Review by Rottenwood

Reviewed: 07/06/05

Innovation At A Discount

One of the nice side effects of a singular dominant console (like the good ol' PlayStation 2) is that a lot of quirky little games will appear on it. With so many potential customers in the user base, there's little risk in making some exotic and low-budget titles and throwing them out there. Mr. Mosquito had its defenders, Culdcept is much beloved by some, and now there's Katamari Damacy, which has generated a surprising amount of buzz. Thankfully, the buzz has been well-deserved: it's a unique and charming game, full of personality and surprises. Add in a $20 launch price, and there's no reason not to add this game to your collection.

The concept is a bit bizarre, but quite simple. The King Of The Cosmos has accidentally destroyed all of the stars in the sky, and he wants his son The Prince to make some new ones. You control The Prince, of course, and you'll help him craft some new stars and constellations to fill the sky once again. How do you do this, you ask? By rolling a sticky ball (called a 'katamari')around the Earth and collecting random junk, of course. No, seriously. You'll start with a small katamari and collect little items like thumbtacks and candies, but by the end of the game, your katamari will get so huge that you'll be rolling up buildings and small islands. Everything is fair game: animals, people, cars, whatever you can find. Seeing the random stuff that the designers put into the game is half the fun, and there are over 1,000 of them scattered across the globe. Every level plays about the same (get to a certain size in a certain amount of time), but the ever-increasing scope of the game keeps things fresh. There are also some extra constellation levels, where the object is to collect a certain type of item, like swans or crowns.

While the concept certainly sounds fun, you might be wondering how long-lasting it is. Thankfully, Katamari Damacy doesn't take itself even remotely seriously, and the game's bizarre sense of humor keeps things fun even as you replay a level for the fourth time. The game's blocky visuals actually add to the appeal, as the people will quiver all stiffly as they get stuck to the katamari, kicking their little legs and making funny noises. You'll probably blow through the game's stages rather quickly, but they can be replayed as often as you like, so you can try for a bigger katamari, or to collect items you've missed. You can also hunt down presents that your father has left for you, which contain items The Prince can wear. There's no purpose to these items other than making you grin, but isn't that reason enough?

The controls for Katamari Damacy are simple and intuitive. You use both analog sticks in conjuction to steer the katamari around, and if you press them both in at once, The Prince will flip to the other side and start pushing from the other direction. This is very handy if you steer into a wall, or need to get into position to push up a steep hill. You can also use the R1 button to leap into the air and get a better view of your surroundings, although I never really use this move. Wiggling both analog sticks back and forth lets you launch your katamari forward like a weapon and knock stuff over, which can be handy when there are people or animals resisting your stickiness. You can be 'attacked' by critters or people, but they won't hurt you, and there's no way to 'die.' You'll simply get tossed around a bit, and loose items might fall off your katamari. Watch out for cars, which can really slam into you and shake up your rolled-up booty.

People will look at Katamari Damacy and probably say: "is this a PlayStation 1 game?" And it's understandable, as the graphics do look rather primitive in this day of Halo 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3. But with so many objects on the screen, super-intensive graphics would've been a nightmare. And besides, the game's old-school look gives it more personality, and the people and animals look so ridiculous that you won't feel quilty about rolling them up and shooting them into space. The King Of The Cosmos is perhaps the most ridiculous-looking character in recent memory, looking like some kind of intergalactic professional wrestler. Katamari Damacy is just a fun game to look at, and it has proven to be an entertaining game for people to just sit and watch.

The soundtrack is also rather, er, interesting. You name a style of music, and it's probably in here somewhere. Odd Japanese vocals are the order of the day, as are Latin(?) beats and catchy-but-cheesy melodies that get wedged into your head like a sharp fork. The cacaphony of screams and yells that the townspeople make as you roll them up will make you either laugh or cringe, depending on your sense of humor. (I fall under the 'laugh' heading.) Fun stuff.

The icing on the cake, though, is that Katamari Damacy launched with a twenty-dollar price tag. I'm not a cheapskate or anything, but it's nice to see a smaller game being released at a competitive price. Hopefully this will become a trend, so that we can get some new ideas and concepts into the gaming world, as opposed to companies pumping out familiar stuff at fifty dollars a pop because it's 'low-risk.' The world has enough first-person shooters and stealth-action games... let's see something new and crazy. The success of this game is a good start.

If you're even remotely intrigued by the idea of this game, go and grab it. The price is right, and who knows how long it'll be in stores? It's a title that non-gaming friends/girlfriends can easily pick up and play, and there are even some minor multiplayer modes to check out. While you won't be playing this game for years on end, you'll more than get your twenty dollars worth. Plus, you'll be supporting a unique game design, which we need a lot more of. Highly, highly recommended.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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