BY NAMCO, 2004
25 WORDS OR LESS:
An alien prince is sent to Earth to amass replacement stars for a darkened universe.
Orange ball of peace
Life is rough for the Prince of the Cosmos. Aside from being the tiniest of tiny cosmic entities, he’s responsible for cleaning up the mess that his father, the King of the Cosmos, has made. It seems that the king has completely destroyed the moon and stars in another one of his alcoholic binges and ordered his son to make things right again by building new stars out of pencils, cats, clouds… hell, anything he can find on earth. The prince must push a large ball around several different areas, accumulating objects until the ball is wide enough in diameter to be considered a star. So simple, yet so diabolically fun.
Katamari Damacy (“Soul of a Clump”) was originally conceived in a thesis paper by a Namco Digital Hollywood Game Laboratory student who now works for Namco, and was one of the ten people who worked on the game. Whereas most games are created by a much larger team and with a more forgiving budget, Namco’s KD team of ten was given a mere $1 million with which to create. Not exactly pocket change, but not a whole lot by game development standards.
The result is one of the simplest, cutest, most fun games in recent gaming history. Gameplay is very straightforward; simply roll over small objects to add them to your ball, and eventually you’ll be able to pick up larger and larger objects. Most of the game’s action is controlled by the two analog sticks. Pushing both sticks in the same direction will cause the prince to roll that way, while pushing up on one stick and down on the other is a quick way to turn in either direction. Quickly alternating up and down on both sticks initiates a dash move, with simultaneous taps of L3 and R3 activating a quick 180 for escaping corners and predators. The only other buttons used are L1 and R1, which provide different perspectives for observing the prince’s surroundings.
The appeal of Katamari Damacy lies in the gradual development and growth of the ball and the way this gives the player more freedom and power over the environment. There’s a certain satisfaction to be had from rolling over and collecting mice and cats when the same animals were knocking the poor prince around only a few moments ago. In a short time, players are able to take the ball’s current size into account and gauge on sight which objects can be picked up with no trouble, which people can be stunned (and subsequently picked up), and which objects will jar the ball and cause objects to fall off. The game’s final level takes its premise to a ridiculous level, culminating in an orgy of adorable destruction as the ball incorporates skyscrapers, clouds, and entire islands with the player grinning devilishly all the way. This is enjoyment in its purest form.
Katamari Damacy’s soundtrack is an excellent mix of funky beats as well as slower tunes featuring several popular Japanese artists such as Yui Asaka and Charlie Kosei. The player can be assured that each and every stage’s music complements the rolling action perfectly, resulting in a thoroughly relaxing or invigorating experience depending on the goal. The Fish Stage and Cow Stage theme, for example, is a tranquil melody sung by a chorus of Japanese children, while the background music for the epic final stage is a dramatic extended version of the Katamari Damacy theme. The game’s soundtrack can be enjoyed anytime through a sound test available after completing the game.
The game also features a two-player mode for competitive rollers, challenging each player to amass the largest ball in the time allotted. What’s great about facing off against a friend is that not only can you smash into and chip away at their ball, it even becomes possible to pick them up and add them to your own until they can wriggle free. Players can select from an army of the prince’s friends, who are unlocked once the prince discovers their hiding places in the story mode. Special presents can also be discovered in the same way, and can be equipped on the prince to add some royal panache to his green suit. I like the guitar.
Katamari Damacy’s single drawback is that it’s way too short. Namco delivers an exceedingly fun game that oozes character and charm, but ends it far sooner than most players would like. Still, the game is a unique title that every importer should have, and at the price of 4000 yen (about $37), the deal is that much sweeter. Simple, addictive, fun gameplay coupled with a superlative soundtrack make this one of the best things you could ever put in your PS2. The perfect definition of a crunk game. —Alex Fraioli