“It’s a zoo!” said Jeff when I rolled into a new area.
“No … ” I responded. “It looks like a racetrack.”
“Then what are all those gorillas doing there?”
“It’s Katamari, man.”
In “Beautiful Katamari,” the third installment in the Katamari series, a racetrack full of gorillas makes just as much sense as sumo wrestlers riding boulders, ninjas skating on water or Tiger Woods hitting a soccer ball with a golf club in a vegetable patch. We love Katamari — and Namco must have been able to read our minds, because they gave that name to the second installment in the series.
To those who don’t already know and love Katamari (for these are one and the same), listen carefully. You play a little green man, the prince of the cosmos, who rolls a ball. The ball picks stuff up, and then gets bigger. A bigger ball can pick up bigger stuff.
That’s it. In the words of the King of All the Cosmos, “It’s strangely satisfying, who knew?”
When “Katamari Damacy” first arrived for PS2, critics and players alike were struck dumb by a game unlike anything they had ever seen before. Then they fell in love. The blocky graphics, bizarre J-pop soundtrack and hilarious, weirdly sexual dialogue made “Katamari Damacy” cute without being cutesy, charming without being annoying and one of the most fun video game experiences available anywhere.
It’s just that picking stuff up and getting bigger doesn’t get boring. There’s a great little “pop” every time you get something, and when you get a whole line of people or cars or whatever, the resultant symphony of pops sends tingles throughout your body. It’s hard to explain just how satisfying it is to roll around picking up sushi and thumbtacks and dodging small children, only to return triumphant a minute later to scoop up that same small child, his parents and his house.
A list of the things you might pick up, in approximate order of smallest to largest: A die, a small mushroom, a hamburger, a dried squid, a mortar, a pestle, a lily pad, a barrel, a medium mushroom, a Pegasus, fire, bear man, a portable shrine, momotaro (a child grown from a peach in a Japanese fairy tale), a scientific factory, a whale, Jumboman, a giant mushroom, the Taj Mahal, the God of Wind, the Parthenon, a “miracle mushroom,” a really huge whale, the Himalayas, Australia, the sun.
The most important thing that “Beautiful Katamari” does is allow owners of an Xbox 360 to get the Katamari experience. For its work in spreading the Katamari gospel, it should be lauded. But it should be noted that pretty much everything about this game that is not featured in the original “Katamari Damacy” is decidedly un-fun. The versus mode, instead of just being a two player race to a certain size, focuses on collection of identically sized elements in one of three maps, none of which are a tenth as interesting as the single player map. The co-op mode, in which two players control one Katamari, is nearly impossible. The upgrades in scale, where your Katamari expands onto continents and into space, feel tacked-on and boring.
The unsuccessful attempts at amending the original stick out nearly as much as the failure to fix the one problem with it. The one complaint that has been thrown at every installment in the Katamari series inexplicably remains: it’s too short. You can beat the game in about two and a half hours. There is, really, only one level. The gameplay makes for replay value on its own merit, but why was it so difficult to design more than ten stages, or more than one level? The King of All the Cosmos asks: “Is that all you want out of life? Mediocrity?”
It’s lucky for Namco that the game they started with was so awesome. So long as they kept the basic premise intact, there was no way to fail. Forty dollars may be too steep, but there’s no reason not to rent this game. It is a cold heart indeed that has no place for Katamari.