Japan gets some games that never see the light of day in America. While these games might seem odd, they sometimes have more ingenuity and creativity than what we expect. While a few games that fit this description have been released here, none have come out with the buzz and hype surrounding Katamari Damacy.
In Katamari Damacy, you play a little guy. This little guy is on a mission from a really really big guy with a crown on his head, the King of the Cosmos. Apparently all the stars in the sky have fallen, and you are sent to recreate them. How are you supposed to do this? By rolling a big ball that collects items it rolls over. At first the ball will collect small objects like tacks, screws, chopsticks, and legos. Later the ball with get bigger and collect larger items. When the ball gets large enough, the really really big guy with a crown on his head uses his Rainbow Road to transport you and the ball into the sky. From there, the ball is transformed into a star. While the story may be a bit odd, it leads to a deceptively simple and fun game.
The most notable aspect of Katamari Damacy is that the game is colorful and bright. The colors almost resemble something off of a ’70s hippie flower power VW bug. Bright purple, yellow, green, and orange colors abound. However, no texture mapping is placed on the objects. Everything looks flat and hard edged. Although a title like this doesn’t require texture mapping, a little enhancement to the graphics would have gone a long way. These graphics do give the game its own unique charm though.
When your ball reaches specific sizes, the screen will blur and your character will get smaller and give you a better view of the ball. While the effect is confusing at first, it is very well done and helps to transition the game’s camera to a more effective angle.
While there isn’t a lot of talking during the game, the big guy does a lot of talking between missions. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no voice acting in the game by the big guy. Some simple transition movies show a family talking and they say a few lines, but the voice acting sounds very high pitched, even for the kids. While some might see this as a bit corny and campy, others will feel it sounds like scratching nails against a chalkboard.
The music during the game is incredibly upbeat J-pop, although I don’t know if there is such a thing as slow J-pop. The songs would be more suitably placed in a Dance Dance Revolution game, but the music does set the mood for the pace of the game.The mechanics of the game are relatively simple, and the controls reflect that. Most of the game is controlled with the two analog sticks with a control scheme that reflects the two-stick action of the Battle Zone arcade game. Pushing forward on both sticks makes the fall go forward, while pulling back on both sticks will pull the ball back. Moving both sticks left or right will strafe the ball in that direction. Pulling on one of the sticks will move your character around the ball. Pushing down both analog sticks at the same time makes you turn in the opposite direction. L1 gives you a first-person perspective of where you are at, and R1 makes the character jump and gives a bird’s eye view of the landscape.
Rolling a ball doesn’t seem all that exciting, but to make it increase in size and collect items makes the game more strategic than one might think. The ball can’t be rolled over items that are bigger than the ball itself. This means that smaller items will need to be picked up before larger ones. If it rolls into something that is too big, it will lose objects. If the ball gets too big, then it won’t be able to get into certain areas, and some areas aren’t accessible until the ball has reached a certain size.
If that’s not enough to worry about, the balance of the ball needs to be kept somewhat even to make the driving of the ball manageable. For instance, if a set of chopsticks is picked up, the ball will roll unevenly and be harder to control.
The main object is to roll the ball into a certain size before the end of a time limit. When the ball is big enough, practically anything can be picked up. Early in the game, a 10-year-old girl was picked up by the ball. Even buildings can be picked up once the ball is big enough.
While size matters in this game, that isn’t always the goal. Occasionally specific items need to be picked up. For instance, to create the constellation Cancer, crabs must be picked up. The more crabs picked up, the brighter the constellation is.
The menu is intuitive as well. To save the game, you walk the character to a house on your own home planet. To view stars that have been created, the character moves to a star on the home planet. To go to a mission, your character flies to another planet and then moves over to a hot spot to start the mission.
Almost the entire game is centered around balls.Katamari Damacy is value priced at $20. This price is a good value to try out this quirky little game. However, the game is relatively short and can be completed in a weekend. Yet gamers will be coming back to this game to see how big of a ball they can create and trying to break speed records.