It's Katamari Damacy. On Xbox 360. Listen up!
I was one of the few enlightened individuals in the fair UK to import the original Katamari Damacy, I was one of the very few with the foresight to pick up We Love Katamari when it was released to no fanfare whatsoever and I was one of the few PSP owners to grab a copy of Me and My Katamari - though to be fair, no one has a PSP so that isn't so much of an oversight on the side of the public. The middle one though - you know, the Katamari game that came out in this country and was released on the most popular console in the country... Well, you plebs let the side down, let me tell you.
You've got another chance here, with Beautiful Katamari on the 360. If you let this one pass you by I will personally hunt you down, individually, one by one, and slap you. I'm probably bigger than most of you anyway.
The Katamari series follow the same basic (oh so basic) principles: you take control of the tiny Prince as he rolls his katamari (ball) around, picking things up. You start small, you can only pick up small things, as you pick up more you grow, the bigger you get, the bigger the things you can pick up. IT'S SIMPLE. And even though every iteration of the game has been exactly the same at the ground level, it's never stopped being fun. This is the type of game seasoned pros can sit down with and get really involved in, constantly battling to better their own scores, but it's also the type of game that can (1) get non-gamers interested whilst at the same time being (2) not a party game or a Wii title. Magnificent.
And so we get the newest version on Microsoft's wonderful (if it's not broken) 360 - another mass-market outing for a quirky, non-traditional title. It's fair to say that I'm happy about it - though many may think otherwise, it is a risk on the part of Namco Bandai Bandai Namco (Bandaico? Namdai?), and the lack of SPACE MARINES or FAST CARS AND HOT CHICKS on the front cover is sure to mean the game will remain criminally ignored by the legions of moronic vessels out there wandering the streets, McDonald's chips dripping from their gaping spout holes, hands down the front of their stolen Adidas tracksuit bottoms, uttering monosyllabic grunts at their subordinates in a feeble attempt at grasping the ideals of a spoken language...
Sorry, I used to work in CEX.
ANYWAY. Beautiful Katamari keeps pushing with the idea of goals to levels beyond the basic 'make it this big in this amount of time' missions of the first game, just as Me and My and We Love did. You will encounter more than enough of the origimissions, don't get me wrong, but each level introduces extra elements - collect as many plant items as you can, as many oceanic items as you can etc. A few levels switch it up even more, ignoring size and just asking you to, for example, pick up as many ring-shaped items as possible (oddly, this was the only level that I scored over 80 points on. I am, as the French say, "shit").
None of this serves to dilute the core experience, however, and even if you are as utterly terrible as I am you will still get through all the levels in no time at all - you'll just have a pathetic score record from each planet and star you have created. Those with no desire to go an better themselves will find a short-lived game that can be clocked in a matter of hours, but those looking for a bit of the old self improvement will find they can have fun inflicting the genocide of an entire planet - let's not split hairs here, the Prince is a mass, mass murderer - time and time again.
There's even some online crap to be enjoyed, thanks to the wonderful (when it's not broken) Live service - co-op that's the same as the one on We Love Katamari, except online, and a head to head mode that is, well, a bit lacking. It's a shame, but online on Beautiful Katamari is easily ignored. There are leaderboards though, which are sure to encourage the ultra competitive among us, and a nifty little thing that tells you how big the combined size of all the world's katamaris is. It's nothing more than a distraction, but it is an amusing one.
I've been too positive so far (towards the game, at least). Beautiful Katamari is a good game to introduce people to the concept of the Katamari series - but only insofar as it's available widely and on a popular console. When it comes to real quality the title is actually lacking when compared to the past versions: the subtle humour has been replaced with the seemingly arbitrary need for the King of All Cosmos - once something of a comedy gaming icon - to mumble pointless, half-funny tripe, repeat himself endlessly and generally get in the way. Literally. His speech bubbles, which pop up at the most inopportune times, seemingly take up the entire middle third of the screen, and pressing A to cycle through his sometimes painful dialogue is harder than you'd think, seeing as you have both thumbs occupied. He does have some funny lines, but it's more miss than hit and the character created through the original titles does seem to have been abandoned and replaced with an insane deity. Probably the funniest thing he says in the game is during one of the loading screens, when he simply sings the lyrics to the original Katamari intro song. Hmm.
The well-considered variation in levels of We Love Katamari has been replaced by the already mentioned need to collect pointless items - it does mix things up and serve to keep things that little bit fresher, but it just doesn't fit like the collection-specific tasks of the past. There's a finesse about the whole experience that's lacking. It's like when the Mighty Boosh found out that people liked them, then lost everything about them that was remotely good and became throwaway gag shitbergs. I wish nothing would ever realise what made it good/funny/whatever, then nothing could get caught up its own arse. Or I wish, at the very least, that people would handle things with more subtlety.
ANYWAY (MKII). Beautiful Katamari is a good game, it just isn't as good as the older ones on PS2 and PSP. It's a good introduction to the series for anyone that hasn't touched a previous title - probably a lot of you heathens - but it isn't up to par for the veterans out there. You are guaranteed to have fun, don't misunderstand, but there is that underlying magic missing which does irreparable harm to the game. It makes Ian sad.
I forgot about the technical side of things. The stylised visuals of the past are back, in Glorious High Definition, though strangely the engine does struggle at times and the framerate takes quite a hit - it's less annoying than it is confusing, to be fair, and it really shouldn't happen. The soundtrack provides some recycled and some new tracks - nothing really hits the highs of the original soundtrack though, which was nigh-on perfect. There you go.