The King of All Cosmos is awful. He’s abhorrent. He’s irresponsible, he’s demeaning, he’s cruel, he’s a massive penis and I hate his guts. I hated him in 2004 and I still hate him now.
If you’re a young ‘un you might not have heard of Katamari Damacy. It’s a game that almost defies explanation. You play the Prince who has been tasked with cleaning up after your dad, the King of All Cosmos, goes on a bender and destroys all the stars in the universe. The absolute melt. You do this by taking a ball-like thing called a Katamari and rolling up progressively larger things so King Dickhead can put it into the sky as a star and take the adulation while you get to bask in the glow of a job well done, albeit one that garners you no thanks.
There’s an allegory about the privilege of aging aristocracy and the younger successors inheriting a rotten legacy in here somewhere. Maybe.
As I’m getting to the point where my eyesight is starting to give way and having hair a colour other than grey is now nothing but a distant memory I remember this game the first time round. Or, more accurately, I remember how us peasant Europeans would be neglected by Namco Bandai and would have to wait until the sequels to get some primary coloured, ball rolling lunacy.
There wasn’t, and isn’t, anything quite like Katamari Damacy. The central conceit of rolling up junk to make stars, the twin stick ‘tank’ controls, the oddball story concerning a family going on holiday and their astronaut father that runs through it, it’s off its box in a genuinely endearing oddball way.
Starting off with tiny items such as mahjong tiles, drawing pins and pencil erasers you roll up progressively larger items until the time is up. Sometimes it’s to get a katamari as large as you can, or you have to get it to a predetermined size set by The King (arsehole) as quickly as you can, or you have to roll as many of a specific item as you can and so on.
The levels start off relatively mundane with a household and a garden, but get progressively larger until you’re rolling up ferris wheels and buildings. Throughout each level are creatures and people who you bounce off them because you aren’t large enough to roll them up and thus make you shed some of your precious cargo, as will running into objects larger than yourself.
The main draw with Katamari Damacy’s gameplay is the puzzle of finding stuff to roll up in the correct order and avoiding stuff that you can’t. And then going back when you’re large enough for the annoying things you couldn’t roll up. Quite unexpectedly, there’s a very visceral, vindictive emotion felt when you can go back for those people that you bounce off initially. Something akin to schadenfreude; getting pleasure from their screams of misfortune and despair as they are consumed into your ever consuming sphere of detritus.
And that’s pretty much it. That’s the game. There are collectables to dress your Prince up in, cousins to find that a second player can take control of in multiplayer and there’s an index of all the things you’ve rolled up to fill if you fancy scratching that nascent “gotta catch em all” itch.
And the problems the original game had are still there. While the katamari becoming more cumbersome as it grows is logical (which, given how ridiculous this game is, an aspect of it being logical is a hilarious notion) it still becomes a chore to try and wield the thing around the maps, especially as you can get very stuck on some objects you think you can roll up but just aren’t quite there yet. Plus the camera is still god awful 16 years on. However, visually the game looks very pleasing in its lo-fi/hi-res way and the colours, art direction and humour are as wonderful as they ever were. And the soundtrack. Oh my god, the soundtrack. It’s as fantastic as it ever was. They don’t make ‘em like that any more, ee by gum etc
What I’m still not sure about is what message the game is trying to give. I mean, there’s the very really possibility this game doesn’t have anything to say, and it’s just as batshit as it is for the sake of it, but The King of All Cosmos’ behaviour and the consequences thereof, plus the nature of having to achieve the goals by grabbing the myriad garbage produced by a rampantly consumerist society might allude to some bigger message.
I say ‘might’ because a) subtlety is lost on me. You want me to learn something you need to bludgeon that crap into me and b) Google was invented for a reason, I just don’t care enough to find out.
Still, if you’re someone who didn’t have an import PS2 the first time round (or a PC or Switch in 2018. Thanks, Bamco), or have played the previous games and fancy diving back in, or just have never heard of it and fancy something to take your mind off the unrelenting bludgeoning misery that 2020 seems to be keen to keep administering to us you could do worse than chucking fifteen odd quid at Katamari Damacy.