Gaming Today Reviews Beautiful Katamari

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A few years back, I purchased a cheap, somewhat obscure PS2 game called “Katamari Damacy.” It’d gotten good reviews and it was only $20, so I thought I’d give the strange, cutesy game a shot. I was living with four roommates at the time, and they all mocked me relentlessly for playing such a ridiculous looking game. Nevertheless, I eventually beat it and got caught up with some schoolwork, which pulled me away from my PS2 for the time being. Then one day, about a week later, I came home to find my entire household crowded around the TV, taking turns playing the game. These included both people who loved video games and people who hated them. The game was simply that fun and addicting for everyone.

In that regard, very little has changed in this latest iteration of the quirky franchise, “Beautiful Katamari,” as I suspected. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the persistent deja vu is hard to ignore. Did you ever see that South Park episode where they displayed a counter for every time someone said the “S” word? Well, I’m going to do an homage to that episode (read: complete blatant rip-off) by counting off every time I reference “the first game” during my review. Let’s begin, shall we?
katamari1-1.jpgPresentation: (6)

If the developers for this game had a motto, it was undoubtedly “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This is the fourth Katamari game, and very little has changed from the first game (1 *ding*). Just like the first game (2 *ding*), the Great King of the Cosmos has royally screwed up, this time sending a wayward tennis ball into space, and creating a black hole that sucks up all the stars. And like the first game (3 *ding*), you, the unfortunate pint-sized offspring of the King, must travel to Earth with a giant sticky ball and roll up everything in sight. You’ll start out about the size of an olive, but, as you collect more random objects, the bigger you’ll get and the more objects you’ll be able to gather; again, like the first game (4 *ding*).

If you’re still with me at this point, odds are you either played the first game (5 *ding*) or you have a penchant for off-the-wall titles. Either way, you’ll most likely enjoy Beautiful Katamari. Of course, if you’ve played the first game (6 *ding*), you know how insanely addictive and fun this simple premise can be. The difference though is in the little things, which are, granted, really only noticeable to fans of the series. The animation flows much smoother than before, for example. There’s also simply more stuff to roll up and a greater variety of objects populating the environments. The King’s personality also hasn’t changed one iota from the first game (7 *ding*), as he stilll plays the abusive parent, calling you strange names and making fun of the size of your katamari.

But for all the little changes, there’s no escaping the feeling that this has been done before. Beautiful Katamari doesn’t really bring enough to the table to make it feel like a new game, so much as the first game (8 *ding*) with new levels and music. This may be all well and good for huge fans of series, but may not be enough to warrant a purchase from those looking for a new experience.

katamari5-1.jpg Graphics: (6)

The overall style of the game is quirky, colorful, and blocky; so there really haven’t been a lot of changes in terms of graphics since the first game (9 *ding*). The only real differences are that the animations seem somewhat smoother and the visuals can now be crystal clear in high-definition: two new changes that will only be noticeable to people who played the first game (10 *ding*). This game isn’t going to win any awards for graphical innovation (or, well, innovation in general), but the simplistic style is part of what makes the game so enjoyable.

Sound: (8)

Like the first game (11 *ding*), the soundtrack consists of mostly bubbly J-pop tunes, and God help me I love every second of it. The soundtrack is strange for sure, but just a few minutes of playtime will ensure those same songs will be embedded in your dreams and nightmares for days. The majority of the songs are just so catchy that it actually makes the whole game more fun.

I’m dropping a couple points from the sound score just because certain sound effects will drive you insane very quickly. At the end of a level, for example, a graphic shows how big your katamari is along with a high-pitched humming sound. At first, I thought my TV was broken. Other than that, most of the sound effects are rehashed from the first game (12 *ding*). That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but you’d think they’d try shaking things up a bit when they’re now four games into the series.

katamari3-11.jpgGameplay: (7)

*Ahem* Like the first game (13 *ding*), your goal is to roll around a giant sticky ball to make it a certain size before time runs out using just the two analog sticks. You’ll start out collecting small things, like paperclips, but eventually you’ll be able to nab people, cars, buildings, and even large land masses. One thing that’s different is you now have to roll up not only a specific-sized katamari, but also one consisting of certain objects. Really though, this doesn’t change the gameplay much at all. Just roll up everything in sight and you’ll be fine.

Another noticeable change is there is now a much larger variety of objects to pick up. What this means though is that the stages where you’re katamari is smaller in size are much more fun than before. In previous games, these stages always felt like filler before you were able to roll up people and buildings. Stores for example used to be solid entities that you could only roll up in larger stages. Now, you can actually go inside shops, which will take you to a whole new area filled with items. Also, if you fail at your task now, you’re sent to a giant pool table, where the King shoots pool balls at you that you can try to guide into the pockets. I’m guessing it’s for an achievement of some sort; it’s hard to say since there are a few “secret” achievements.

The gameplay hasn’t really changed at all form the first game (14 *ding*), but I wouldn’t exactly call that a bad thing, since it’s still as addictive as ever. This game won’t suck you in completely, but you’ll still probably sit down with it for a good hour or two and play through a handful of levels at a time. You’ll also find yourself retrying levels just to see if you can make your katamari bigger or reach new areas.

katamari4-1.jpgReplayability: (5)

Let’s talk online, especially since this is the main thing in the game that is completely new. Imagine, if you will, the whimsical, cutesy world of Beautiful Katamari. You’re rolling along through a brightly colored landscape while listening to catchy J-pop tunes, when someone suddenly strikes up a conversation about anal leakage and then starts repeatedly belching into their mic. That’s the experience I had: all the atmosphere of a Katamari Damacy game, but with the usual douchebaggery of the Xbox Live crowd. “Game experience may change during online play” indeed. Unfortunately, even after I muted my headset, things didn’t get much better. There’s only one game mode, which requires you to collect as many of a particular object as you can, which are then scattered all over the map. Usually, midway through the map, all of the objects get collected; so the game degenerates into people just trying to ram into other people to knock objects off their katamari. I just wanted to be let loose in one of the game’s levels to try and make a katamari bigger than an online opponent’s. It seems like such a simple idea that I don’t know why a mode like that wasn’t included in the game. Besides which, the lag is just plain terrible, almost rendering the game unplayable; and I’ve never had that bad of a problem with it before. Too many times, another player and I would charge at each other only to have everything freeze with us in mid-air for a few seconds before we’d find out who got hit the hardest. You gain achievements for online play, but that’s about the only draw, and it’s not enough to make me want to go back online with the game.

Luckily, Namco Bandai has announced downloadable content should become available soon, but haven’t specified exactly what that entails. If it’s new levels, then this game’s life could extend for however long they keep churning them out. If not though, well, there’s always the next Katamari game. There are also 40 achievements worth 1250 points total, which doesn’t matter so much to me, but I’m sure it will to a lot of people. Unfortunately, the majority of them are just collection missions; nothing really creative or that will make you try anything you wouldn’t have already tried.

On the plus side though, the game is fun enough that you’ll probably continue playing it even after you complete every level. This may not last too long, but somehow it just never really gets old trying to make your Katamari as big as possible.

katamari2-1.jpgOverall: (6)

Like the first game (15 *ding*), I can’t recommend this one enough…to the hardcore Katamari fans like myself. This game takes the same style and gameplay that we’ve come to enjoy so much, just with different levels and music to make it somewhat interesting again. Unfortunately, this time around you’ll have to cough up $40 for this one. That may be cheap for a 360 title, but considering the first game (16 *ding*) cost only $20, this one doesn’t feel like twice the gameplay. For those who have yet to sample this series though and have a PS2 lying around, I’d recommend just picking up a used copy of the first game (17 *ding*). Trust me — and it pains me to say this — you won’t be missing much.

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