From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Game Rediscoveries: Katamari Damacy

Let’s start with the basics. You are this little dude, and for each level of the game, you are to push around this big ball and roll up as many items as you can within the allotted time. At first you can only roll the smallest items on the level, but the more you roll up the bigger your ball gets. The bigger your ball, the larger the things you can roll up. Roll up as much as you can and make your ball as big as possible within the time allowed.

That’s the core gameplay of Katamari Damacy and is the game boiled down to a description that doesn’t do even a little bit of justice to the absolute awesomeness that is Katamari Damacy.

Let’s talk story. Your father is the King of All Cosmos, and one day he got mad and destroyed all the stars in the sky. Seriously, he pitched a fit and kicked all the stars away and the world is left in a starless sky. When he realized what he had done, he set you, the Little Prince, a series of tasks. Take your ball (called a Katamari) to Earth and roll up as many earth items as you can. When you roll your Katamari to the size designated by the King, he’ll take your Katamari, throw it up into the sky, and make a star out of it. It is your job to repopulate the sky with stars.

So, back to what it is that you are doing with that Katamari of yours. For the first level you only have a little Katamari and three minutes to work with. You only have to grow your Katamari just a little bit. You start out by rolling up little erasers and cups and other tiny things. Eventually you get bigger and can roll up magnets and stuff. You get a handle on the control scheme in those first levels (and you do get a training level). That’s the first level. Each subsequent level gives you a little bit more time, starts you as a somewhat larger Katamari, and has a goal of rolling your Katamari ever larger. Your Katamari is made up of all the items you have rolled up.

As you progress through the game you can roll up various animals, small children, and eventually fully grown people. THIS, dear friends, is where the game gets really good. See, when you roll up people, you hear them scream and yell, and when they become part of your Katamari, you can still see them kicking their feet in fright (or delight, you never know). There is a primal joy to be had in rolling your ever growing Katamari at a group of people and watching them try to run away screaming. This is perhaps a touch twisted, but oh, it is fun.

And then your Katamari grows even larger in the last few levels and besides the joy in rolling up people, you can roll up vehicles and buildings, and larger and larger things. Ships. Skyscrapers. A giant ferris wheel. Whirlpools (the kind in the ocean, not the kind you buy…unless you are so rich you can purchase actual whirlpools). Islands. Yes, you will get to the point in the game when your Katamari is so crazily large you are rolling up everything in sight.

Folks, I can’t fully explain just how fun and how satisfying it is to roll up everything in sight. It has to be played to be believed.

But… that’s not it. I have not encapsulated the zaniness that is Katamari Damacy. This is a game that is just flat out weird.

Let’s start with the opening theme, shall we? [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voPx8x0-blQ] Words cannot adequately describe it. You just have to watch.

Then, the cut scenes feature a family going to watch a shuttle launch and the kids noticing all the weird things happening, stars reappearing, random newscasts, and… it’s just downright odd. It makes no sense, adds little to the game itself, but is so outlandish that one can’t help but chuckle in disbelief.

It does cause one to wonder, though… what happens to all those people you rolled up? An answer, of sorts, is given in the ending movie to the game.

Back to the weird. Your father, the King of All Cosmos, he’s a weird duck. Not an actual duck, and I wouldn’t normally clarify that except that this is the sort of game where your father could plausibly be a duck and you wouldn’t blink. When he sends you to Earth he says stuff like: “Sending Things to Earth: Sound… Programs… Beauty.” And then when he takes you back he shoots rainbows out of his mouth and you return to the Cosmos on the royal rainbow. Not to mention that when he gives you the size goal for the level and tells you how long you have… you get that certain amount of time because that’s as long as the King of All Cosmos can be bothered to wait. That’s right, you’re cleaning up HIS royal mess and restoring stars to the freaking sky, but he can only be bothered to wait ten minutes (or twenty in some of the late levels).

Oh, and let’s not even mention what happens should you fail to complete a level.

On second thought, let’s mention what happens should you fail to complete a level. The screen goes black and the King of All Cosmos towers over your cowering prince (that’s you, remember) and berates you for being an utter failure in very harsh language (not swearing, just very harsh language). As comic and cute and silly as this game is, the price of failure is absurdly gloomy. But even that is so over the top that it’s funny.

If you have a Playstation 2, you really owe it to yourself to find a copy of this game. It is so very worth it. Except for the sequel, it is like nothing else on the console.

Joe Sherry lives near Minneapolis. He blogs at Adventures in Reading.

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