either an overwhelming experience or as a breath of fresh, new air. In a way, it accomplished both. As the catchy j-pop beat of “Katamari on the Rocks” plays in the background of the spontaneously random intro animation, I sense a tremendous, yet unexplainable Japanese force just toppled me over. The raw sense of the red sun rising behind Mount Fuji just told me, “Welcome to Japan, compliments of Namco! Arigato!”

Upon playing after receiving a swift kick to the face by the Japanese culture, I fully understood another reason why Namco hesitated to import this game across the Pacific Ocean: rolling things up with a sticky ball sounds dumb. With the level of use of both analog sticks, unseen outside Ape Escape, controlling this ball sets a great challenge at first but over time can become second nature.

At first I found this concept of rolling a ball and collecting stuff sounded like trash on paper; however once I rolled up a mouse in excitement, it occurred to me that I am enjoying this game. I’ve yelled in excitement over some stupid things before (Wario Ware) but nothing can compare to the amount of glee on my face once I rolled up a rainbow. The objective may be dumb but it’s addictive beyond belief after a trial or two.

Have you looked into the sky and saw no stars, constellations and even the moon? Then one of two things happened: It was a very cloudy night or the King of Cosmos accidentally destroyed them. In Katamari Damacy, the great King of Cosmos did destroy all of the stars and bestowed the responsibility on the pint-sized Prince (you) to restore the universe to its original state. So the Prince is transported to Earth with a ball called a katamari to collect various objects to be transformed into the many stars in the sky and eventually the moon! With a game already far-fetched as it already established itself to be, any story could of made as much sense as this one.

The exotic locales offer fun places to venture to. Poland, Philippines, Spain, and even Russia, does that sound like fun? In Katamari Damacy, the King sends the Prince to these hot locales to gather as many things each area has to donate. However, in the game there are a few flaws I’ve noticed with this.

For instance, in the second level set in the Philippines, the Prince is transported in a house and told to collect items within it. As I rummaged around, I picked up a few chopsticks, pencils, mice, a few yen and a memory card to name a few. For those who have yet to travel to the Philippines, I know for a fact their currency is not the yen, but the Filippino peso.

The second flaw is not as detailed as the last. It’s centered on the layout of every chapter. It seems like every country will have either a guy sleeping next to a kokatsu, a Japanese heated table, or a small town next to a beach and a forest. I have a problem how each stage layout seems repeated. Honestly, I would enjoy a place more if it incorporates certain country’s cultural icons. For example, how about adding a barrel boy in the Philippines stage or one of those Russian dolls that stack within one another in the Russia stage. That would have made more sense.

In addition to the recurring look to places, the overall graphics are sub-par to what Americans are used to seeing out of Japan. There is a certain expectation I get with every Japanese import in terms of graphics. I expected everything to have a smooth and crisp feeling; however, I sensed that Katamari Damacy did not focus too much in the graphics department. The bottom line is that Katamari does not look that bad; on the other hand, it does not look that great either.

What is great is the refreshing musical score of this game. When the Prince is rolling down the street, there has got to be something to listen to besides people screaming in terror or the crashing sound between a big ball and a monster truck. The soothing vocals matched with the mellow beats stays consistently enjoyable among 12 tracks for that casual stroll of impending doom. I love the way that the songs never gets annoying until the last 30 seconds where an irritating siren noise indicates that time is almost done. There could have been another solution, like speeding up the tempo of the background music to make it less intrusive.

Once the stage is done, the rainbow collected and the universe once again filled with stars, the story can finally come to the end. At this point, the Prince can do other meaningful work like help creating shooting stars, finding royal presents scattered in every stage, collecting rare items to add to the katamari, creating an even larger katamari or even battle against friends!

The multiplayer option pits the Prince or any of his numerous cousins in a katamari-collecting face-off. The rules are simple: the person with the largest katamari after 3 minutes wins. Although the action is very intense, the fact that rolling up small objects, like strawberries does not seem all that colossus and epic. It would be even better to have a larger katamari and bigger things to collect and have a sumo-sized showdown.

All in all, Katamari Damacy is a unique title that stands out from other titles. By adding simplistic gameplay along the lines of old school Namco title, Pac-Man, and infusing it with heavy Japanese culture and environment. It was a struggle to get this game to cross the Pacific; but once it landed in the states, American gamers rejoiced over a concept that may seem like lead on paper but quickly turned into gold upon loading it up onto to the PS2.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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