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Katamari Damacy
Review By: J. Michael Neal
 
Developer:  Namco
Publisher:  Namco
# Of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Puzzle
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  1-10-05

If you are a fan of import games, or keep an eye to the East, then you are probably already familiar with Katamari Damacy, even if you only know it as ďthat crazy Japanese game where you roll all kinds of stuff up into a giant ballĒ. Well, That Crazy Japanese Game Where You Roll All Kinds of Stuff Up Into a Giant Ball has made it stateside, miraculously untainted by localization, and is sure to fly off store shelves like hotcakes as soon as Japanophiles get a whiff of its sweet, sweet quirkiness.

In Katamari you play as a tinyÖ tube-headed Prince who must roll around this giantÖ squeeze-toy lookingÖ thing (your ďkatamariĒ, or ďclumpĒ), collecting random objects in its spheroid mass until itís big enough to replace the stars your carpet-headed, b-boy father, the King of All Cosmos has knocked out the sky in an act ofÖ I-donít-know, but it sounded a heck of a lot like he was trying to get jiggy with space. Anyway, as you can gather, the story is probably the best example of Japanese nonsense since a dog tried to woo a flower by learning karate from an onion. Trust me, this is one of those games you want to own simply to pull out and show to your bewildered friends and family. The utterly bizarre opening cinematic alone is worth the price of admission.

Once the game begins, youíll be rolling this ball over objects that then stick to it. You start out small, only a few inches high and capable of collecting tiny bits of pieces like thumbtacks, paperclips, and game pieces, but as your katamari grows, so will itís capacity to hold larger and larger items. After a few minutes, youíll be a foot high and picking up books, shoes, and dinner plates. Give yourself enough time, and youíll be rolling over dogs, people, cars, buildings, telephone poles, you name it. Your only limit is the amount of time you have per level to reach a specific diameter, but eventually it becomes all about swallowing up whole cities like some rejected Godzilla nemesis.

If youíre wondering how an entire game built around rolling a ball over objects can be in the least bit interesting, let me assure you, it is. Katamari Damacy does a few things to make a game this simplistic entertaining. First of all, Katamari Damacy really runs with the idea of a giant, sticky ball of chaos. It may be the simplest concept since Tetris, but itís explored to itís fullest. The levels are absolutely huge and numerous and littered with such an endless, random assortment of objects that you could never collect everything there is to collect. Also, levels evolve as you grow, but itís very subtle. The same location can have a dozen different ďversionsĒ depending on how large or small you are, each with itís own set of size-appropriate objects. And if those werenít enough, the game features some fairly accurate physics, and every object you collect effects the katamari in subtle and not so subtle ways.

It gets better from there, though. The controls arenít easy. They take a while to learn and, since you must move both analog sticks in tandem to direct the katamari, require dexterity in both hemispheres of your brain. You never really feel like you have a total grip on movement, but thatís ok, because considering the game is essentially just moving forwards, backwards, left, right, and rotating, it gives the controls some character. Think what Robot Alchemic Drive would have been like if the controls werenít so weird and you get my point.

Namco also threw in some stuff for the completists out there. Some levels contain secret items worth searching for, including a camera that can be used to take pictures in game and save on your memory card. Thereís an object collection screen that keeps track of every item you managed to finish a level with still in your katamari, which is an incentive to find them all, little by little. Some levels even hold special rewards for attain extra high scores, like levels with no time limit.

And the cherry on top? A two-player mode! It wonít take the crown for multiplayer experience of the year, but itís a great way to show the game to friends in a more exciting way than just having them watch you play.

If youíre into a game like Katamari Damacy, Iím sure visuals mean very little to you, but be not afraid, for this is not an ugly game. Thereís no textured bump mapping or anything like that, itís all very simple and stylized with lots of pastels, but its quirky style matches its quirky gameplay. The music, on the other hand, is surprisingly good. Itís the kind of soundtrack I wouldnít mind owning. Itís very diverse; pop, jazz, folk, rock, hip-hop, but itís all in Japanese. Novel idea, yeah, but more importantly, itís actually really good music! Itís catchy as all hell and, really, some of the best stuff Iíve heard in ages. If youíre the kind of person whoíd dig a game like this, youíre definitely the kind of person who will go bananas for this soundtrack.

Ok, I know what youíre thinking, ďWhatíre the gameís faults?Ē Well, there arenít really many. All I can really find is that motion sickness is a huge issue. It may just be me, maybe I have a weak stomach, but I can only play this game 5, 10 minutes at a time before getting woozy. Itís very annoying, particularly since this is the kind of game you just want to play and play. Aside from that, only other thing I can think of is that this game has become pretty difficult to find. Impossible? No, not impossible, but in limited numbers, and with a price tag of $19.99, this game sold out most places pretty fast. 

HIGHS:

  • Fun and funny in that way only Japan can manage.
  • Great soundtrack.
  • Far amount of longevity.
  • Two player modes are always a nice feature.
  • Give it up for originality in gaming!

LOWS:

  • Motion sickness problem.
  • May be hard to find.

FINAL VERDICT:

Come on, itís $20 and itís one of the best games released all year! Even if it sounds like the kind of game you know youíd hate, you should still pick it up, because man cannot live on first person shooters and sports games alone. Every now and then, you need to escape from the car crashes and decapitations and roll a giant dog toy around Japan, collecting cars and candy and screaming babies and ringing phones and frogs and birds and motor homes and statues and baseball stadiums and sushi rolls to make your father happy.

Overall Score: 9.0

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