Katamari Damacy (or Damashii) came out of nowhere last year to take gamers by storm. Not only was it a solid title, it was highly innovative (using only the two analog sticks and shoulder buttons) and insanely addictive. The best part was that it was a budget title. Granted, none of this changed the fact that the game looked like it was designed and coded by people on heavy drugs. We’re talking the good drugs here, the ones that the folks behind Evangelion and Furikuri (FLCL) took.
A year has passed and apparently someone has broken into the Sekrit Drug Stash again, as We Love Katamari rolls its way onto our Playstation 2s and into our hearts. This time the plot is slightly different. The King of the Cosmos has realized that while the skies around Earth were full….the rest of the universe was slightly empty. That, and with the success of Katamari Damacy, the outcries of all the fans had reached the ears of the King, and he wanted to make all the fans happy. Thus…more rolling as the Prince! This time, his cousins are in on the act as well, and the addition of co-op multiplayer is also new.
The big question, of course, is will it fix what few problems there were with the first game, will it have the same innovation and imagination that took hold of everyone, and is it as addictive as its predecessor?There wasn’t much change to the graphics between Katamari Damacy and We Love Katamari. They’re still as bright and colorful and psychadelic as ever, although the blockiness of some characters does seem to be a bit blunted. Overall, though, the style is exactly the same. One difference is noted in the cutscenes, in which we learn the story of the King of the Cosmos, beginning from his interactions with his father when his father was the King, extending all the way until we finally see the birth of the Prince. The cutscenes seem much more polished than the squarish humans of Katamari Damacy, which is a definite improvement. Outside of that, it’s much more of the same.
The sounds in the game are somewhat improved from the previous, with various characters actually having voices (mainly the fans on the select area). Granted, some of the people you roll up will also say things. One odd note is that the people in the actual stages will speak in Japanese, while the ones on the select meadow will speak English. It’s odd, but not bad.
The music on the other hand is extremely nice and completely untouched. A number of tracks in the game have a tendency to get stuck in your head for long periods of time. An arrangement of “Katamari on the Rocks”, which was the main theme of the game, by Japanese beatbox artist Dokaka, is rather funny but also quite impressive, considering it’s all done acapella. Katamari on the Swing is also a nice track with Shigeru Matsuzaki putting almost a Tom Jones-esque vibe on the tune. Kuru Kuru Rock by Illreme and King of King’s Song by Kitomu Miyaza are both nice, but my favorite is Everlasting Love by Alisa. A special note must be made of Scorching Savanna, which is performed by (get this), John the Dog, Bigmouth the Duck, Yuuhi the Crow, Pe the Goat, Booby the Pig, Sexy the Cat and Nyuu the Cow. The entire song is a medley of Katamari Damacy’s songs done by what seems to be nothing but electronic animal sounds.
There wasn’t much that could be done to improve on the simple, somewhat Battletank-inspired controls of Katamari Damacy. Luckily, Namco didn’t bother fixing what wasn’t broke. The controls are essentially the same with the addition of giving the player the ability to launch the Prince (or his cousins) up into the air to take a look around at everything. Also, if you’re a bit too close to another object, the camera will give you a cutaway view so that you can see what you’re doing without the camera getting caught behind something, which is very nice.
Basically, there’s nothing much wrong with the controls of the game, and the addition of trying to control your katamari underwater in one particular area makes for an added challenge. Still and all, though, there are a couple of times when the camera will get caught behind an object (usually the train on city-based levels), which can get annoying when it happens.
Nothing much has changed in the gameplay of We Love Katamari. You are still the Prince (or one of his unlockable cousins) and you’re charged with fulfilling the wishes of various fans of Katamari Damacy. There are a few theme-based levels where you go underwater, guide a sumo wrestler to become big enough to defeat his opponent, build a snowman’s head, build a ball of flowers or animals…and then the large variety of “build a katamari of this size in this amount of time”.
Just like the first game, the bigger you build it or the quicker you build it in, the more bonus stuff you get. This time you get additional stars in the sky for biggers katamaris or building them quicker. You’re also given the opportunity to replay any level in speed mode, trying to build to a certain size as quickly as possible.
It’s very easy to get sucked into replaying levels over and over, trying to better your time or your size, or just going to see how you can make the katamari build itself better. The game is just as addictive as its predecessor in that regard.
Special mention must be made of co-op play. In this mode, each player plays either as the Prince or one of his cousins pushing the same katamari. It takes a bit of effort and coordination to get both characters moving the katamari in the same direction at the same time. This can get a bit frustrating, but that’s not the fault of the designers as much as whoever you might be playing with at the time.
Camera mode is also nice, which allows you to take pictures while you’re rolling your katamari about. Granted, the camera must be unlocked, as with all of the presents, but it’s a nice addition to the game.
A key measure of any game’s value is how much replayability it has. In this case, the answer is loads. Every level can be replayed in either normal mode or time trial, trying to make a bigger katamari or make a certain size as fast as possible. There are thresholds on each level in each mode, also, where you gain extra stars to pop into the sky. That alone is enough to give reason to play the game for hours and hours on end, not even counting the fun that can be had by playing the co-op levels or playing against another person.
It’s not often that the manual of a console game gets mention in the value section. This is different however, because We Love Katamari‘s manual is special. It’s 48 pages of insanity. Where many games give you a page or two of information on the controls, We Love Katamari‘s manual gives a whopping 20 pages to this information. Each page is highly illustrated, showing the action that they’re describing on the same page or two. It gives more of a sense of humor to the game and helps it to stand out from the pack.