Katamari Damacy Review

Katamari Damacy is far and away one of the strangest, most original games to come along in years.

Katamari Damacy has a formidable amount of replay value, though, simply because the whole experience is so much fun, and each level is so crammed with tiny details that you don't feel like you've seen it all just by playing through it once. Finishing the single-player game can take five or six hours, but it's not hard to imagine playing it for much, much longer. In some ways, Katamari Damacy is almost more of a toy than it is a proper game. Yes, there are specific goals, and it occasionally requires a modicum of strategy to meet these goals, but hitting these marks can almost become secondary to the goals you end up setting for yourself. As you try to roll up anything and everything into a big ball, you'll inevitably happen upon an item that you want to add to your katamari, but you just aren't quite big enough to roll over it yet. It immediately becomes your short-term goal to roll up whatever you can in order to get big enough so you can add the item.

Nothing in the game is just "junk," and the game makes a point of identifying every single item so that you can actually go to a menu screen and browse through a catalog of every type of item you've collected so far. The breadth of stuff in the game is simply ridiculous.

The gameplay conceit behind Katamari Damacy is fairly unique, but the game launches off into strange, uncharted territory when it comes to the presentation. The game has a real cubist look going on, with lots of hard edges and right angles, which is a nice contrast to the rolling. All of the environments generally feel pretty mundane and plausible, but the way items are placed and the way they will move around the world on their own accord creates a dreamlike experience. For example, you can't explain why the backyard is covered in u-shaped magnets and eggs, but there's an obvious pattern to their configuration, though it doesn't matter either way. The game also does a great job of conveying a sense of scale by making faraway landscapes look fuzzy, but without making your ever-increasing size too jarring. One minute you'll be rolling up erasers and lipstick off the living room floor, and the next thing you know you're rolling through the market district, picking up shoppers of all shapes and sizes. Most importantly, Katamari Damacy has a look that is highly specific and completely unified. It's really weird, but within the context of itself, it works.

As you listen to the sounds of Katamari Damacy, you'll find it hard not to be reminded of Samba de Amigo and Space Channel 5 (if you've played them), two games that were built on the foundation of a single, high-energy, retro-sounding song. Katamari Damacy also has a singular, extremely catchy theme, which comes up in the game in a variety of different forms. Sometimes you'll just hear a single voice humming it, other times it will manifest in a full-bodied dance-pop song, and it is key in establishing the fun, enthusiastic vibe of the game. There's plenty of other music in the game too, and though it plays the field from synthesized J-pop songs to jazzy swing numbers, it stays consistent enough in tone to keep any of the transitions from being too harsh. Katamari Damacy offers plenty of strange sounds outside the music, too. All of the dialogue for the King of All Space is written out, though he'll vocalize everything to sound like turntable scratches. The game will regularly focus on a family living on Earth that is being affected by the loss of the stars, and their odd, slightly monotonous delivery of dialogue, while not "good" in the technical sense, adds to the already surreal pitch. Everything makes a noise when you add it to your katamari, and people tend to make the most racket, usually screaming in terror and occasionally giggling.

Even though it's a pretty small contingency, Katamari Damacy comes to the US with a built-in market of players who appreciate things uniquely Japanese in nature, and this game most certainly qualifies as that. But unlike so much other otaku-bait, Katamari Damacy is not overly esoteric, and the mechanics are simple and enjoyable enough that people of virtually all shapes and sizes should be able to pick it up and start having fun in minutes. That the game is being released at a budget price certainly makes it a lot more tempting to try something a little weird and a little different.


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