Review: Chicks dig the sticky balls.
When you take the current gaming climate into effect ? one that revolves around constant sequels, me-too copycats passing themselves off as 'original' titles, non-stop violence, and more licensed games than you can shake a film reel at ? it's downright amazing when you look at the success of Namco's Katamari Damacy. After all, it wasn't a sequel, wasn't derivative of other, more popular games, wasn't brutally violent, and wasn't a licensed product designed for the mainstream market. But yet, thanks to a $20 price tag and incredible word of mouth, Katamari Damacy turned out to be one of the most talked-about games of 2004; a tall order considering what came out in that year. The combination of unique and easy to learn gameplay and a bizarre, tripped-out atmosphere (which likely helped the game appeal to the Stoner Generation) was unlike anything else out there and gamers actually bought it up, though the $20 retail price had much to do with it. A year later, Katamari Damacy breaks one of those above gaming industry habits - a sequel. Dubbed We Love Katamari, this follow-up takes everything that was great about KD and adds even more depth, variety, and strangeness to the mix, making it a more well-rounded affair. It does cost $10 more than its predecessor, but that extra cash is well worth ponying up to spend some more time with the King and his goofy antics. It won't convert those who didn't like the first game, but Katamari fanatics will eat it up.
As Katamari fans might recall from the previous game, the King of All Cosmos got a bit reckless and destroyed all the stars in the galaxy. Which is, you know, bad. Thanks to his pint-sized son the Prince, the stars were returned ? though in truth they only surrounded the Earth, and the rest of space was still free of stars. At the same time, Earthlings fell in love with the King and Katamari Damacy, and suddenly wanted to roll stuff up themselves. Hence the title We Love Katamari ? it's mostly about the King, the Prince, and the dozens of cousins doing the bidding of the adoring Katamari fans. Like the first game, which had a side-story with the Lego Family, there's interludes that explain how the King became the King and how the Prince came to be, in naturally strange fashion. The story means little in the long run, since the goal is to roll and roll and roll some more, but at the same time, it does a good job of portraying a video game within a video game, so to speak. In addition to the 'story' mode, there's a 2 player setup for both competitive play like the first game, and a cooperative mode letting you team up with a friend for two times the rolling. Unfortunately online play didn't make the cut.
If you've never played Katamari Damacy, or by chance never heard of its wonders, describing the game is simple, but yet difficult. When you start a level, the Prince is dropped into an area with a sticky ball, known as a Katamari. Using merely the analog sticks, your job is to roll stuff into the Katamari and make one as large as possible before the time limit expires. It sounds a bit dumb, but there's a lot more to it ? that's where the strategy comes in. You can't just roll up everything; you have to start small. Usually, you have to collect little things like tacks, playing cards, fruit...whatever is in the stage. As the size of your Katamari increases, you become capable to collect larger items. This is where the fun really becomes clear ? there's nothing like starting a small stage and then creating a Katamari so huge that it can pick up people, cars, houses ? even the Sun itself! It's just one of those things you really have to play to decide on; some might find the process trite and simplistic, but the later stages really require on-the-fly thinking to figure out how to get as large a Katamari as possible.
For We Love Katamari, Namco has made moves to be sure this is not a quick, uninspired cash-in. For starters, there's few of the traditional time-limit levels, instead replaced by numerous 'objective' stages, and what does remain from the more traditional maps is enhanced to be even more unique. For instance, one level has you using a Katamari placed on a race track, so you move around much faster and thus more difficult to keep control of what you're doing. Another stage has you controlling a flaming Katamari which needs to become even bigger in order to light a fire, but because the stage is full of water, you have to avoid rolling into it, because as you know, water puts out fire pretty much every time. Yet another stage has you not rolling a Katamari, but instead using your rolling skills to create a Snowman head. With no time limit or goal, this is the most relaxing stage in the game. However my personal favorite stage is one where you don't use a Katamari, but instead you use a sumo wrestler in training, and the goal is to make the Sumomari big enough to roll up his biggest rival. Once you get to the end of the game, 'reverse' stages open where the goal is to actually make the Katamari smaller
, which presents a different experience entirely. Basically, if you know and love the bizarre stuff that takes place in the world of Katamari Damacy, you'll dig all the weird stuff they've put into this one ? it's a sequel that almost feels as fresh as its predecessor.
Like in the last game, there are some cool goodies to unlock if you look hard enough. Of course, presents are in each stage, which you can equip to customize characters. I say characters because the other thing you can find in each level are cousins, which are basically deformed and weird versions of the Prince that you have to see for yourself. As you find them and roll them up (and manage to keep them in your Katamari by the end...if you screw up and they fall out and you don't recollect them, it's like they never existed), they become playable characters, and can use them in the various stages instead of the Prince. It doesn't change much and doesn't affect how the game plays, but it at least offers another goal to every stage. It would be the greatest thing ever, though, if you could play as the King of All Cosmos. Finally, if you have constellation data from Katamari Damacy, you can import it into this game, which is very helpful for the final stage of the game.
What makes WLK stand out, just like Katamari Damacy did last year, is how simple and relaxing the game is to play, letting you take in the atmosphere and weirdness. The controls are basic, and thus even someone who never plays games could leap right in and enjoy it. The camera can still be annoying, but it doesn't get in the way as much as it did before. There's no worrying about AI or cheap bosses or item management ? instead, you have just the simple and enjoyable premise of using your head in this most strange of puzzle/strategy games. We Love Katamari is not a really challenging game however ? unless you screw up and fail an objective, chances are you can get through the whole thing without seeing the game over screen. Which is a shame because if you do, it contains the greatest game over screen of all time ? because the King shooting laser beams out of his eyes is the coolest thing ever.
Visually little has been improved from the first game ? but it doesn't have to be. The game is more about style than substance in this department, and We Love Katamari takes full advantage of this. Each level is absolutely cluttered with stuff to collect, be it those little things, or Lego-style people to roll up. It just has an incredible amount of charm, from the opening title screen to the 'meadow' area where you pick and choose your next stage, to the bizarre designs for the cousins. It definitely doesn't push the PS2 hardware, but that's the whole idea, I think. As mentioned the camera can get in the way, but when you get your perspective blocked by a large object, the game smartly 'cuts a hole' through to see around it. And of course, my favorite graphical trick returns ? the one that shows the world getting smaller around you while the Katamari never grows to obscene size until you start rolling up huge things like houses and whatnot. It's very neat and transparent.
Like KD, We Love Katamari has a killer soundtrack, though it isn't quite as good as the original. There's a lot of variations on the Katamari theme, so you might get tired of hearing it over and over. Most of the songs do mention something about Katamari, so the soundtrack feels more original than the random stuff from the last game. Like the first game, upon completion you can access a gallery which lets you listen to any tune any time. Actually, when you're in the main game, before each level you can either take the default music choice or choose anything else from the soundtrack instead. In terms of voice acting...well the King didn't learn English. He still just speaks like a record skipping, which is pretty amusing. Especially when you think about what he's saying. In each level there's the sounds of screaming people, things you roll up ? stuff like that. There's not much funnier than rolling a Katamari up to 4 people while they shriek in terror as you...err...collect them. Though rolling up a new cousin and hear him get berated by the King is amusing too.