Friday, February 03, 2006

FROM THE VAULT: Katamari Damacy

Time to revisit the archives again. This time with a look at one of my favorite titles, the utterly bizarre "Katamari Damacy."



"KATAMARI DAMACY"
Namco, for PlayStation 2,
rated E forEveryone (mild fantasy violence), $19.99.

Blame my father, that darned King of the Cosmos.

If he hadn't destroyed all the stars in the heavens during one of his drunken binges, I wouldn't be stuck here on Earth, trying to replace them.

Griping aside, it's up to me, the pint-sized Prince, to return the night sky to its former glory. In order to do that, I've got to roll around this small ball, called a katamari.

The katamari is really, really sticky. So as I roll it around the landscape, it picks up stuff. At first it will only pick up little things, like thumbtacks and erasers. As it gets bigger and bigger, it can pick up larger and larger objects, including people and animals. Get a katamari large enough and I'll be rolling up skyscrapers and stadiums with ease.

Once I've met the size requirement specified by my father within a certain time limit, he takes the katamari and turns it into a star or constellation, depending upon his twisted whims.

Luckily, you can help me on my odd quest, assuming you have access to a PlayStation 2 and some time on your hands.

Controlling the katamari is easy. All you do is push both analog sticks on your controller in the direction you want them to go. You change direction by pushing one stick only. That's all there is to it. I know, it's quite unlike any control scheme you've tried before, but once you try it, I think you'll agree that it's graceful in its simplicity.

You have to be careful when rolling your katamari around, however. The rules of physics apply here, and picking up oblong objects like lampposts or trees can change your trajectory or send your ball awkwardly bumping along until you get enough objects to round it out.

Even worse, if you run headlong into a large object, it can send items spiraling off your katamari, making you waste precious moments rerolling. (You are on the clock, you know.)

At first you may seem hemmed in a particular area, but as your katamari grows, once roped-off areas now become accessible, as you can now simply roll over any roadblocks in your way.

I think it's pretty safe to say you've never seen a game quite like"Katamari Damacy" before. And that's what makes the whole experience so great. In an industry filled with look-alike shooters, platformers and dull action titles, "Damacy" is a genuinely unique, odd and thoroughly wacky creation.

I admit it's not perfect; the camera work could be improved. There are times when, while you're helping me roll my ball around, you might get stuck behind a building or wall and have trouble maneuvering me out of a tight corner.

But c'mon, you have great gameplay, a multiplayer option, an appetizing low price and one of the best soundtracks ever to grace a video game. What's a slightly wonky camera among friends?

Developed in Japan, "Katamari Damacy" is one of those oddball games that sound enticing but never makes it over on these Western shores. Namco should be credited for taking a chance and porting the title to the States. The game's strong word of mouth seems to suggest that they made the right decision.

And so should you. Rolling a ball around a virtual landscape doesn't sound much like a good time, I know. But the fact is, this is one of the most original and thoroughly enjoyable games of the year.

And, what's more, I could use the help. This giant ball isn't getting any easier to push, you know.


Copyright The Patriot-News, 2004

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