by Martin Dixon
It’s hard to describe a game in four words & completely capture the essence of it. Take Borderlands for instance, “A first person shooter with RPG style stat raising” is as close as I can get & still sound remotely human. The Katamari series however, can be accurately described in 4 words and here they are “roll and make bigger”. See, four.
If that sounds a little facetious I apologise, but it’s true, Katamari wears is one core game mechanic on it’s sleeve, and it’s this reluctance to overcomplicate matters that makes for a truly fun and accessible game, although one mostly destined to be followed by the words “never heard of it” by most gamers.
The story of the Katamari games always had this one central theme; The King of all Cosmos, creator of the universe and all round God-like entity accidentally destroys all planets, moons and stars in the universe except for Earth, which is handy, as Earth is such a messy planet, there’s plenty of junk lying around with which to rebuild, so the King commissions his son, The Prince of all Cosmos to set about rebuilding life, the universe and everything. One problem: the Prince is only a few inches tall, so to help him, the King offers up a Katamari, a brightly coloured ball that will pick up anything it touches, once the Katamari is big enough, it can be turned into a heavenly body, back in the night sky. And if all that sounds like the ramblings of a tinfoil wearing lunatic after 5 or 6 energy drinks you’d be right, but as a setup is much more interesting than “dudebro soldiers in the middle east” now isn’t it?
The way this translates into the game is simple, control the prince rolling the Katamari, to pick up as much junk in the level as possible, aiming to reach and better a target size before the timer runs out. you start out small, rolling around apartments gathering items such as coins, paperclips and sweets, but as the Katamari gets bigger, it becomes possible to roll up much more interesting stuff; cats, dogs, bikes, children, sumo wrestlers, and more all presented in pleasing blocky graphics, bright primary colours and backed by a quirky Jpop & chiptune soundtrack. Some levels throw in a new wrinkle now and then, challenges such as only being able to pick up a limited number of items, or not having the current size of your Katamari on the HUD, leaving it up to you to decide if you think your Katamari is at or above the target size keep things interesting, and the whole game has a pleasant, easy going charm about it.
It’s Katamari’s simplicity that’s it’s greatest strength, this is one of those games you’d be happy to use as an introduction to games for younger players, and although the twin stick tank controls do take some learning, the overall sense of whimsy is charming, and judging by it’s cult following, I’m not the only one who thinks this.
I suppose the main aim of this piece was to just shed a little light on a game that was designed to be fun first and foremost, because it’s a sad truth that more often than not, games like Katamari are dismissed as being “for little kids” because of their colourful exterior and one-note gameplay, but it’s nice to switch your brain off and just let yourself be mesmerised by the pretty colours, and save the universe without slaughtering whole alien races for once. Just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it’s dumb.