12 September 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Niche Games: Katamari Damacy

KatamariBox
<Coming up soon in Fantasy Magazine is a series of articles written by me, about something I call “niche games”. None of them have been posted there yet, but here’s a sneak peek. This article will only appear here on Diabolical Plots, and will perhaps whet your appetite for more over at Fantasy.>

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing because they’re something different, something special.

Katamari Damacy, released in 2004 by Namco, is easily one of the strangest games I’ve ever played. The title translates to something like “clump spirit”, which is as accurate as anything, I suppose. The game begins when the King of All Cosmos (a strange deity with a gigantic codpiece and a carpet-roll for a head) goes on a bit of a binge and eats all of the stars, constellations, and the moon. Now it is your responsibility, as his son, to correct his mistake. How you ask? By the use of magical objects called katamari.

KingCows
If you don’t ever pick up the game, at least check out the theme song. It is so weird, but I find it hilarious, and it never ever gets old.

Katamari are balls of various sizes which are supernaturally sticky. They can pick up anything that is realatively small compared to them, and I do mean anything. When the game begins, the first katamari is very tiny, only about an inch across. Right away you can pick up tiny objects like push pins and buttons simply by running into them. They stick to the ball and increase the diameter by a little bit. But if you try to pick up slightly larger items, like mice or tape dispensers, then the katamari will just bounce harmlessly off of them.

littlekatamari
As your diameter increases, so does your ability to pick up larger and larger items. From buttons to staplers to bananas to pumpkins to people to cars and so on. I must admit, I giggled like a schoolgirl when I picked up my first human. The poor child was stuck to the side of the Katamari, legs wiggling until he was buried in other stuff (mostly also wiggling people). When each level begins, you are given a time limit and an objective size. You must reach that minimum size. If you do reach that size in time, then another level is unlocked, and so on. As the levels go on, both the starting size and goal size of the katamari increase, as does the scope of the level.

The controls in the game are quite simple, all based on the use of the two joysticks on the PS2 controller. If you push both sticks up, then you push the Katamari forward. If you pull them both back, you pull the Katamari backward. If you pull one forward and one back, your little guy rotates around the ball, swiveling the perspective. The only difficult control is the speed boost. If you tap both joysticks from up to down repeatedly and simultaneously, you’ll get a sudden boost of speed that launches you forward. You will need this from time to time. The Katamari has mass and must obey the laws of gravity, so a steep slope may be impossible to conquer without the speed boost.

You can’t die in the game. If you do take a big knock from something larger than you, then chunks fly off your katamari, shrinking its size and flinging it far, far away. Most of the time you’re more or less spherical, but if you pick up an oblong object it will affect your ability to roll, making you lopsided and ungainly until you pick up some more swag to even yourself out.

The time limit on each level keeps things interesting and exciting. Even when I replay levels I’ve played it’s not a foregone conclusion that I will pass it again. It all depends on what area of the level you take, so you learn as you play to remember where the most pick-up items are. As the timer gets close to the bottom I’m always rushing from place to place trying to find a last few items. By that time I’ve cleared out all the obvious ones and it’s a matter of picking up the items on the periphery.

buildings
The last levels are especially cool just because of the sheer size. In those levels you START at a size of a couple meters, and become a monster of epic proportions, getting so large that you not only are picking up buildings, but freighters, islands, eventually even clouds from the sky once you’re big enough to touch them while touching the ground. The greatest strength of the game is it’s ability to scale the world smoothly so that in such a level you never notice the growth, it happens so gradually it just seems natural.

There are some features which enhance replayability. If you reach your size goal in a level before the time limit you can choose to keep going, growing larger and larger, and can try to get a record for the largest size in each level. Also, outside of the levels, there is a collectibles screen which has a short description of everything you’ve absorbed into a Katamari. This is actually fun sometimes, because many of the items are Japanese food items that I’d never heard of, so this lets you learn tidbits of Japanese culture. Also, in many or all of the levels, you have cousins hiding out, litting guys with funny shaped heads. If you collect them then you can use them as playable characters in multiplayer modes. Also, there are presents left for you by the King of the Cosmos that you can try to find. The presents are things the prince can wear, such as a guitar strapped over his back or a hat. They don’t affect gameplay, but they’re a cut little customizable thing. And all of these things still have time limits, so you’ve got to manage it in the time allotted.

Finding a copy of Katamari Damacy shouldn’t be hard. A quick eBay search finds a brand new sealed copy for a Buy It Now price of $10. That is well worth this weird gem of a game.

Leave a Reply