I find myself something of an outsider on the “in joke” that is Katamari Damacy. After playing“It certainly delivers a novel and largely enjoyable experience”the new 360 version of the game, ‘Beautiful Katamari’, I am left wondering whether the joke is on me, or in fact on those who have hailed the game as a revolution.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a lover of unusual games, quirky visuals and imaginative play mechanics. This isn’t the rantings of a hardcore gamer insisting that if you can’t kill things it just isn’t fun. Rather, I would consider myself one of the (slightly jaded) casual gamers at whom the game aims it rhetoric. I have ploughed more than my fare share of time into a variety of genre busting games with great delight. Case in point: ‘Warioware’ is quite possibly my perfect game.
However, ‘Beautiful Katamari’ left me cold. Yes, I get the snowball-down-the-mountainside novelty of collecting items by sticking them to a big ball. I appreciate the third person perspective and left arm/right arm simplicity of controls. I even get the knowing winks of a thousand items aping the culture from which they were drawn. I get all this, but I am left wondering what I am missing that makes this game so great? I even, after playing many hours, scurried off to Wikipedia to make sure I wasn’t missing something vital. I finally admitted defeat and realised these few (admittedly well executed) tricks are it.
‘Katamari’ seems to be a victim of its own success. Taken on its own simplistic terms, it certainly delivers a novel and largely enjoyable experience. But don’t expect a whole lot more than this. Like your ‘Katamari’ at the end of a level, it is pretty much the same all the way through – a multi layered mass of distracting trinkets. If, like me, you are not overly taken by the basic ball rolling idea then there really isn’t much else for you here. It’s a game that endearingly wears its heart on its sleeve but as such sets itself up to be loved of left by those that play it.
Apart from its one dimensional play mechanic, the game also has the problem of price. Its original success in European shores (so we are told) came as a surprise to the marketing guru’s attested this to be simply too odd for the conventional lives of us Anglo-Saxon. Accordingly it had been touted at a budget price to offset the game’s odd Japanese presentation. However, ‘Beautiful Katamari’ on 360 packs retails at a whopping GBP 39.99, only annexing a few online features to the original for your extra cash. Just as ‘Geometry Wars’ struggled to justify its shelf price after huge success as a download game, so ‘Beautiful Katamari’ doesn’t deliver value for money. Here too, I can’t help feeling the game would have been better served as a XBox Live download.
Further play thankfully did throw up a few features. The main game now includes more analysis of your resulting ‘Katamari’, enabling it to task you with collecting a certain type of item. Some levels require a liquid oriented ‘Katamari’, whilst others ask for only playful items. Whilst this adds another much needed level of complexity to the game, the limited ability of collecting only those items you want often lead to frustration – regardless of the amount of care you have put into your rolling.
It also introduces interesting diversions online. The novelty of the massive ‘Katamari’ that“The main game now includes more analysis of your resulting ‘Katamari’”represents all the items collected by XBox Live players, is matched by the variety of other online challenges. These modes each have the added human ingredient for that much needed tactical dimension. Not only are you collecting items competitively you can also lock on and bash into other player’s Katamari. Combine this with online leader boards and you have a solid online experience. The local multi player also benefits the game from some tactical play resulting from a human competitor. But even here though you can’t help the game is wonderfully ready for 2006. In these days of user generated content, it starts to feel a little unimaginative next to the upcoming genius of ‘Little Big Planet’ a game that shares ‘Katamari’s’ physics based play.
Although not instantly impressive, ‘Beautiful Katamari’s’ production values have had some attention from the bigger budget. This is a game that naturally suits a high definition rendering, as the tiny items can now be seen in minute detail. Here too though, it feels like the same old tricks are being rolled out again (as the box says – for another generation). I can’t help feeling a fresh art style or more user content would have really freshened up what are now tired visuals.
Here is a game that does what it says on the tin. Nothing more, nothing less. If you aren’t expecting this to be the revelatory play experience many are touting it to be then there is plenty to enjoy. But there is nothing here that in 2008 will surprise or delight. If it may sound like I am d**ing with feint praise, that’s because I am. Let’s call a spade a spade, particularly when there is so much else to play that is genuinely original and new.