Video games have taught me many valuable life lessons. For instance, I know that the most reliable way to kill mushroom-shaped assailants is by jumping on their heads. Sometimes, good guys have to wait their turn until they can Fight, Run, or use an Item. Loading time sucks. And now, I've learned that if the King of the Cosmos ever gets a little too frisky with Nature and accidentally ruptures the heavens, causing all the stars to fall out of the sky, then there's an easy solution. Especially if the King is your dad and you're only a centimeter tall.
All you need is a katamari and some Earth stuff, and replacing the stars is as simple as making a rice ball.
This game screams Japanese from the moment you look at the cover, with its distinct title (what the heck is a Katamari or a Damacy, anyway?), prominent kanji, and surreal artwork. What really caught my eye when I saw it in the store, however, was its low MSRP of $19.99.
Essentially, my thoughts went as follows: Weird. Japanese. New. Cheap. Buy It!
I didn't expect to actually find a GOOD game when I picked up this inexpensive gem.
The premise is odd, and the presentation equally bizarre. Katamari Damacy (where Damacy is actually an odd Romanization of Damashi) looks like the illegitimate love child of various members of Monty Python's Flying Circus and a Nintendo 64 game. 3D models are simple, but stylized, and what the game lacks in polygonal complexity is more than made up for in the sheer quantity of items to roll over.
And that, friends, is the overall goal of the game. The prince needs to roll over as many items on Earth, clumping the mass together into something the King can form into a new star to replace the ones he broke.
Using primarily the dual sticks, you move the prince around the katamari to get him to roll it where you want. The controls are somewhat like operating a tank, with power going to two different sides in two potentially different directions. Full speed ahead comes from pressing forward on both sticks. You can strafe by pressing both sticks left or right, and breaking is performed by pulling back on both sticks. If you need to spin around, press one stick up and the other down.
Much like the rest of the game, it's an unusual setup (unless you've played Virtual-On, and if you haven't, you should) that works rather well once you get the hang of it.
Two people can play against each other in a vertical split screen competitive mode, enabling players to bring a friend into this mad, mad world, adding to the value of an already worthy game.
The music is also ultra-Japanese. It's perky and fits in extremely well when I'm rolling around a big ball of animals, food, and various people. I'd love to own this soundtrack, and I was pleasantly surprised to find one of the songs on Taiko: Drum Master. Dialogue is surprisingly in English, and while it's as campy as Shenmue's dialogue, it's just right for this game. It's too strange of a game to take seriously, and the weird dialogue perfects the mood of the title. I would've liked to see this game in Japanese, though I wonder if it was even produced with a Japanese language track to begin with. Some titles, such as Resident Evil 2, are actually recorded in English the first time. I just can't imagine how much more exotic this game would be with Japanese voice actors along with the imaginative surroundings.
With a simple premise, great sound, effective graphics, and an oddly compelling storyline, this is one of the best games I've discovered this year. No hype could have adequately prepared me for this - it's simply a game that must be experienced to be understood. Bundle all that with a low price, and you have something that any fan of all things Japanese has to check out.
It's a little eerie that NAMCO can come out with three games that are so impressively addictive within the span of a month. Between this, Taiko: Drum Master, and Donkey Konga, I'm not nearly as desperate for Halo 2 and Metroid 2 as I thought I would be by now. I'm sure I'll get to those games soon enough, of course. In the meantime, I think I should be going. That stuff isn't going to roll itself into stars!