Namco's Katamari Damacy for the PS2 is one of the strangest titles released for any platform this year. The game defies convention with it's distinctively off-the-wall aesthetics making the entire experience quite unique. Also working in KD's favor are it's simple controls and intuitive interface, which makes rolling over and collecting objects a snap. While the strange characters and odd plot gives Katamari Damacy's a distinctively Japanese flavor, the gameplay is instantly accessible. The simplicity of the graphics is deceptive, since the pure interactivity of the environments is surprisingly extensive impressive. With it's simple mechanics make the title instantly accessible, its light-hearted approach and challenging gameplay will keep you coming back for more.
When you first begin playing Katamari Damacy, you're immediately struck by the game's oddball atmosphere which makes it unlike any other game out there for the PS2. As the game begins, you're introduced to a wacky cast of characters and an even stranger plot. The very strange King of Cosmos has accidentally left the universe in disarray by snuffing out all the stars in the sky. In order to maintain order in his kingdom, he enlists his son, the young Prince of the Cosmos to gather objects on earth that he can use to restore the stars he lost. In order to do this, the Prince, a small green guy with a rectangular head, has a giant ball known as the Katamari that he can use to gather and collect objects large and small. During the game, the Katamari grows as he collects objects. Your goal is to make the prince 'roll' enough items onto the ball to reach the size goal for that level before the timer runs out. This isn't as easy as it sounds, and you have to be methodical in your rolling technique. During each level, the Prince begins his quest with a small ball and has to collect small objects, such as thumbtacks, sticks of gum, playing cards, batteries, and more. However, hitting larger objects will cause some items to bounce off the Katamari and impede your progress. This definitely adds to the game's challenge, especially since some seemingly small-enough items will still bounce off the Katamari. This means that figuring out which objects you can roll at certain sizes can be tricky, and knowing when and what to roll is an essential strategy in the game. As you roll the Katamari around each level, you'll also have to watch out for obstacles such as steps and animals which can also stop you in your tracks and knock off objects. In addition to standard rolling moves, the Prince can also jump up from the Katamari to get a quick view of the level. He can also use a special burst move for a quick speed-up. This is helpful when you want to roll up a row of similar objects such as playing cards or toothpaste tubes. For the most part, things go relatively smoothly when you're rolling objects, but you can be taken off you rhythm in a number of ways. The most obvious of these is by rolling over an oddly shaped object, which causes the rolling motion to become irregular, making traversing the levels much harder. When your Katamari has an odd object sticking out of it, turning and controlling the sphere is much harder, which slows your progress.
Once the ball reaches a certain size, the Prince can then roll over larger objects such as plants, baseball bats and then onto ever larger items including frogs, spiders, cats and even people. The change in your Katamari's size happens slowly in the earlier levels, but quickly grows to monstrous proportions once you reach the game's latter stages. There are many objects scattered on each level, and the Prince can always go back and roll over objects that he couldn't once the Katamari grows large enough to collect them. This continues for several levels until you find yourself rolling and collecting huge items such as Cars, Boats, Cows, and even Baseball Stadiums. This makes for a humorous and offbeat adventure. During the game, you can choose which level you want to play in non-linear fashion, and can even go back and replay levels you've already completed to try and make an even larger Katamari. In addition to the standard rolling levels, KD also includes several special levels where you have to roll up a specific type of object such as spiders to create one the constellations. During the game, you can also roll over special objects that will unlock bonus items or features that you can view between levels. The single player experience is unique and fun in its own right, but the game ups the ante with an incredibly enjoyable two player battle mode where you can compete against a friend using split-screen. As you compete against your friends, you can pick up anything and everything, including your rival if they happen to be in your path.
As you progress through the game, the levels become less constrained and more open, which definitely adds to the fun you'll have. Katamari Demacy's levels are some of the wackiest and most original we've ever seen. While the initial levels, where the Katamari is only about an inch or so high are loads of fun, the experience becomes exponentially more enjoyable once your ball grows large enough to collect larger objects. As noted earlier, the game's simplistic approach makes for an instantly accessible title that is quite easy to understand. Adding to Katamari Demacy's immediate appeal are the controls that are amazingly simple and intuitive. Players use the PS2's analog sticks to control and steer your ball, using one to roll the ball forward and backwards and the other to spin in different directions. There are no other buttons or keys to press, keeping things surprisingly simple. This is remarkably intuitive and easy to understand, especially considering the short tutorial. Controlling the ball during the game is quite easy, and makes rolling over objects and items quite an easy task. You'll rarely find yourself going in the wrong direction. However, some of the levels can become a tad frustrating when you find yourself stuck in a corner or under an object. These areas can be difficult to escape from, costing you precious time. The good news is that the camera is for the most part, quite effective at giving you a solid perspective on the action. Katamari Demacy's easy to understand gameplay is further enhanced by the excellent interface that lets you see how large your ball is, time left on the clock and alerts you to dangerous nearby objects. The excellent interface is brilliantly designed and doesn't get in the way of the action, allowing you to concentrate on the game itself.
The game's minimalist visuals and innovative approach makes it stand out immediately from the pack, giving it a distinctive flair unlike anything else on the market. Katamari Demacy's soundtrack is likewise innovative, mixing a cappella vocals with J-pop to create one of the most unique and refreshing music tracks heard in any video game in quite some time. The music fits the game's wacky aesthetic perfectly and enhances the weird vibes even more. The game's less-is-more approach works incredibly well and this philosophy extends to all elements in the gameplay, making it a joy to play and instantly accessible to players of all ages and abilities. It's rare that such an odd, yet thoroughly enjoyable title reaches the mainstream gaming community these days. This is one of those rare titles that unashamedly revels in its weird Japanese sense of humor giving it an unmistakable identity. However, the game's instantly accessible controls and gameplay should give it a much-wider appeal to the mainstream gamers that goes beyond the usual Otaku niche. Katamari Damacy is one of the most enjoyable, hilarious, refreshing and innovative titles on the market, and is definitely worth seeking out.