Review: Even the Burger King bows to the King of All Cosmos
For all his royal majesty, The King of All Cosmos is a clumsy fellow. When Katamari Damacy came to be three years ago, it was because the King was a wee bit reckless and destroyed all the stars. Now, while playing a game of tennis with the Queen, his serve has proven to be a bit too much, and the impact has created a black hole which is sucking up the entire universe! Naturally, the King sends out his miniature spawn, the Prince, to clean up his mess in Beautiful Katamari, the fourth entry in as many years to the cult hit Katamari franchise. This game wasn't supposed to happen, the series was supposed to be dead after the PSP version, but here we are, rolling up the Earth for the first time on a non-PlayStation console, having moved onto the Xbox 360. Opening up the franchise to a whole new generation, Beautiful Katamari can be easily summed up as ?Katamari in HD?, which seems to be a-okay, though it's strangely out of place in this era of high-resolution textures and other graphically-specific buzzwords. Clocking in at $40, it's a bargain compared to most other 360 games (with some DLC coming); but even then it doesn't offer content to match the price.
With the move to a new machine, there's obviously a whole new audience here, needing to understand what exactly Katamari is. In the easiest terms, it's an action/puzzle game, where twitch skills aren't needed as much as the ability to organize a pattern and then execute it. As the Prince ? or as one of his many cousins that you find scattered about the levels ? you're dropped in the middle of a stage with a big, sticky ball, which is dubbed the Katamari. From there, you must roll it around the level, collecting the hundreds of objects lying around the area. At first all you can collect are small things, but as the Katamari grows, larger objects can be picked up (if they're too large the Katamari just bounces off), and eventually you can roll up people, cars, houses, boats, and entire islands. By the end of the game you can even roll up Earth. It's a difficult thing to explain in words, really, and thus always comes off more boring than it really is (thankfully there is a demo on Xbox Live). There's a strange addictive quality to the game, trying to get the best score and the biggest Katamari in every stage, and the very high level of quirk makes sure it's not some dull, ordinary experience. It's fun in a very pure form, and that's all it really needs to be.
In Me & My Katamari, Namco experimented with specific goals aside from getting a certain-sized Katamari; collecting bright things, cute things, heavy things, warm things, etc. With Beautiful Katamari, this has added emphasis as it really can affect the overall score you earn; it's expected that you'll roll normally but hopefully you're looking for exactly what the King expects you to get. Long as it's the right size you'll complete the request, but the score might not be very good and of course, the King will insult you, though he usually insults you when a good job is done. But this makes it very, very hard to unlock the Eternal stages, where there's no time limit or size requirement, so you can roll to your heart's content. A few of the stages have a different sort of goal ? one stage has you collecting hot things to increase the temperature of the Katamari ? collect cold stuff and the temperature goes down and once it hits zero degrees the King gets angry. This is coincidentally the most frustrating stage in the game due to the amount of cherry picking needed to finish it.
For fans of the Katamari franchise, Beautiful Katamari is a no-brainer to acquire, though perhaps it's these long-time fans that will be annoyed at what really hurts the game ? content. The original Katamari was fairly short, but it was also $20 and most could live with it. We Love Katamari had tons of stuff, making it the deepest game in the series. Me & My Katamari was low on original stuff, but there were a decent amount of challenges. Beautiful Katamari probably has the least amount of content of all the games. There's about 12 stages, with the longest requiring 18 minutes to finish. I played through them all in just a few hours. The stage variety is weak, as you'll see the same candy store, burger shop, and cities constantly, just in a different form. Of course, there's some DLC coming, but if they already know it's on the way, why not include it in the main game instead of bleeding people dry? It's not a good idea to charge $40 for an incomplete game and make people pay more later to see it all (sadly, I will probably buy all the bonus stuff but I may not be thrilled about it). If it wasn't for the time trials, the challenge of unlocking the Eternal stages, finding cousins, presents, and the vast amount of multiplayer options for local and Live, it would be even more of a disappointment.
It's almost irrelevant at this point to discuss the graphics of Beautiful Katamari, because they're never going to be ?next-gen." The heavily stylized, Lego-style worlds have their charm, and though the game would barely push the power of the original PlayStation, it certainly looks really good in high-definition and most importantly, it runs very, very well. It has some slight chugging when you hit the larger stages, but once you get through it, the game runs at 60FPS without a problem. There's a strangely impressive scale on those larger stages, as your Katamari grows subtly and the world around you get smaller, to the point where the tallest buildings look like crayons from an early stage. The all-new soundtrack is as catchy as ever, featuring some really good J-pop (amongst other Japanese music) that as always, strangely fits the atmosphere of the game. There's no speech, at least in our normal world, as the King has that usual scratchy voice, and the strange beat of the Prince when he walks around his little world going from stage to stage. For a bonus, find the jukebox to view a crazy little dance routine with all the cousins, complete with nutty music.