Do you crave the wackiness and unpredictability of Japanese puzzle games? Are you willing to take a chance on a title that is difficult to pronounce? Let's see if this one if for you.
Puzzle / Action
By Ben S. Dutka
Katamari Damacy. Say it slowly, let the syllables roll off your tongue, and make a desperate attempt at understanding its meaning. If you can't decipher the title, then maybe you should take a gander at the box... of course, that may not help you, either. A Japanese symbol, a cow, a rainbow, and a boatload of craziness on the back reveal little. This one has slipped under the radar, primarily due to its quirkiness.
The puzzle genre has a new member, although there are elements of a straightforward action game as well. Katamari Damacy requires an open mind and an adventurous personality to warrant a purchase, but after the first ten minutes, immediately begins to tug on those addictive strings that lurk within all gamers.
For a brief overview, please consult the following: you are a Prince, the son of the King of the Cosmos, who has mistakenly misplaced the stars and now charges you with getting them back. You must head on down to earth, roll up all kinds of bric-a-brac, knick-knacks, and... well, skyscrapers and rainbows. You do this by using the amazing sticky ball known as the Katamari; once it gets big enough, it gets turned into stars and constellations. Got it?
As far as the graphics are concerned, Namco decided on a visual feast of colorful "blockiness," laced with a zany assortment of comical animation. The level design is always interesting, as you begin on a small scale and work your way up to new heights (pun intended). Despite the obvious fact that the graphics won't be winning any awards, the creativity is undeniable. Those of you who enjoyed the look of games like Gitaroo-Man and The Adventures of Cookie and Cream will undoubtedly laugh in girlish glee upon viewing Katamari Damacy.
As is generally the case, the sound effects and soundtrack in truly innovative games rival the graphics for originality. Katamari is no different, and as soon as you load up the game, you will be treated to an oddly pleasing arrangement of tracks that most closely resembles Japanese pop and rock. The sound effects within the menus consist of bells, whistles, and even the distinct sound of popping bubbles, while the gameplay effects are even more hilarious. Certain things just don't like to be "rolled up;" the cats meow, the cows moo, and the chickens squawk. It's a potpourri, really.
The game is shockingly simple and ridiculously addictive. The controls are simple enough to master, the purpose of each level is clear, and if there's one thing you should know, the Katamari should never stop spinning. In most cases, you will be presented with a time limit, and you must reach a diameter goal set forth by the King; the more stuff you roll up, the larger the Katamari gets. You need to hit the goal before the time limit expires, but you are usually given the opportunity to keep rolling if there's time left over.
The science of rolling is a bit more complex than it appears, but that won't stop you from learning it quickly. The Katamari can only pick up things that are small enough, and can only traverse certain obstaclese if it's big enough. Therefore, you need to begin by running around and picking up the little items, like tacks, paper clips, flowerpots, and the like. Once you have enough of those and the diameter of the Katamari grows, you can start going after the pencils, cats, beach balls, and spiders.
Getting hit by roving animals or knocking hard into obstacles will cause your collection to be adversely affected by the impact, because pieces will fly off. You also need to recognize that awkward and ungainly items will cause the Katamari to roll in a lopsided fashion. Rolling that ball is easy enough, but you will experience some camera problems. Due to the ever-increasing size of the ball and the constant changing of the scope and range, they're almost unavoidable. This can be extremely problematic, but it shouldn't ruin your entertainment.
The depth of the game is measured by the advancement of the levels rather than extras or options. The further you go, the larger everything gets; you'll start with the tiniest stuff on earth, and end with the biggest. This may seem trivial and even bland on the surface, but once you experience the rolling fun of Katamari, you'll be eager to move up to those telephone poles, trucks, and buildings.
Potential problems lie in the repetitiveness of the levels, the camera issue, and the extraordinarily niche aspect of the entire game. If you're not down with the silly presentation and the overall style, then you may be turned off. However, bear in mind that the scintillating gameplay has a great chance of erasing any suspicions or reservations.
All in all, Katamari Damacy is a blessing in disguise. It wouldn't be prudent to recommend the title to everyone, but it's also impossible to give it a thumbs down. This is one particular game that needs to be checked out by anyone who just so happens to have that adventurous nature I spoke about earlier, and with that attractive $20 price tag, you've got little excuse to ignore it. Give it a shot, and when you find yourself rolling along like a madman at 3 AM, you can thank me.