Review: Beautiful Katamari
Sony may have managed to cultivate an attitude of apathy, dislike and general hatefulness from gamers across the world in the last couple of years but it wasn’t always this way. In fact there is a reason why the PS2 still sells heavily across all territories and that is because pound for pound it had the best games of its generation and whilst we here at Peoww love the 360 a lot, even we’ll acknowledge that it rarely takes the same sort of risks as the old Sony machines.
Games like Parappa The Rapper, Vib Ribbon, Okami, Shadow of the Collosus and, most relevantly, the Katamari Damacy games were all massively leftfield titles but all of them showed that, when it suited them, Sony were prepared to take a punt on pretty much anything rather than the procession of FPS and racers that Microsoft seem to commission.
Katamari in particular was a joy. An brilliant concept mixed with irreverent humour, boundless imagination and the best music score since forever. Typically, it sold like piss cakes (with the UK not even getting a release) but managed to somehow get recommissioned for a sequel and also a PSP version. Mainly on the strength of a huge cult following and some excellent reviews (and some blaverage ones written by evil annoying idiot fucks.
Where Katamari caught the imagination was in its sheer ambition, originality and execution and Beautiful Katamari follows these principles. For the uninitiated, the aim of the Katamari games is to roll a small sticky ball (the katamari) around the play area using tank-style twin analogue controls. Typically you’ll start off on a table somewhere or on the floor of an object-strewn area. Rolling the katamari ball over small objects will make them stick. As you pick up more objects the katamari grows, allowing it to pick up bigger objects.
Eventually the table you started on can be picked up, then maybe the house and, on later levels, the island the house was on. This is why Katamari games are such a joy because, at least for a while, it seems incredible that certain objects can be picked up. When you are picking up trees, battleships and even entire countries you can’t help but smile.
Beautiful Katamari follows this trend but after the three previous games (if you include the PSP one) the formula is getting a little tired. It’s still enjoyable, there are still some nice touches (such as picking up 360s) but the childlike wonder of the first game seems to have given way to EA-style repetition and an uncharacteristic unwillingness to take risks. Admittedly, there aren’t many directions you can take the formula but, off the top of my head, a bunch of mini-games like in Ape Escape (Katamari Olympics? Bandicoot style pathway levels? Super Monkey Ball puzzle stages?) would have been welcome.
That’s not to say the game isn’t enjoyable. It is. It’s still Katamari and still well worth playing. The game is more challenging than usually, although you probably won’t be failing any stages more than twice. The extra difficulty is welcome though especially as it extends the game’s life a little although you’ll probably be seeing the ending within three hours.
This was my first proper foray into the universe of Katamaris? Katamarii? Katamareeses? Big sticky ball things (that’s just not any better is it?).
Playing this game is (unsurprisingly) somewhat surreal. Every few seconds it seems that the King of all the Cosmos is barking orders/nonsense at you and after a little while it almost seemed like having a conversation with someone from Peoww â„¢ or even someone like MrBiffo. It was just rather surreal, and funny to hear â€“ not that I was talking back or anything.
Ok â€“ Important thing to know. I suck at this game. Not talking about the levels where I just kept on failing (more on this later), but just think about a simple initial level. Upon completion of one of these earlier levels I was having my Katamari evaluated by the King and even though I passed the level, he was still berating my skill, and I didn’t have a clue why. This really annoyed me â€“ I can only imagine that I was playing it wrong somehow.
The difficulty was at times very frustrating. Imagine having to do a 20minute level and failing 5 times in a row. As a general rule of thumb I have a distain for any game where a prime feature is doing a level with a time limit (or in the quickest time). Failing said level results in the same annoying conversation with the King and another load screen to get you back to the levelâ€¦ If you’re as bad as me you would find this very annoying.
All in all I finished this game in 6 hours max (frustration time included). Granted at the end there are still achievements to farm, and items and cousins to collect but I really have no desire to do so (perhaps due to my aforementioned gash-ness)
The DLC (or future DLC when it gets released here) is somewhat despicable â€“ in that they obviously knew they were gona release it as soon as the game was released (seeing as the DLC is incorporated in some of the achievements).
I can’t possibly recommend this game. The series has had minimal evolution since number 1 (this being number 4). I don’t know if there are people out there who have bought all the games, and still love them, and still come back for more, and will actually happily pay for DLC and actually care about online vs. mode (I didn’t)
If you too would like to venture into this unique world for your first taste, by all meansâ€¦ but you really wont be getting your money’s worth. Give it a rent first.
There should never have been any more sequels (except perhaps the handheld version â€“ for those weirdos who like gaming in public) because what was once a beautifully unique idea has now become a dried up cash cow who just don’t got any more juice in her dried up teats (many apologies). Shame on you Namco.
Secondary Score: 3/10
The 360 pad feels just right for the rolling mechanic and the extra processing power of the 360 means more objects, a better draw distance and, of course, lovely hi-def graphics. I’ve always loved the stylings of the series and the graphics here don’t disappoint. Clean, simple, imaginative and charming, just as fans of the series will expect. A little slowdown tends to show up to spoil the party occasionally which is less tasty but not a massive problem.
The other main aspect to the Katamari story is the relationship between your character, The Prince, and his father The King of All Cosmos. I completed the first Katamari game on the Japanese version and missed a lot of the King’s conversations and ended up buying the US version when that eventually became available and it was well worth it. The King’s irreverent and manic witterings were well in keeping with the gameplay and music.
This is where Beautiful Katamari lets itself down again. The King simply isn’t funny anymore, at least not if you’ve played any Katamari games before. Where he was once funny, now he’s just repetitive and seemingly senile. As with Me and My Katamari, he’ll criticise you regardless of how well you do on a level (some proper feedback would be nice) and if he speaks in-game you end up with giant text-boxes obscuring the action. Consequently, I ended up button mashing to get him out of the way as quickly as possible whereas in 2002 I was hanging on his every word.
One other telltale sign of the series moving into the next-gen is that things we might have taken for granted such as extra levels, characters and accessories are now available, at a price, as downloadable content. Achievement whores won’t be getting the full 1250 without shelling out for over ten pounds worth of DLC that not only would have been free but it would have been already in the game. The sad truth is that this content came out days after the US release of Beautiful Katamari and therefore is only downloadable to rip-off the fans. Fuck you Namco and Microsoft. Really. Fuck. You.
Still, it’s not all bad. Fans of the series know that the best thing about Katamari games is the music. The first title had some amazing tunes. Funny, touching and unashamedly kooky, it set the bar for all other games in my opinion. The sequel then chose to just use monged remixes of the same tunes, which is why I never rated the game (yes, I’m fickle) but Beautiful Katamari has restored the balance and provides some of the best music heard on the 360. Especially the clubby main theme. Brilliant stuff.
The multiplayer modes are just variations on the split-screen modes available on the PS2 but now across Xbox Live. No surprises but worthwhile inclusions anyway. Co-op action is available for sociable Katamarists but involves splitting the controls and is therefore pointless. Still, at least it’s there.
Beautiful Katamari gets a lot right but doesn’t advance the series nearly as much as it should or could have. It’s not a bad game but in throwing a bunch of cynical DLC at us and retreading so much old ground it has truly lost its innocence which means that now it has to be judged in the same stark light as any other release. Especially given its, frankly offensive, £40 price point which is at least £15 too much given that the game only really offers a few hours of main gameplay with possibly a few more’s worth of replayability.
Newcomers to the series will love it though and long-term fans will feel right at home with what is a solid Katamari sequel but anyone looking for the breezy innocence and creativity of the series’ debut will be left unsatisfied and feeling more than a little ripped-off.