Monday, November 12, 2012

Beautiful Katamari - Lacks Some Luster

You may have heard of an odd Japanese game called Katamari Damacy. If you have not, it is a game created by Keita Takahashi that involves rolling a ball around in order to pick up stuff so it be made into a star; this premise came about because Takahashi wanted to re-introduce simplicity to gaming. When it was released in 2004, it became a sleeper hit, increasing in popularity to spawn many sequels to come. I myself am a fan of this series, having played the original Katamari Damacy and its sequels We Love Katamari, Me & My Katamari, and Katamari Forever (I would play the unfortunately-named Touch My Katamari, but as of this writing I currently do not own a PlayStation Vita). I had a desire to play the subject of this review, Beautiful Katamari, for a while, but for that while I did not own an Xbox 360. Now that I have had one for about a year, I recently got my hands on this game to further complete my Katamari collection. Personally, I enjoyed the game, although it isn't quite as beautiful as the title suggests.

As is the norm for a Katamari game, the story has some sort of excuse to set the plot in motion. This time, The King and Queen of All Cosmos are playing tennis, when the King hits a ball so hard that it creates a black hole that threatens to swallow the universe. He then sends you, the Prince, in order to roll up junk on Earth to recreate the Solar System (this is from back when Pluto was still considered a planet) and plug up the black hole.

If you've played a Katamari game before, the controls are essentially similar to the others before it. To move your Katamari, you must manipulate both analog sticks in certain ways: moth both forward or back to move in that direction, or tilt one a certain way in order to change the direction the ball is rolling in; alternating the sticks rapidly charges the ball to jet forward briefly, while clicking the sticks moves you to the opposite side of the ball. These are the basics of the controls, but the familiarity isn't a bad thing since it allows fans and newcomers alike to dive right into the game. However, even with the design of the analog sticks on the 360's controller, I end up running into the same problem I have with the console games where playing for an extended period causes severe pain to my thumbs, so I would suggest playing in chunks unless you think you can handle it. In addition, I run into another problem where, due to my constant thumb action and the layout of the controller, may hands ended up forming a tight, painful grip on it as if my hands were claws, so this should enforce my previous statement about playing in bursts.

The graphics of the game are simplistic, but this is a necessity in order for the game to render everything at once (depending on your Katamari size, at which point smaller objects disappear once you level up). This gives the series its trademark boxy visuals, which carry over nicely to this game. One thing I found odd at some points was when I rolled up enough objects before moving on, where the game suddenly become a lot smoother, which is actually rather unusual for a Katamari game. I don't know if this has to do with the 360's hardware or not, but in any case this shouldn't be taken as a complaint; I just haven't seen it before is all. Overall, no complaints here.

The level design is also typical for Katamari Damacy, with most goals being the usual "roll a ball this size within this amount of time". This also isn't too much of a complaint, though I should say that there's at least some variety in the levels; the most I can recall is a level where you must roll up objects that heat up your Katamari in order to create Mars. While it does feel familiar, it can be disappointing for anyone more familiar with the franchise. One thing I feel like I should mention is one level that features a large number of Xbox 360 controllers and consoles, as if to drive the point home that it's an exclusive Xbox title; this can be amusing or annoying depending on your perspective. I am also aware that this game has DLC, but I don't exactly feel like putting down more money just so I can have more levels to play.

The music, as usual, is very impressive and very catchy. It features interesting remixes of tunes from previous games that fit well with the tone of a Katamari title. Not only was this soundtrack released on CD (like other games in the series), but you can also unlock access to the soundtrack itself within the game once you beat the campaign, which is a feature that I like because I get to hear my favorite tunes over and over again. The only other audio there really is are sound effects that play for certain actions as well as when you certain things up. There really isn't much to say here other than that the sounds aren't annoying.

Aside from my earlier comments on variety and how the controller feels, I have one complaint regarding the level design. When you grow big enough in a level, the King of All Cosmos tells you that you can go somewhere else where objects are bigger so you can complete your goal. If memory serves (I haven't played a Katamari game in a while), the King usually shows you where the pylons blocking off the next section are, no matter where you are in the world, but in this game this feature is absent. I personally found this to be very inconvenient, since I ended up a few times scouring the map in search of this mysterious entry point before finally finding it and moving on. I am against games holding your hand too much during play, but I think it would have at least been nice to know where the next section of the level map was.

In the end, Beautiful Katamari is a good game for the Katamari series. It may have its share of flaws, but it's still fun to play, especially if you haven't dusted off a Katamari game in a while. If you are a fan of the series and are interested in this game, I would tell you to either give this one a shot or, in the event that you own a PS3 but aren't willing to purchase an Xbox 360, pick up Katamari Forever, which contains some of this game's levels. If you only own an Xbox 360 and have no experience with Katamari Damacy, but are curious as to what all the fuss is about, this game is a great jump-on point and a good glimpse at the entertaining madness that is Katamari.

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