The first time I heard of Katamari was in college. I was, as was often the case, in between games and needing something to soak up those hours between classes. Because if I wasn’t playing a game, then that left studying and lord knows THAT didn’t sound like any fun.
A friend of mine suggested I pick up Katamari Damacy for my Playstation 2, but was somewhat hesitant to tell me what it was like. “Well,” he said slowly. “You have this ball, see? and you use that to roll up the world, okay? It’s really fun, and the music is completely addicting.”
“Okay, but why?” I asked, concerned with plot, as ever.
“You know, so you can throw it into space,” he had responded. “It’s important.”
Sitting in my room rolling up Japanese society while listening to J-Pop didn’t sound like something I was really going to be into. But after an hour of trying the game out, I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be doing. So, when Beautiful Katamari dropped on the Xbox 360 a couple of years back, I couldn’t help but pick it up.
The plot. Every game has one. In Beautiful Katamari, you one again take the role of the Prince, a tiny, miniscule little cylinder headed tyke who is the only son of the King of All Cosmos and his wife, who is creatively named the Queen of All Cosmos. The king and queen are massive, and its implied that someday the Prince, too, will grow to be larger than a pin or very tiny spider to fill the role once his father hands the kingdom over.
The King is a bit… flamboyant. He has a fondness for wearing tights. He will say things that creep me right the fuck out. In every Katamari game I have played, everything is his fault. Always.
Beautiful Katamari begins with a royal outing. The King, Queen and Prince are vacationing somewhere in the known cosmos, when the King gets the idea to play some tennis. Of course, being a massive universe destroying monstrosity, the sheer force of the King’s serve rips a hole into the fabric of space, which then devours the cosmos in pure black hole fashion. So once again the Prince is given a Katamari, which is a ball-thing that has the ability to roll up anything and everything, and is sent off by space dad to fix that shit.
The king doesn’t lend a hand from this point out. At the end of each level, he’ll judge your katamari, doling out insults and making observations about your creation before throwing it into space to become a new planet or star. The ultimate goal here is to fill up the heavens, and then eventually roll those up into a katamari, which you will use to plug the massive black hole for good.
Levels vary by design. You’ll face different locations, creatures, and start at different sizes as you hop from level to level. The goal is often to grow as large as you can in the given time limit, though you’ll be given challenges like reaching an exact size before you finish, rolling up only one certain kind of item, or to reach a certain size before the time runs out. The major draw here is to grow as large as you can, of course, and become a society destroying monstrosity that gobbles up all life.
Beautiful Katamari is identical to Katamari Damacy except in two key areas. Whereas the PS2 was unable to account for scaling the world to match the constant growth of your katamari, and therefore was peppered with loading screens, the Xbox 360 takes these adjustments in stride. The second, well, Beautiful Katamari is a LOT shorter than Katamari Damacy. And if you want all the achievements or to collect all the game has to offer? You’ll need to shell out extra for downloadable content.
I found this suspect. Beautiful Katamari feels like half of a game, where you have to purchase the other half for additional money. And while Katamari is, indeed, hideously addictive, I’m not so sure I’m okay with this marketing strategy.
But, like I said, by the end of the second level, you’ll hardly even notice the cheery J-Pop music blaring in the background. You’ll be too busy gobbling up everything smaller than you. Sometimes I wonder about this. Sure, the black hole is a threat worthy of snatching men and women off the street and then throwing them up into the sky until they become a star, but… did anyone tell them? In many levels, your shenanigans are accompanied by the screams of the innocent as you weave a trail of destruction through a crowded intersection. It’s hilariously out of tone with the cheery music and the king’s constant “YOU CAN DO IT” speech bubbles (which for some reason Namco puts right in the middle of the screen to block your view).
Along the way you can also collects gifts, which allow you to customize your character, and royal cousins of varying shapes and colors. Once collected, these little guys will become playable characters themselves. Neat! Useless, but neat!
For me, though, just seeing the massive worlds Namco strings together is compelling, especially since you know there will be no explanation. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see some really bizarre crap out there. At once point, I encountered a dinosaur, sumo wrestler and a man who was easily three times of most buildings staring at a robot who appeared to be break dancing. “Now what in the hell is going on here?” I muttered, seconds before I rolled them all up. “That’ll learn them.”
Sure you may be dismantling society for the greater good, but hey? Maybe we’re better off this way.