“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it Love.”
-Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel
Katamari Damacy will be the most fun you’ve ever had obliterating existence. Does that sentence not make sense? Well in Japanese, the title “Katamari Damashii” means “clump soul”. Did that not make sense either?
Welcome to Katamari Damacy, a bizarre puzzlish-actionish game developed by Namco which will inevitably remind you of those “meanwhile in Japan” memes. Because of this, it couldn’t be more fun. In fact, that was part of the quadriform-credo the design team purposed for this game, that it would focus on novelty, accessibility, enjoyment and humor. It is impossible to discover Katamari Damacy without a huge smile.
The story goes that the great King of All Cosmos has, in a bout of drunken passion, destroyed the stars of the universe plus the Earth’s moon. And he did it almost without any remorse. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it. But who’s going to fix it? Who will mend the broken galaxies? Well, what better moment can there be for building a father-son bond than if the King were to demand that his 5cm-tall son, who he labels the Pee-Wee Prince, do all the work of rebuilding the stars? And that’s exactly what happens.
To reconstruct the constellations, the King of All Cosmos provides you not with magic nor with miracles, but with a sticky ball called a katamari. Anything smaller than the katamari will stick to it until it grows to an absurd size and mass and can then be detonated in space to transform into the stuff of stars. I double-dog-dare you to find a premise more unique than this.
At first you can only pick up small items lying around the unusually littered floors of people’s homes, the streets, the towns and so on. Mice, takoyaki, paperclips, sushi, diamond rings, crabs. Y’know, the normal stuff that kleptomaniacs keep lying around.
Eventually, your katamari is able to grab larger things: cats, dogs, cars, elephants and people screaming in terror (hilariously)… Soon you have a katamari that is capable of seize buildings, battleships, giant squid, kaiju, rainbows, weather patterns and land masses. Yes, this means that you’ve murdered billions every time a new star appears in the sky. But it’s so darn wuvable!
The various stages are divided up by constellations and goals. You’ll need to recreate Taurus and Gemini and Cancer and Pisces by rolling up a huge cow, items in pairs, as many crabs as possible and fish, respectively. Other goals will be reaching the largest size you can in a time limit. Fail, and the Prince gets chewed out by his irresponsible father, the King, who blames you for not fixing his problems for him.
And that’s really about it. Katamari Damacy is not a complicated game. In fact it is so accessible it feels like a classic arcade game you would drop a quarter in and be able to pick up instantly. The controls are essentially just the two joysticks. Push them both in the same direction and roll left or right or forward or backward (or sideways and slantways, and longways and backways and squareways). Tilt them in opposite directions to turn. Push them down simultaneously to jump to the other side of the katamari. And now you know how to play the game. It’s that simple. But it is this simplicity coupled with its silliness that makes for a playthrough you won’t soon forget.
The 8-Bit Review
Katamari Damacy was thrown together for less than $1 million and it shows. It also embraces a style that is nearly impressionistic, always boxy, low polygon, suggestive of real world features rather than representative of them. Everything is tweaked out candy-colored novelty. Though at moments downright ugly, its graphics are unique and give the game a distinctive appeal unlike anything else. However, it seems like it came from the PlayStation One era rather than the PS2. That doesn’t mean its graphics are bad or not memorable. Quite the contrary. This game works because of its trademark visuals. They just happen to be less pretty than what the PS2 was capable of. But it’s confident in its originality as it is a dreamscape of okatu-surrealist giga-intensity that would make even the weeaboo lovechild of Hayao Miyazaki and Salvador Dali blush.
If you thought to yourself, “Self, maybe at least the soundtrack has some kind of normalcy about it”, then you are an idiot. Katamari Damacy contains tracks just as audibly wacky as its visuals. To call it original (which it has been called) is an understatement. If you want to listen to a surreal blend of jazz, J-pop, electronica, ethnic sounds, salsa and guacamole, then you’ll join the ranks of the many critics who have applauded Katamari Damacy’s soundtrack. Somehow, all of these unrelated elements work and rather than creating dissonance it creates delight. This was GameSpot’s Soundtrack of the Year for 2004.
Below is my favorite selection from the game’s music: distinctly Japanese with its tragic/happy sound and theme of the brevity of life.
What works best in Katmari Damacy is the feel of its physics. Objects you bump into feel solid and the katamari feels like it is getting heavier as it grows in size, becoming unwieldy and cumbersome as you push it onward, whereas when it is smaller it feels as if it races and bounces at every maneuver. I’ve already remarked that its controls are easy to learn, but they are also deceptively easy to master when it comes to the more difficult missions in the game which require precision and timing. Given these factors, I’d say that the developers were successful in terms of the unique gameplay.
Katamari Damacy is really more of a unique premise than a story. Dad breaks the stars. Dad makes his son fix the stars… Son fixes the stars. It is more of a laundry list of tasks to complete rather than a real narrative. We aren’t given much reason to care about the Prince, or even told anything about him for that matter, except that we empathize with him when he is scolded and belittled by the King. It isn’t that any of the characters are undeveloped, as if the developers made some kind of mistake. It’s apparent that narrative wasn’t really their focus. The story serves as a foundation for getting quickly into the actual gameplay and rolling your katamari.
The difficulty level of Katamari Damacy feels at all times like it’s fitting, whether you know you’ve hit some of the harder challenges or are just rolling for fun on the easier stages. Believe me, there can be some truly frustrating tasks in the game, like rolling up the Holy Cow, but its so couched in Katamari Damacy’s unique humor and passion for fun that you may not even normally notice its difficulty. The same cannot be said for some of its sequels. I would say that this game’s challenges are balanced yet it doesn’t fail to provide some real trials for those who have mastered its controls.
Hearkening back to what I said earlier about Katamari Damacy feeling like a classic arcade game, this one has some real qualities of replayability. It’s all due to its unique ease of access. You can boot it up for a few minutes or an hour and just enjoy it. Or you can play for as long as you like. It’s a great hobby game. It’s a fine past-time game in small doses. You certainly won’t be taking it seriously so it lends more toward a game you’ll come back to for more when you wake up one morning and say “Hey, remember that weird Katamari game?”
I hope you noticed that I’ve used the word “unique” several times to describe this game. There’s no better word for Katamari Damacy. Maybe that’s what “clump soul” is supposed to mean. I put this game on to introduce a friend to it just the other day and his first words were “What is this?” said with a big grin. It’s an especially idiosyncratic, strange and original video game that can’t help but be memorable. And you’ll love it for it.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
A lesser known gem of simple gaming pleasure, Katamari Damacy is an endearing game that spawned seven sequels but you’ve probably never heard of it.
Aggregated Score: 7.4
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Categories: Game Review