Beautiful Katamari Review - 14/04/2008

I love Katamari Damacy. Most people do, hence the self-praising title of many of their games. The next-gen outing however could have been done on the PSP, but should we be thankful to have it at all?


There are things to be excited about, quite apart from the usual joy of rolling up cats, dogs, children, adults, buildings, dinosaurs and now entire planets in true Katamari style. In case you're new to the series, the previous games have attracted a cult following for their zany Japanese style. Always accompanied by highly addictive, yet entirely silly musical numbers, the story tends to follow the King of All the Cosmos and his son, the Prince of All the Cosmos (genius originality). Some disasters occur in each game and you have to roll up various objects using your Katamari ball to rebuild whatever has been destroyed. The sheer fun involved with rolling up stylised everyday objects, complete with humorous noises as they get stuck to your Katamari is unparalleled.

On Xbox 360 though this doesn't seem like such an innovative and fun concept. Perhaps it's because that sort of addictive gameplay is best suited to handhelds or technically weaker consoles, or perhaps it's because the game engine can only really manage last-gen graphics. The pastel shades really don't evoke as much pleasure as they did on the PS2 or PSP. Sure, the style is nice, but that doesn't excuse some of the dull and washed out levels. The movement of the Katamaris doesn't seem particularly well suited to the 360 controller either. In fairness, it's always taken a while to get used to the way of rolling in Katamari games, but there's just something intrinsically odd about the game in general on the 360. It seems really out of place, maybe as a Live Arcade game it would feel more at home.

The pastel shades are pleasant, but too similar to those on the PSP and PS2.


The hub of the game takes place on a number of planets. Each one holds certain buildings, the central one has one used for the options menu, saving, collectibles etc. and you walk your character around the simple map using the left thumbstick. The bird's eye view gives it a simplistic feel, while the music and graphical style suit it down to the ground. You walk into a building to access its capabilities; to go and do a level, you just mosey on into the respective structure, and listen to the King rambling on for a while, before being transported to the area.

The actual gameplay hasn't changed a great deal. You start off with a small Katamari, then roll up other small objects to make it larger, so you can begin to collect gradually bigger and bigger items. Eventually, you can get big enough to roll up people, cars, buildings and even entire planets. At the start you are limited to things like sweets, crisp packets, books etc. and it's a slow yet rewarding process to roll enough stuff up that you can begin to aim towards the lego look-alike people of the Cosmos.

The multiplayer is a very nice touch, though still not quite up to the standards of what it could perhaps have been.


And that's pretty much it, which isn't really a great deal for a console game. You can pick up presents and other characters to play as, but really the biggest incentive is to try and beat your score and get the King to actually make a positive comment to you (though it's a rarity). At first, the quirky cut scenes are a delight, with the zany music and graphics bringing back memories of previous Katamari games. After about 10 minutes though, the repetitive text and images are just annoying. And I usually love all the weirdness Katamari games have to offer. One plus is the minigame/cut scene when you fail a level. The King plonks you down on a pool table and you have to avoid incoming balls, or aim for them to out of the bloody cut scene as quickly as possible! Again, it's quirky, but gets old pretty fast.

There are of course some new features, most notably in the form of online multiplayer. You can play up to four players in versus mode, which will be a welcome addition for fans of the series, but it's lacklustre at best. The King gives all of you an item to focus on, much like in some of the single player challenges, and you can smash into the other players to dislodge some of their items for yourself. The trouble is, the controls don't really fit with precise and fast movement, usually you end up just aiming in the general direction of the item and pick up everything round it and in between, which just leaves everything seeming a bit random. After all, the graphics aren't really good enough for you to spot an item from a distance, so you really just end up rolling up everything you can and hoping you've got enough of the item to win.

The sheer scale of some of the bigger levels is fantastic.


There's also a co-op mode offline, but unless future instalments change the gameplay fairly dramatically, it seems single-player is where it's at for now. The gameplay is still pretty addictive, and new challenges add variety for those used to the series. Targets such as temperature come into play, where hot objects push you towards the goal, and water or cold objects put you back on the way to zero.

It feels like more of this variety could have been used by Namco to enhance the series to new levels. As it is, there's not much different to the PS2 or PSP versions. If you're new to the wonderful world of Katamari however, this remains a decent route into the series.


   
Feeling like part of Japan's unique culture.
 
   
It's just so zany and addictive!
 
   
The gameplay's not diverse. You just keep on rolling, rolling, rolling.
 
   
 The King constantly slags off your katamari-rolling ability.
 
   
Once you've rolled at one size level, it gets boring pretty quick.
 

Final Score:
 
 
It has flaws, and gets repetetive quickly, but it's still Katamari Damacy on Xbox 360.


- Mike Hazleton

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