Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Katamari Damacy Or The Little Guy Lights Up The Night Sky

I can remember walking into that Gamestop feeling like I needed a serious distraction from life after Hurricane Katrina. I asked for a recommendation for something "different" and the guys at the register offered two games: Shadow Of The Colossus and Katamari Damacy. Six years later, both games are still in my collection, and both hold a special spot in my heart. The point of this post, however in not a retrospective on what I was playing after Katrina in general, but a game that took a very basic premise, one that had been used in several games before, and gave it a shot of personality the likes of which hadn't been seen at that point since the 16 bit console wars of the early 90s.

Katamari Damacy was not a new concept when Namco quietly released it on the Playstation 2 in 2005, in fact, games where you guide a random ball around a play field have been appearing on consoles and in arcades since somewhere in the 80s. Having to collect items to advance has also been a hallmark of video games, but Katamari Damacy takes both little also rans of the early days of the video game industry and injected it full of undeniable personality. In Katamari Damacy, you roll a ball or Katamari around a designated area and in most cases, the stuff your Katamari comes in contact with sticks to it. I say in most cases because your Katamari has to be bigger than the thing you're trying to roll up. Why are you rolling up what essentially amounts to balls of random crap? Well it's quite simple actually, and this is a big part of what gives Katamari Damacy it's charm.

You assume the role of the Prince, who's father, The King Of All Cosmos, has effectively destroyed every star in the night sky. The King, in incredibly arrogant yet strangely charming fashion, attempts to blame the Prince, and charges him with rebuilding the night sky, including constellations. How is the Prince to do this, by rolling several Katamari of varying sizes into balls of stuff of varying sizes. if a player succeeds, then the star is released, but if he fails, he is scolded by his father, and sent back to try again. Another interesting quirk of this game is that while the King is talking to his son, you can't understand him. This isn't because he's speaking in Japanese, but because the guy speaks in DJ scratches. This made the Hip Hop Head in me smile.

As far as control is concerned, you move the Prince, and therefore the Katamari, by using the analog sticks on the Playstation 2 controller. another button is used to make the prince hop over the Katamari to reverse direction, another button switches to first person view, and that's pretty much it. The meat of the controls is getting used to steering the Katamari in much the same manner as a small car. and it's equally satisfying when you start picking up people, animals and pretty much any and small land masses and buildings with your ball of awesome. As fun as the actual game is, though, I do have a feeling that the soundtrack makes it even better. If Katamari Damacy had a sub par soundtrack of stale music then it would have been in the bargain bin instead of being considered one of the best games of the last decade.

The Katamari series didn't end with that game, as a sequel appeared on the PS2 as well as a followups that popped up on Xbox 360 and PS3. While each game shared many of the core elements of the original, there was something slightly different about them. Each game added a minor wrinkle that helped justify the Prince causing all manner of destruction with a ball.

Katamari Damacy is an anomaly in modern game design as it lacked many of the things so called hardcore gamers are looking for in a quality title yet it garnered a pretty big mainstream following. It will probably never be as popular as some of Namco's other franchises like Pac Man, Pole Position, Tekken, or Soul Calibur, but it will have a hallowed place among cult classics like Blaster Master, Earthworm Jim, and Lode Runner.

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