Review: Katamari Damacy Reroll
Posted 09 Feb 2019 at 10:33 by Ashley Jones
That opening line of Katamari Damacy has in many ways come to symbolise the franchise; weird, silly, fun and addictive. A game that was certainly too weird to exist back in 2004 but Keita Takahashi stuck with it, turning his artistic background into one of the PS2’s most memorable games.
Fourteen years later the original game has been remade and was released on the Nintendo Switch the same day as some other game by Nintendo (it’s not important which). Katamari Damacy Reroll is a pretty straightforward re-release of the original - odd-shapped appendages and all.
Bandai Namco has made few changes to the original game. The distinct PS2-era graphics were never going to change (they were after all a way of working around the memory constraint of the time but became a distinct part of Katamari Damacy’s charm) but they have been upscaled and thankfully the bizarre earworm-extravaganza soundtrack remains. However, it is the control system that makes the game feel outdated.
For those unfamiliar with the basic premise you play as the Prince of Cosmos, banished to Earth to roll up items to make stars after your father - the Bowie-eqsue King of Cosmos - destroyed them during a drunken bender. To do this you have a katamari, a kind of bobbly ball object that other items become attached to.
At its most basic you move forward or rotate yourself around the katamari but you can also quickly hop to the other side or do a dash. The controls often feel like pushing your way through treacle and they never seem too responsive. You get used to it after a while, but you never feel entirely in control of the katamari (perhaps by design) and there are many moments where you will get stuck in places as you are both too big and too small to pass through easily.
You can use the Joy-Cons for motion controlled gameplay, but it is much the same. The control scheme, as well as a PS2-era camera, are bound to cause some people to bounce off but if you can get past it and accept you’ll never have complete control it is one hell of a game.
Another relic from a bygone error is the fact you have to manually save the game after each level. The main overworld comprises three planets; Earth (where you play missions), a planet full of cousins that you can switch to instead of playing as the Prince and your home planet which is essentially a settings menu. Within there you need to save the game, something I'd not done outside of Pokémon for so long that I lost some progress at some point.
Each level sees you sent to Earth by the King of Cosmos who instructs you to roll a katamari of a certain size in a certain amount of time. One of the joys of this series is starting off small, barely being able to pick up everyday items such as stationary, and slowly working your way to being able to pick up humans, buildings and even landscapes. The slow steady momentum of chaos, mixed with the joyful soundtrack and bright visuals, is the Katamari franchise at its core.
There’s some clever little touches that add to the rolling experience. Items will make sounds as you pick them up (birds tweet, cats meow, humans scream in horror) and if you try and roll up something that is too big you will crash and items will fall off your katamari. You also need to watch out for anything that could hurt you, such as loose dogs, cars and such forth, until you can roll them up in the ultimate act of revenge. There's something dark about how the game encourages you to roll up living beings to be made into stars, but we are all part of the universe as they say.
Scattered amongst the ‘main’ levels are challenge levels where you are instructed to roll up as many of a certain item as you can in order to make constellations (crabs for Cancer, swans for Cygnus and that sort of thing). They’re nice little palate cleanser, but they don’t really compare to the main levels. Levels also contain gifts from the King of Cosmos that if you find (and complete the level successfully) you can then wear. It doesn't change the gameplay in any way, but you can see the Prince in the lower right-hand corner wearing whatever you have given him. It provides an extra challenge if you so choose.
All in all the gameplay doesn't really change as you progress. The moves and setup you learn at the start stays with you. The only things that really change are your size and the environment, although as the game progresses you soon realise you have been in pretty much the same area just seen it at a more macro level. In many ways it is a puzzle game and its gameplay comes from the new challenges, rather than new mechanisms.
Katamari Damacy Reroll’s writing deserves as much attention as its art and music. There is a small storyline running throughout the game with short cut scenes played between levels which sees a family travelling against the backdrop of the world suddenly discovering there are no stars in the sky. It’s a nice way to add some context to what you’re doing, but the true highlight is the King of Cosmo’s dialogue.
He is a large overbearing figure, literally standing over and talking down to his son the Prince. No matter what you do it is never good enough for him and he lets you know it (although strangely all the official press release images features his more encouraging dialogue). While you’re tidying up his mess he appears to be travelling the world, informing you of his trips to Thailand, Portugal, Spain and more, each time saying he hopes you get a chance to visit but reminding you of your duty first. If you fail a level you are treated to a dark and threatening scene as he berates you. At the risk of repeating myself; it is bizarre but entertaining.
If you’ve never played any of the Katamari Damacy games I recommend downloading the demo and see how you get on. It gives you the first level to try out, but the real joy comes later when you get bigger and bigger. It is a loud game both literally (switching between this and Smash I had to keep adjusting my TV volume) and figuratively with its visuals and record scratch dialogue, which may be offputting for some but that is what helps it to stand out amongst its peers.
It has been nearly fifteen years since Katamari Damacy was released and gaming has changed a lot in that time. Games such as this are more common on the indie circuit, but there is nothing quite like Katamari Damacy. It is a game that will stick with you - and a soundtrack that will never leave your brain.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Katamari Damacy Reroll is a great opportunity to explore an era-defining game if you never got a chance first time round. Some of its early 00's-ness shows, but underneath that is a mad, engaging and fun title unlike any other. Plus that theme song.
Great music and writing
Engrossing and addictive
Control scheme can be off-putting