Katamari Damacy is a franchise known for its legacy of weird gameplay, weirder characters, and one of the weirdest plots in video game history. For many, it’s a guilty pleasure; a cult classic that is unmatched in its unabashed uniqueness. For others (including myself) it’s simply a classic: a game everyone should experience the pleasure of playing through at least once.
Don’t believe me? Let me change your mind.
An appropriate headline for an appropriately wacky game, Katamari Damacy immediately sets the tone for what you’re getting yourself into by introducing you to one of the catchiest (and one of my all-time favorite) video game themes ever, paired alongside an equally as interesting cutscene that provides you almost no information about the game at all.
Are you into astrology?
If the answer is yes, too bad. Sorry.
As I stated earlier, the plot of the original Katamari Damacy (and all subsequent games, actually) is quite weird — and unique. The game starts you off as The Prince, a small, green, humanoid figure whose father is, appropriately, The King. The King of what? The King of All Cosmos. The King of All Cosmos, careless as ever, has completely devastated his own domain, destroyed every last star and constellation in the sky along with the moon.
As his son, you’re tasked with replacing the stars in the sky by rolling up Katamaris and handing them back to dear old Dad. In case you’re wondering, a Katamari is a type of ball that The Prince rolls around on Earth. It picks up anything that is remotely the same size (or smaller) as it; and the more you pick up, the larger it grows. This, of course, allows you to pick up bigger things — allowing it to grow larger, etc. etc.
This is conceptually simple, yet extremely compelling as a gameplay mechanic. You go into each stage knowing exactly what you have to do, but the challenge lies in deciding what you can and can’t pick up. Surveying your environment and making decisions about the paths you need to take to appropriately size up is where the concept really comes to life, and there’s nothing more satisfying than finally growing big enough to pick up that pile of teddy bears you’ve been eyeing for the past minute and a half.
The game taps into our primal urge to collect everything in sight, and the entire time you’re playing it you’re wondering to yourself “if I get big enough, can I roll up the entire planet?”
That is, for better or for worse, the plot of the game. Despite its simplicity, I find that the overall plot of Katamari Damacy is surprisingly endearing. The absolute ridiculousness in it is part of the reason it’s so fun to just pick up and play — it’s not something you have to think about too much as you progress through the game, and really only serves as a device for the game to exist in the first place. Between each stage, you’re offered a series of weirdly animated cutscenes that add a little to the lore, but overall these act as more of just silly movies for your own enjoyment rather than plot devices.
I absolutely adore it.
I will say that where this game really struggles when it comes to plot is the length. It’d been some time since I’d last played the original Katamari Damacy, and I’d forgotten how disappointingly short the game is. The plot doesn’t seem to offer a lot of room for tons of levels (despite what you might think), which means the game suffers from a very short story mode. And with virtually no post-game aside from just replaying the levels you’ve already played to improve your score (alongside a no time limit mode and one single bonus level), some people might feel a bit slighted once the credits have finished rolling. No pun intended.
Rolling up the world… and then some
I’ll make a promise to you now that if you’ve never played a Katamari game before, you’ll have never played a game that plays like this one.
For one, the controls are abhorrent. I mean this in the absolutely best of ways. The thing about Katamari is that it is not a game that controls particularly gracefully, and I don’t really think it’s supposed to. As you play the game, you’re meant to be this sort of fumbling Prince who’s working tirelessly to fix his father’s stupid mistakes, all while Dad speaks to you through his omnipresence and berates you when you pick up the wrong things or haven’t reached the desired size yet. With all this in mind, the controls not working very well seem to fit the game pretty accurately.
Now, in reality, I think the game is just a very awkward game to control in general. It’s a game that requires the use of both joysticks at all times, which isn’t made as easy with the Switch’s offset joystick design. (I’ll get more in depth about the transition to Switch in a bit.) That being said, I remember playing this game during its initial release and also struggled then, because the controls are weird, and clunky, and awkward. But they’re never awkward in a way that feels frustrating, rather just not as… smooth as sometimes I wish they were.
So, I don’t find myself particularly mad at the controls most of the time. In fact, I find the fact that it has no shame in its complete clumsiness kind of charming, because playing Katamari is an experience that’s about more than just the actual video game.
(I know how corny that sounds, but it’s true. It’s seriously an experience. I can’t reiterate that enough.)
The majority of your time playing REROLL will be spent rolling up Katamaris to a specific size set by the King. He’ll tell you he needs a Katamari that’s 10km big, and give you a reasonable time limit to do it. (He’ll have no patience waiting any longer than that.) If you hit your goal before the time limit is up, you’re free to keep rolling until you’re as big as you can get, at which point you’re just trying to impress your father (keeping in mind that if you just roll what he asked for, he’ll be very disappointed in the size of your Katamari).
Constellation levels break up the general gameplay by offering specific challenges. Need to make Cancer? Roll up as many crabs as possible. Remaking Ursa Major? Roll up one bear, the biggest bear you can find. These levels provide a fun challenge in that they’re a lot more unique, and provide a bit more nuance in the stages that you’re set in when you select them.
Nah-nah, nananananah nah nah nah naah naah nanah nah
Where Katamari Damacy doesn’t shine in its controls, it more than makes up for in its soundtrack.
I seriously wish I had this entire franchise’s soundtrack on my phone at all times. Every song in this game is so fun, and so quirky, and so easy to listen to, that it provides the perfect backdrop for playing the game. Some personal favorites are “Katamari on the Rocks ~ Main Theme” and “LONELY ROLLING STAR” but the entire thing is absolutely stellar. No pun intended.
Even the game’s simple intro theme, “Katamari Nah-Nah” is a gentle but absolute bop, and I’ve never started singing it with people who are familiar around without a chorus of other voices joining in almost immediately. The song is almost instantly recognizable and I promise you will find yourself singing it non-stop when you shut the game off for the first time.
Writing worth reading
I’ve gotta hand it to the localization team on this one — the writing in this game is absolutely phenomenal. I envy the people who get to say that they were part of REROLL’s writing staff, because it has such a unique brand voice all on its own that every line of dialogue is worth combing over.
Throughout the game, you really only encounter two characters: the Prince and the King. The Prince is a typical silent protagonist, which leaves the King of All Cosmos the sole character that talks. However, he more than utilizes the screen time he’s given. I firmly believe that without this character — who I dare say is one of the most memorable and well-written video game characters I’ve ever seen — Katamari would suffer a lot more than it does.
His nuances are plentiful: between referring to himself in plural nouns (We, Us vs. I, Me) and ending nearly every sentence with “yes?” or starting every sentence with a greeting in a different language, he establishes himself almost immediately as a unique personality and voice that’s almost infectious.
Even the way he berates and treats his own son is somehow… hilarious? Which may sound bad, but I found myself laughing out loud on multiple occasions from the King’s tangents alone. When he interrupts your gameplay to say something, all I can say is do your best to read it. He’ll never disappoint.
The Switch to Nintendo
When Katamari Damacy first launched, it was released exclusively for the PlayStation 2. The choice in graphical direction, with its bright colors and deliberately low-poly models, was not only a smart choice at the time but one that allowed the game to age with grace and dignity. Unlike a lot of other games from that era, all Kamatari Damacy needed to thrive was a high-res coating of paint and once the Switch gave it that, it was good to go.
Seriously, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game — much less a game that’s 15 years old — hold up graphically as well as Katamari has. Booting it up for the first time was an absolute delight on my eyes, and I couldn’t take them off the screen even in handheld mode, which was how I spent the majority of my play sessions with this game. It a glorious transition that works almost too well. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this was a modern game made with a creative aesthetic in mind, and nothing more.
Speaking of handheld mode, I want to bring up the fact that being able to play this fever dream of a game is incredible in the comfort of a bed. I’ve been a fan of the Katamari franchise for a long time, and I’m not kidding you when I tell you I’ve literally dreamed of getting to play a main Katamari game portably. I cannot express how happy I was when I found out that was finally going to be a reality.
Handheld mode works great in this instance, too. Despite the fact that every stage is filled with stuff — I’m talking filled with stuff — I never really experienced any performance drops or graphical limitations in handheld compared to having my Switch docked. For all intents and purposes, Katamari Damacy REROLL played exactly as I would have liked it to in handheld, perhaps even better than I initially expected. This was a pleasant surprise, because it meant that I didn’t have to sacrifice anything (aside from the expected resolution drop) in order to play it in bed or on the couch; and when we’re talking Switch, I’m always trying to take advantage of being able to play on the go.
I’d like to bring up the original PlayStation 2 version once more to point out that with that launch, the controls worked a bit better in that those controllers had symmetrical joysticks as opposed to the Switch’s non-symmetrical sticks. This might not seem like a huge deal (and in the grand scheme of things it really isn’t), but it does turn an already clunky control system into something that’s just a little bit clunkier. This is something that’s easy to get over as you play more of the game, but I wanted to bring it up especially for those of you who’ve played the original, and might feel like the game controls a bit differently.
We look forward to the next time, loser Prince
I truly cannot recommend this game enough.
Katamari Damacy REROLL may be another Switch port in a seemingly unending library of Switch ports, but this one lands in a league of its own. For long-time fans, you’ll have a blast revisiting these classic levels and experiencing the charm of this game all over again. And for those of you who have yet to play Katamari in any capacity, I promise it’s an experience that’s worth the purchase. It may only take you a few significant play sessions in order to get through the whole game, but I know for me personally, each minute of those play sessions was spent bopping along to the incredible score with a smile on my face.
The best way I can end this is by saying I’ll be vastly disappointed if we don’t see the sequel, We Love Katamari, in the near future.
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System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: December 7, 2018
Publisher: Bandai Namco