Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Review: Katamari Damacy (PS2)
Posted by DrHogie :: 1:17 PM

So. It's the end of November, and everyone is rife with talk of the Game of the Year. There's plenty of games that are getting consideration: Halo 2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Half Life 2, Metroid Prime 2. All of these games are quite good. However, none of them are the Game of the Year for 2004. No, the 2004 GotY (at least, in my opinion) goes to a $20 game from Namco for the PS2 that was brought over from Japan. That game is Katamari Damacy.

The story for Katamari Damacy is the weirdest story you'll hear all year. The King of all Cosmos (a combination between Galactus and God from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail") went on a inter-galactic bender the night before, and well . . . when he gets drunk, he likes to break things. Turns out he broke the moon as well as every star in the sky. So he enlists the help of his son, the Prince of All Cosmos. That's you. The only problem is, well . . . you're really tiny. 5 cm tall. So the KoAC gives you katamaris (small bumpy balls that damn near anything will stick to) and sends you to Earth to rebuild the stars in the sky. As you progress through the game, you'll get cut scenes on how one family is reacting to the loss of all the stars in the sky. The story is that special type of insanity you can only get from the Japanese.

So how do you rebuild the stars exactly? For every level, you are dropped into one of three environments: a house, a town, or a whole world. You start off with a katamari of a certain size (for example, 5cm). You will then be given a time limit (say, 3 minutes) to make the katamari a bigger size (say, 10cm). You make the katamari bigger by rolling it into things in the level. The katamari is controlled by the dual analog sticks -- "tank controls", for lack of a better term (both sticks up = forward, both sticks back = backward, left stick down/right stick up = turn to the left, etc.) To better explain this, let me describe the first level:

You start off on the top of the table in this room. Around you are erasers, caramel candies, and batteries. Starting off you can only get the candies, so you roll them up. As you roll up the candies, they stick at all kinds of odd angles onto your ball. By the time you roll up all of the candies, you are now big enough to grab the batteries. When you get all of them rolled up, you roll off the table onto the floor, where there are mice running around and tons of new things to pick up, from broccoli to chopsticks to lipstick containers to cheese from the mice to Lego pieces.

Now, judging from this description, the game doesn't sound like it would be fun. Once you start playing the game however, you realize just how much fun this simple concept can be. The next thing you know you're steering your ball out of the dining room and into the backyard where you can roll up birds, cucumbers, tomatoes, and pots. Then you start rolling up the cats and dogs . . . and finally work your way up to people. Then from people you start rolling up cars and trees, all the way up to buildings and even islands. KD's graphics engine does a tremendous job of handling the sense of scale throughout the entire level. The graphics themselves have a very "Japanese South Park" look to them: Very simple figures for everything. You get a real appreciation for the graphics engine in the later levels however: You'll start off roaming the streets of a town and 15 minutes later roll up the entire island the town was on. The really impressive thing is how well it flows from the smaller areas to the larger areas.

I've barely even discussed the music for this game. The soundtrack for Katamari Damacy is also the best of the year. You will find yourself humming and singing the songs from the game for days and days after playing it (YOU! HAW! GET UP!). The music is perfect for the game -- noticeable but not overly distracting. I really wish they would release the soundtrack in America -- an import copy runs upwards of $40, and while I love the soundtrack, I don't love it THAT much.

The game does end up being rather short. In all, it has 19 stages. 10 of them are standard "Get this big before time's up". Other stages (ones where you are building specific constellations) require you to capture as many of a certain type of item as you can before time expires. A couple of stages require you to pick up as big of a item type as you can. For instance, when making the Taurus constellation you're trying to get the biggest cow that you can. Getting a small carton of milk will count as finishing the stage . . but if you can get your katamari big enough to grab up a large bull, you will score better for the stage. Also, if you can beat three of the stages with an extremely large katamari, you will unlock an untimed version of the stage. This unlocks the biggest replayability with this title -- just going through the stages with all the time in the world on your hands.

The biggest charm of Katamari Damacy is that anyone and everyone can pick it up and play it. My wife doesn't like to play a lot of video games. She's spent hours playing this one. Even my mother had spent a few hours playing this game and the last game she played was Samba Di Amigo. The game's ability to draw you in is astounding, the gameplay is so simple and yet so addictive, the music is amazing, it's ability to make you say "I know I can finish that one stage just a little faster" -- the game just does everything perfectly. For $20, you will not find a better gaming value period. Not only the 2004 Game of the Year, but a completely solid . . .


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