Release Date: September 20, 2005
Buy 'WE LOVE KATAMARI': PlayStation 2
It is safe to say that the first toy actually fabricated by humans was a ball. From kicking a gourd to inflating a bladder, we have been playing with them since before we had a word for "play." About a year ago, a new kind of ball was presented to us in the form of Katamari Damacy, and a new game was born. This ball was rolled around the world within the PlayStation 2, and it collected every item in its path and grew. Just like the Katamari (what the ball is called), the game started out small but gained popularity largely by word of mouth. The only flaw in the original Katamari Damacy was that it was a little on the short side, and there wasn't much variety as to where the ball could be rolled … but now, the sequel, We Love Katamari, has come into our lives.
In fact, this has been one of the hardest reviews I've had to write because it is simply difficult to stop playing it. We Love Katamari took the brilliance of the original game and expanded on it quite well. Controls remain simple enough for a child; just push both analog sticks in the direction you want to go, and that is really all there is to it. You can use the shoulder buttons to jump for a different view of the area, but it doesn't move the ball at all. This might very well be the key to the game's success; it is a very simple concept that is well-executed, thereby making the title accessible to anyone.
In the beginning of We Love Katamari, you will start out rolling up small things: coins, thumbtacks, paperclips, snails, etc. Instead of the King of the Cosmos assigning your goals, however, he listens to the "fans" of the first game, who make requests. Some are like the original in that they want to see a katamari rolled up, or that they want particular items in the katamari. Aside from the new environments, it does not initially seem like much has changed from the original, but after playing a few levels, new mission types crop up.
My favorite was the sumo wrestler, who worries that he is too small and asks to be rolled as a katamari to get bigger. At first, the wrestler is difficult to move around, as he is a long, skinny thing and not very round. Once he has rolled up enough pizzas and bowls of ramen, he can also roll up people and absorb them through whatever part of the body they are attached to (which creates some… disturbing images). This helps to make him more well-rounded (thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week), and finally rolls more smoothly. Once he is of adequate sumo wrestling size, or the time has almost run out, the challenge is to find where his opponent is and roll him up, push him out of the ring, and win the sumo match. This was the toughest part for me, as on my first attempt, I built up my sumo wrestler to a mighty 320 kilograms.
Other outstanding missions include building the head for a snowman, where you must rolling around in the snow to make a katamari that is the appropriate size for the base, which is already in place (apparently Japanese snowmen are only comprised of two snowballs, compared to the traditional three I know). For the people who think the katamari moves too slowly, there is a mission that places you on a racetrack with an assortment of other racers, from people on bikes to Formula 1 racers. You move extremely fast in this mission, and it is often out of control. When going over a hill, you launch into the air and lose most of your steering control until you land.
Other missions involve building a large campfire by rolling a burning ball of stuff to a campsite, or gathering fireflies to make a light bright enough for a person to study by. Once the missions have been completed, the King and the person who requested the mission talk to you (and are way too long-winded) and compliment you … or ridicule the katamari for being too small, even though you met the goal. The ball ends up tossed into the sky, where it becomes a star. If you fail to complete the goal, the King looms over you and blasts the Prince with beams from his eyes. Don't worry - he is a horrible shot, and there is no limit to the number of times you can try a mission.
In between levels, animated sequences play out, showing the King's youth, the courting of his wife, and problems with his father. Honestly, I found these to be cheesy, but they are a nod to the people who demand that a game tell a story.
As in the first game, you will find presents hidden in the various missions, which may be anything from a new silly hat to a camera, or even a mask of the King's father. You can also roll up "cousins," which are oddly shaped creatures which you can switch out your character for, although they roll exactly the same way as the Prince does.
Graphically, the game is simplistic; things are rendered in a blocky outline that is reminiscent of the first three-dimensional games. While I understand that the blockiness is a conscious style decision, the jagged edges could have been smoothed out a bit more. Most every thing is recognizable, although some things are iffy, such as how cats look a lot like dogs. Additionally, the cartoony look may be something of a deterrent to some people, who see it and think it must be a childish game.
The soundtrack is comprised mostly of catchy songs in Japanese. The tunes are bouncy and will often get stuck in your head, which becomes quite distracting at the most inopportune times. Noises are made as you roll up items, from bleeps or dings when you pick up inanimate objects to barks, chirps, or screams as you roll up dogs, birds and people. Since you will be rolling up a lot of the same things, the ambient sounds can get a little repetitive. Doormats that say "Welcome" in Japanese really start to grate after you hear it for the 27th time.
For multiplayer, We Love Katamari includes versus and co-op modes. The versus mode is played split-screen, and you compete to roll more of a specific item into your katamari. You can play any stage of the game in co-op mode, where you and a friend must control the katamari by moving all four of the analog sticks in the same direction at the same time. This could either lead to a rollicking good time for all or result in a legal battle.
The variety of mission types and the addition of multiplayer co-op mode definitely make this a worthy sequel to the original Katamari Damacy. For people who demanded more of a backstory, or speed demons who complained about the previous title being too slow, We Love Katamari addresses all of those concerns and then some.
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