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August 09, 2005

Review: Katamari Damacy - Can you hear the colours?



Katamari Damacy marks a point in gaming history when we come to realize that something simple can turn into something beautiful. Katamari Damacy takes the weird and whacky approach to game design, and a few heads have been turned. The King of the Cosmos one day decided it would be great to bump into the stars in the night sky and leave Earth without it's celestial nightlight. Tsk Tsk Sir King! We would be pleased if you would help clean up this mess Mr. Cosmos! Take the reigns of a Katamari as the Prince of the Cosmos, and roll up stuff until the ball is big enough to rocket into the sky and ignite into a twinkling ball of gas. You'll do it once, you'll do it twice, and you'll even do it three times in a bedroom...if this is the kind of thing that turns your crank, then Katamari Damacy (Damacy pronounced "da-ma-shi") just may be the next big thing in your life.

Katamari Damacy was released a budget title in Japan by Namco, and by some miracle decided the world should take part in this one of a kind game. The game plays as simple as games can get. Press forward, collect stuff, and keep moving forward. As you collect more stuff, you grow, able to collect bigger and better stuff. The entire premise of Katamari Damacy centres around this idea. It's a simple one yes, but it's performed wonderfully. By pressing forward on both analogue sticks, you roll the ball forward; by pressing up on one and down on the other, your katamari turns. Pressing in both analogue sticks allows the prince to do a quick turn and start rolling in the opposite direction. That's it. The only requirement to play Katamari Damacy is that you have thumbs. Everything else comes natural. There's no lofty time investments necessary, Katamari Damacy is a pick up and play game, that can be played in as long or as little spurts as you'd like. The missions only last for a few minutes each time, the longest being about 12 minutes, and the mission and location variety will keep you coming back for more. The game offers a few different types of missions, like get the katamari "X meters" large in a certain amount of time, or get it as big as possible in "X minutes". The best levels however are the Eternal levels which let you roll around any given stage as long as you want, to as large as you want. A veritable free-roaming-roller.

Visually the game takes no strides to advance the power of the Ps2's techno architecture, and certainly won't impress the players with large numbers of polygons. In fact, it will probably impress you with it's home grown, unique style that uses a polygon deficient visual theme. An odd direction to take, but it's pulled off in tandem with the sense of scale that Katamari Damacy offers. Beginning as the size of 1 cm wide navy bean, you start off by plowing through piles of dice, thumb tacks, paper clips, moving your way up to mahjong pieces and chapstick cartons by the time you grow a few more centimetres. Everything happens in real time in this game as well, so the scale of the game is constantly changing in real-time with no loading transition, which creates a fluid and seemless experience. The billowy Katamari will inevitably grow to the size of small animals, permitting you to roll over and pick up cats, dogs, rats, toys, flower pots, birds...up to the size of people which lets you pick up men, women, children, pop machines, statues, trees, cars, fences, water bouys...and the paramount scale of picking up houses, towers, dinosaurs, godzilla, Ultraman, mountains, clouds, steam liners, icebergs, and even continents. The scale that this game operates on is far more impressive than any game to date. It's just impressive to play through a stage and think, you began by picking up a garbage can and ended up rolling over Mt. Fuji, with no stopping to load more objects into the frame. The Prince of the Cosmos is in essence an earthly undulating brigand. It's a technical feat, and it's bizarrely addicting to boot.

On top of a gameplay that will have you pasted to the screen for hours upon hours, the soundtrack fits the zaney and out of this world game style. I'm not quite sure how many times I caught myself in a lecture just singing to myself "Naaaa na na na na na, na Katamari Damacy! Laaaaa la la la la la, la Katamari Damacy!". With a Beach Boys-esque drum roll (Oh, get it, ROLL! I kill me...*wipes tear*) into the catchiest song in the Cosmos, Katamari Damacy sets a mood so happy, so exciting, and so hallucinogenic (just try and ignore all the references to illegal substances in this game) that anyone not made happy, not cheered up, or without a smile when playing Katamari Damacy is in fact no human. It's been scientifically proven.

The best thing about Katamari, is that it takes a true stand with innovation. It doesn't try to blow you away with eye popping special effects, or complex gameplay. It does something so different, so new, and executes it in such a way that giving it a typical genre would be disingenuous. This game defines innovation. It puts a face on innovative games, and proves to the world that new ideas aren't yet exhausted. So while I'm tempted to only score Katamari Damacy an 8.0 for just being a game (considering it's simplicity may turn off some), the game gets major brownie points for innovative game design. While it takes a step back in terms of power an impressive number counts, it takes two steps forward by being radically different and doing it with finesse and style. Kudos Katamari, Kudos.


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