Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Katamari Damacy

Katamari Damacy is my favorite video game franchise for mindless gaming.  The concept is really simple: As the early games were quick to point out, it's the video game version of rolling around a snowball.  Instead of collecting snow, you collect whatever you roll over: dirt, rocks, toys, animals, children, houses, continents, planets... The bigger you are, the bigger the items you can roll up.  Although the objective of each stage can vary, you're usually simply given a time limit to reach a certain size.  Each stage's layout is fixed, so the challenge is finding the most efficient path to getting big.  It's not very difficult to reach the target size, so the player is given a lot of freedom in whether they want to relaxing roll or intensely try to reach a huge size.  Lots of collectables, gameplay options (untimed mode, speed up mode), and stage mixups (become as big as possible only collecting 50 items, avoid this item) add a lot of variety.

The second aspect to the series, which in this case is just as important as the gameplay, is the presentation.  The graphics are purposefully blocky, which is probably primarily a performance constraint, but ultimately creates a distinct style.  Katamari Damacy relies on being goofy and absurd.  The story is generally your tiny character's father, the King of All Cosmos, rudely ordering you to do this or that.  The music is relaxing, kind of folksy, video game tunes that are a crucial part of the Katamari Damacy experience to most people.  To quickly sum it up, this is a game that personifies the eccentric, weird side of Japanese pop culture.

For me, I love the feeling of getting big enough to swallow the galaxy while listening to relaxing music in a cartoonish world.  And while the series definitely peaked early on, I still play through each incarnation of the game.  This post is really about providing a quick review each game in the series.

Katamari Damacy - PS2

The game that started it all, but one that aged poorly. The subsequent games in the series improved on this one so much that it's almost irrelevant to play.  Although all Katamari Damacy games were budget games, this one felt the most budget. The game variety is lacking, the controls are not as smooth, the stage layouts are more frustrating, and the graphics are poorer compared to later entries.  This game was great for its time and essential to starting the franchise, but there's not really a good reason to go back to it unless you want to experience all the games.  The better levels were even remade for the PS3's Katamari Forever, so you're not missing out on much.

We Love Katamari - PS2

Honestly, this is the high point of the series and still definitely worth playing. All the concepts from the first game were improved and several gameplay modes were added. The stages were bigger, there were more collectables, there was more music... it was basically the epitome of what the creator of the series, Keita Takahashi, envisioned for the first game. This game is still very relevant and fun. This was the last game Keita Takahashi was involved with.  This game is definitely worth playing.

Me and My Katamari - PSP

This was the first portable version of the game and had an island theme.  It had several problems, the firstmost being control.  The PSP does not have dual analog sticks, which made it uncomfortable to play the game.  The second big problem was the PSP limitations.  When you become too big for the area you're in, you're transported to a new area which is usually thematically very different from where you left.  Even so, the last level is pretty fun and creatively made the rolling satisfying even though you couldn't roll up the whole world.  The credits game is also really fun.  You can easily skip this game, but it has enough going for it where a playthrough might be fun.

Beautiful Katamari - XBox360

This game introduced DLC, which was much reviled. I honestly don't mind much. The DLC is optional and wouldn't exist at all if DLC wasn't a thing.  Compared to We Love Katamari, a lot of the creativity is gone and the game doesn't feel as fresh.  Even though nothing comes off as surprising, this game is still a lot of fun and does introduce a lot of fun gimmick stages.  However, the last level is VERY satisfying, perhaps the biggest you can get in the series.  This game contains my favorite song of the series, Katamari Holiday.  If you do skip this game, a lot of the levels were remade into Katamari Forever, although the awesome last stage is missing.  A lot of people might argue with me, but I'd say this game is definitely worth playing.

Katamari Forever - PS3

This is basically a rehash of all the best levels of the previous games with many stages coming from Beautiful Katamari.  There are only 3 new stages and they're all pretty short.  One of those new stages is really well done, but you can play it in the demo.  As for new content... you have beautiful HD graphics, very nice graphic filters, a new drive mode where your katamari moves very fast, the option to play all the old game credit sequences, and a lot of remixed songs.  Nothing big or surprising, but there is a ton of content.

I'd recommend We Love Katamari + Beautiful Katamari above this game, but if you like the series or only want to buy one Katamari game, it's definitely worth a play.  This is a game is definitely for the fans.

i LOVE Katamari / Katamari Amore - iPhone

Horrible.  Avoid this game: the controls are bad, the stage layouts are bad (there's very few paths to even beat the stage), and the game is overpriced.

Touch My Katamari - PS Vita

This release uses the touch sensors on the back of the Vita to allow you to stretch the Katamari vertically and horizontally.  It's a cool feature, but generally not very useful.  The stages are okay.  It's a very short game and to unlock new stages, you either need to play A LOT and hope you get random tokens, or use actual money.  I found the game disappointed and would suggest skipping it.

The story cutscenes are easily the most entertaining out of all the Katamari.  That isn't saying much though and it's simple enough to just youtube the videos.

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