Previously never released in the UK, the very first Katamari game gets a surprise remaster and its as wonderfully surreal as ever.
Of all the remakes and remasters of recent years, Katamari Damacy is the one were most happy to see. The original game came out in the US in late 2004 and has a special place in GameCentrals history. It launched just when we were starting out and, as we mentioned to creator Keita Takahashi when we saw him at E3 this year, the fact that such a creative and unusual game was being released by a major publisher encouraged us to see the video games industry as more than just a sequel factory of recycled ideas.
This was all just as Xbox Live Arcade was coming into bloom and the concept of indie gaming and digital downloads started to become mainstream. Takahasi may have created Katamari Damacy when he was still at Namco but the indie spirit is evident in every aspect of the game. Frankly, its a miracle it was ever released in the US at all… because it never was in the UK.
It did become a popular import, which is how we first got to play it, but for many British gamers theyll only be familiar with its sequel We Love Katamari (which Takahasi also worked on) and its increasingly unnecessary series of spin-offs and sequels (which he did not). But now the game has been remastered for the Switch and PC it feels just as refreshingly insane as it did the first time round.
The easiest, although not necessarily most enticing, way to describe Katamari Damacy is to compare it to a dung beetle simulator. You control a 3cm high little guy pushing around a giant sticky ball in an attempt to roll up whatevers in your path, and in order to make the ball bigger and bigger. Instead of animal waste though, you end up rolling up everything from paper clips to skyscrapers.
The ball is the katamari of the title, which roughly translates as a clump of souls – but dont worry about that because theres no level of inside knowledge which could possible allow Katamari Damacy to make any sense. You play the Prince, whose dad is the King of All Cosmos and who recently got a bit tipsy and accidentally destroyed the visible universe.
As such, he instructs you to roll up everything and anything you can find to create a clump of matter big enough to make new stars. Obviously, none of that makes the least amount of sense and its actually even stranger in practice thanks to the weird, angular art style and surreal dialogue. The whole game is very Japanese, with clearly not a thought spared for how any of this would be received in the West – which is all the more satisfying knowing that it was received very well indeed.
In essence, all you do in the game is push the katamari around and gather up more and larger items in order to make it as big as possible. The game uses tank controls (i.e. both analogue sticks in tandem, where you have to push both forwards to move), and while there are a few other optional controls everything is pleasingly uncomplicated. The skill comes in controlling the ball and correctly judging which items are big enough for you to roll up at any one time, and which will cause you to crash and lose objects from your Katamari.
Theres something wonderfully tactile about the games controls, with the ability to roll up people, vehicles, and buildings a genuine guilty pleasure as they squeal in protest. The amazing scale of the game also impresses, as what seemed to be immovable backdrops at the start of a level end up being rolled up along with everything else by the end.
In some levels you have to roll up specific items requested by the king, but although theres little real variety in the gameplay your interest is maintained not only by how bizarrely fascinating the whole concept is but the constantly increasing scale of the levels and the chance to hear a new track from the amazing soundtrack. The mixture of jazz, samba, and more experimental tunes is one of our all-time favourites and underlines the games atmosphere of unrestrained joy and silliness.
Whats also impressive is that this remaster has actually had quite a lot of effort put into it. The original low-fi visuals have aged better than most other PlayStation 2 games but theyve been neatly updated anyway, in terms of resolution and cut scene fidelity, but while keeping the original textures. It looks exactly how we remember it, even though the actual PlayStation 2 version is considerably more primitive.
The remaster also offers a couple of alternative control options, that also use motion controls, and allow you to make easier use of the split-screen multiplayer mode. A lot of unexpected effort has gone into this remaster, especially given the very generous price, and we can only assume its because the developers had just as much fun replaying it as we did.
The gameplay in Katamari Damacy is fairly shallow, its quite short, and as perfectly as the graphics fit the tone theyre very low tech. But none of that is even close to being a problem. Katamari Damacys goal is to entertain… but not at any cost. It does so while maintaining a life-affirmingly cheerful demeanour and refusing to act like a normal video game. No matter its origins, its a perfect encapsulation of the indie spirt and one of our favourite video games ever.
Katamari Damacy REROLL
In Short: Still one of the most original and entertaining video games theres ever been, with a surreal sense of humour that permeates every corner of the gameplay and presentation.
Pros: Completely unique gameplay that still feels fresh and excitingly bizarre today. Fabulous music and amusingly bizarre graphics. Surprisingly good remaster, at a low price and with multiplayer.
Cons: Even though its never really a problem, the controls can get pretty clunky at times.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release Date: 7th December 2018
Age Rating: 3