We Love Katamari Import Impressions
Insanity (and a whole lot of wildlife) abounds as we take the final Japanese version of Namco's sequel to Katamari Damacy for a roll.
It's hard to imagine that a game as fiercely spacey as Namco's Katamari Damacy would end up a hit and warrant a sequel. The quirky rolling simulator did impressive numbers in both Japan and the US when it hit last year, and it quickly garnered a loyal following of gamers. The inventive game features a surreal story that focuses on the adventures of the pint-sized Prince of All Cosmos who was tasked with reigniting the stars after his father, The King of All Cosmos, went on a bender and smashed them all. The offbeat narrative was married to a refreshingly addictive and accessible gameplay mechanic that found you rolling a "katamari" over anything you encountered in order to grow it to the size needed to make a star. The bow on the already cool package was a surreal soundtrack and stylized visuals that were downright Cubist. While such a game would be a shoo-in for classic status back in the early days of gaming, its success looked highly unlikely in the States given the changing trends. But dang if the little title didn't roll its way into people's hearts. It should go without saying then that Namco's decision to make a sequel was a smart one. While the US version of the game is slated to ship this October, the Japanese version just hit stores, and we grabbed ourselves a copy to see if it lives up to the high standards of its predecessor.
The game's story is surreal, as always. The mighty King is back, as is the rest of the gang, including the Prince's mother and assorted relatives who appear in loopy cinematics and playable form. The Prince will be mingling with earthlings and rolling himself a big ol' katamari out of anything that's handy. As before, the narrative will unfold via interactions with your enormous, and pants-free, pops as well as in off-the-wall cinematics rife with drama.
The gameplay retains the awesome simplicity of the original game, but refines it by trying to smooth out the camera. If you've played the original, then you'll settle in with the sequel nicely. If you're new to the series, it'll take you all of five minutes to get the control mechanics down. Though the camera is still problematic, there's been some work to reduce the amount of times your view is blocked by objects courtesy of cut out views of the action that let you see the Prince through objects. Though this new feature helps, there's still more than a few places where you'll be fighting the camera. The biggest tweak to the action is in the two-player partnership mode, which lets you and a friend share control of the mighty katamari. Player one will control the left analog stick, and player two will control the right stick, forcing both players to work in tandem.
The game's structure has been basically kept the same, although you'll explore the Earth on foot and interact with people and animals who will let you access different areas to get your rolling on. Most levels will follow the standard "make a katamari that is X amount of centimeters before the time limit runs out" structure. Others will require you to collect specific items, sometimes in competition with a friend. The two-player co-op is a cool addition to the mix, as you and a friend can both switch out and take control of whichever of the Prince's relatives happen to be wandering around the map (this can be done by walking up to them and pressing circle). Things are kept interesting thanks to the variety in the levels, which run the gamut from indoor and exterior locales we saw in the first game to new ones, such as a water level that equips you with snorkels and lets you roll around in an underwater environment complete with divers, sea life, and cats in snorkels…yes, cats in snorkels. What? This is a game where you roll around an enormous ball, and you're going to make a face at cats in snorkels?
We Love Katamari's presentation, a surreal mix of sight and sound, follows the same basic formula as its predecessor, with just a few differences. The graphics feature the same blocky style, although they're a bit cleaner in some places. You'll see some neat bits of coding, such as a television displaying split-screen gameplay that mirrors what you and a friend are doing. However, you won't find any cutting-edge techniques that push the PS2 to new heights. What makes the visuals shine, though, is the game's insane sense of style. The development team has gone to town and packed the game with sheer lunacy, which gives We Love Katamari an undeniable charm. The audio, one of the highlights in Katamari Damacy, is a bit more discordant in this sequel. Though the game kicks off with a fabulous--with a capital "F" surrounded by dancing pandas and robots--title song, the music we've heard so far is hit or miss. We haven't come across anything quite as catchy as the tunes in the first game yet, although the music is fine once you get used to it.
So far, we've been left feeling pretty satisfied with our hands-on time with this kooky sequel. The gameplay is still as addictive as ever and the visuals feature the same nutty charm. You'll still find the rough spots seen in the original, which is really the only negative mark against it right now, but they appear to be as forgivable as those in its predecessor. The new two-player mode is an interesting addition to the gameplay, which we like. All in all, We Love Katamari is looking like a worthy sequel. If you can't wait for the game's October release and feel the burning need to import it, we'll offer a small cautionary note: Even though you'll be able to hop right in and start rolling, you'll be left in the dark when it comes to the story, which will surely be worth a chuckle or two, as we expect some priceless zingers to come from The King of All Cosmos. We Love Katamari is currently slated to ship in October for the PlayStation 2. Look for more on the game in the coming weeks.
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