Gamestyle Archive Intro: every now and again a game would slip through the grasp of the producers and marketeers that defied logic. In an era of blockbusters and tiresome adventures, rip-offs or repackaged ideas few things stood out, or even today stand the test of time. In Katamari Damacy we have a title that ticks all the boxes and is utterly bonkers yet brilliant, and original.
Remember the website Lik-Sang? A great resource for all things weird and wonderful. This review still contained the original links which used to make Gamestyle a little revenue to cover our costs. Ah, the innocent days of the internet and when the world was that little bit larger. An NTSC review by JJ from September 2004.
Remember when gaming was meant to be fun? How many releases have you enjoyed recently? So many games and yet so very few that entertain or stimulate. Katamari Damacy is different – in fact it’s unique – and comes courtesy of Namco, a developer that has struggled to find any form of late.
The story of Katamari Damacy is pretty far out. Imagine a Monty Python styled presentation, bathed in ’60s flower power and you’re almost there. It’s certainly bizarre, and with good reason, as you and your culture are not from Earth – your king (a dominating presence) visits from time to time, and manages to ‘litter’ the terrestrial environment. However, the main reason for thrusting the young prince onto foreign soil is far more bizarre; your foolish family has managed to destroy the stars and all the constellations. The only way to repair the sky is to visit Earth and collect objects. These can be anything from creatures to everyday items. The king transports these offerings into the sky where (fingers crossed) a star or constellation is revived – and on any given night you’re released, there’s a whole load of stars up there. Yet the beauty of Katamari Damacy comes not from fighting, exploration or trading, but from rolling a ball (known as a katamari) that captures anything within its path. A brilliantly simple idea, and one that’s perfectly executed. Akin to rolling a snowball, initially larger objects will refuse to join the moving shape. The race is on at the beginning of each level to build up your katamari’s size – and as fast as possible – for only when it has reached a critical mass can you snare the larger items (thus boosting its size yet again). And with each level being timed, set against predetermined sizes to succeed, you need to keep moving and thinking.
The control system relies mainly upon the dual analogue sticks being pushed in unison: what initially seems limited gradually allows for control of the katamari with a fair degree of flair and precision. The introduction allows you to practice and memorise all the options available – as the katamari attracts bigger objects, many of these are not able to be rolled (pencils for instance), so this affects your handling. The wrong object can prove to be a major hindrance as you try to negotiate obstacles across each level, so the game rewards logical thought – as well as practical rolling. Katamari Damacy can be very challenging (and the king proves to be quite demanding). However, there is no actual way of ‘failing’ the game – you may fail to reach a prerequisite size or number of items, but the game will record your efforts nonetheless. And there is nothing stopping you from returning to a previous level to try again, locate secret areas, or just add more stardust to the sky. In a similar vein to Magic Pengel, Katamari Damacy isn’t going to win audiences through ‘minimalist’ presentation, but it does have a unique visual treatment of its own. Gamestyle has already touched upon the outrageous concept – which includes some mind-boggling cutscenes, unusual grasp of English and a truly wonderful soundtrack. Eye-gouging detail isn’t everything as the game instead opts for vibrant objects that all seem to be carved from wood. This allows each level to be coated in a range of colours (amid a ‘magical carpet’ of objects) for your katamari.
Then, as mentioned, you have the glorious soundtrack – it’s been a while since Gamestyle has enjoyed such disturbingly good tunes. So much so that we even contemplated purchasing the soundtrack on its own. In an age of orchestral overkill, it’s good to know that madness (bordering upon genius?) has a place in gaming. If The Boredoms (ie, obscure Japanese band) had to compose a videogame soundtrack, then this might well have been the result. This gem has a few negatives – yes, the camera at times can be annoying, and the collision detection a little dubious – but the main criticism is the playing time, as it concludes all too soon. You want this adventure to continue indefinitely (although, given its addictive qualities, you can always go back). And for a twenty-dollar purchase in the States, it represents outstanding value.
A major shame then, that Namco has yet to confirm a European release date. Outside of the main story mode, there are options to view all that you’ve collated, as well as competitive play against a friend. Not that Gamestyle doesn’t have friends, but we were so taken with the main mode that a versus match didn’t even get a look-in. Apologies then, but even without it, Katamari Damacy is one of those games that will hold a special place in your heart for years to come.
Gamestyle Score: 9/10