Inside Pulse 12

Review: We Love Katamari (PS2)

System: Sony Playstation 2
Genre: The King Of All Cosmos
Developer: Namco (In conjunction with The King Of All Cosmos)
Publisher: Namco
Release Date: 9/20/05 (It’s when The King wanted it to come out!)

I never expected Katamari Damacy to be such a huge success. Hell, I doubt ANYONE expected it to be so successful, even Namco. When the game hit our shores as a budget title, it was met with RAVE reviews. It was a fresh idea, contained plenty of humor, and one of the finest musical scores contained on ANY game released that year. It went as far as winning awards for its music and its level design.

So of course people begged for more. Namco heard these and has officially released a sequel to the best-selling game. (And raised the price an extra $10 in the process, now that they’ve figured out they can roll up some serious cash with this franchise. HAR HAR!) But is We Love Katamari game worth the ten extra bucks? Is it just another sequel? Is it true the power of The King’s royal package will save us all? The truth shall be unveiled within!


STORY

After The Prince returned the stars to the sky (negating the damage The King Of All Cosmos did), the world became infatuated with Katamari Damacy. As such, The King takes all the credit and becomes famous with the people of the Earth. Now, Katamari Damacy fans are begging The King to see more of these beautiful Katamaris, or asking for Katamaris to solve whatever problems they’re having. So, The King once again sits back and relaxes while he sends The Prince and his cousins to do the dirty work.

The interesting thing is that much of the game’s focus is on The King of All Cosmos. Aw, who am I kidding? The ENTIRE GAME revolves around him. In fact, focus is taken OFF The Prince in favor of him. Considering you can be any cousin you want when rolling things up, yet its still The King taking all the credit. The cut scenes are about him as well, with the gripping tale of his past and his ordeals with HIS father. Certain missions you play will pause just so he can tell you stories from his life first hand. The only thing keeping the game from being called “The Life And Times Of The King Of All Cosmos” is the fact that you’re rolling up Katamaris, and The King is even opposed to THAT at the beginning. (He doesn’t even notice he’s HOLDING katamaris in his hand until he stops daydreaming.) Still, interaction with The King and The Prince, his cousins, and the Katamari fans are pretty entertaining. Plus the movies included add to his character, and that he may not be the evil sadistic father he made himself out to be in the past.

You WILL learn, however, that The King is the universe’s biggest sell-out. He’ll reject nearly every fan’s request until they give him a compliment. A little sweet talk, and BAM! The King is ready to send you on perilous missions and chastise you for failing! Here’s hoping he doesn’t secure a position at Gamespot…

Overall, while not an engaging, gripping tale, We Love Katamari takes the lighthearted approach once again, providing some quality entertainment in between your rolling experiences.

Story: 7/10


GRAPHICS

The original Katamari Damacy purposely avoided super-realistic graphics in order to come up with its own visual style. We Love Katamari has received a few touch-ups, but nothing too groundbreaking. Now, this isn’t to say the graphics are bad. In fact, most of the in game visuals and environments are downright BEAUTIFUL. The areas are much more vibrant and colorful than I remember, for one. The “main world” (where most of the “get bigger” missions take place) looks great, but there are also several sub worlds that contain their own look and feel. It’s hard to describe, but you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see the flower field and the midnight firefly stages. It’s also incredible exactly how many objects can appear on the screen at a time.

In-game menus and scenes with the King once again have a beautiful hand drawn feel. Sometimes, I feel like I’m looking at interactive paintings then navigating through the menus. The cut scenes have a similar look, which makes them enjoyable as well.

Camera issues were addressed, but not very well. Before, the camera would completely obscure your vision when the backgrounds got too close. Now, a small opening will appear when your vision is obscured, but not very often. It’s pretty easy to lose track of where you are when you get into one of these situations.

So in summary, the graphics can’t compare to most in the realism department. But they are still excellent in their own right, and serve this game like nothing else can. Now, about those camera problems…

Graphics: 7/10


SOUND

Two words, and only two words, can describe this game’s soundtrack: Sheer Brilliance. There are very few games that I’ve played that have soundtracks that come close to We Love Katamari in terms of variety and beauty. I want this game’s soundtrack…NOW!

You’ll start with an ocapela track of last game’s main them (‘Katamari On The Rocks [Arrangement]”), which really isn’t that good, but as you access new stages, you’ll gain new songs to listen to. Each stage has a default song, but you’ll be able to pick ANY of the songs you’ve heard at least once to play on any stage. And you’ll find that the soundtrack simply builds and builds off of each other as you go along. You’ll start with tame songs like Bluffing Damacy and Houston, but it won’t be long before you’ll get to hear GEMS like Baby Universe, Angel Rain, and WLK’s main theme: Katamari On The Swing. But it’s worth it for you to complete the game so you can here the game’s ending theme: A Song For The King Of Kings. And who sings it? The King Of All Cosmos! (It’s his game, after all. Are YOU going to deny his brilliant voice from appearing in this game? Huh?)

Overall, this soundtrack benefits from a LOT more polish than the original Katamari Damacy (which still holds up to this day). Whereas the original songs contained “katamari” as over half their words, WLK seems a little less inclined to sing of the katamari’s greatness (even though its prevalent everywhere else). You can tell that the amount of effort put into the sequel’s music was increased tenfold.

Although it wasn’t until I unlocked the game’s final mission before I knew the true brilliance of the soundtrack. Do yourself a favor and listen to “The Royal Academy Of Katamari”. It is by far and away the finest classical overture piece I’ve ever heard on a video game, and nearly brought a tear to my eye. It is something so beautiful and so moving, it ranks as an instant classic in this generation of games. Perhaps more so than most other tracks in gaming PERIOD.

Yu Miyake, sound director for We Love Katamari, you are my hero. Please take your place amongst the other great names in gaming music, like Nobuo Umatseu and Yuzo Koshiro. You’ve earned it.

Soun…wait a minute…

…Oh yeah, the game has sound effects! I completely forgot!

Nearly all the original sound effects from the original Katamari Damacy have been retained, with quite a few more thrown in for good measure. The King still speaks in record-scratches; inanimate objects still make crazy sounds after being rolled up, people still scream in terror after being rolled up, etc. Its still pretty simple for the most part, but its perfect for WLK.

Sound: 10/10 Are you SURE I can’t give higher than a ten? Dammit!


CONTROLS/GAMEPLAY

Those who’ve played the original game will feel right at home with WLK, as the basic controls haven’t changed. You still use both analogue sticks to move around the stage, you alternate them quickly to dash, and you press both sticks down to turn a quick 180 degrees. The only thing that hasn’t survived was the Katamari Jump, which has been replaced with a better method of scanning around the general area with the left analogue stick. (Honestly, who used the Katamari Jump in the first place?)

I noticed, however, that the controls seemed a tad less responsive than the previous game. It was harder to get a dash going, and harder to stop after a short burst. I’m not too sure whether it was my specific controller or not, but it was not as easy to get around as before for me. These problems especially reared their ugly heads in the more confining stages, like the school. However, it didn’t detract from the gameplay TOO much; just enough for me to notice.

Selecting missions is a bit of a different prospect as well. Instead of flying around Planet Earth, you’ll be wandering around a field of Katamari Damacy fans. You’ll talk to each fan to get new missions (Even if they seem to ignore YOU and talk directly to The King. HIS GAME, DAMMIT!) The field takes up six screens, and more fans fill it up as you progress. Its definitely creative, but there seems to be somewhat less functionality to it. It’s hard to keep track of which fan is where at first, and you’ll also have to go across multiple screens to various landmarks if you want to save or view your collection. It’s definitely more cumbersome than before, and I certainly wish an alternate way to access stuff were created. I couldn’t even figure out how to view the planets I created until I walked to the back of the map and UP THE SKY. Argh. In any case, many of these people will give you two, possibly THREE different missions to play. Counting them all up, there are over 40 different missions to take part in. So while its difficult to get around, at least you’ll have a bunch of stuff to do.

In the last game, there were only four basic missions: (1) Make things bigger, (2) Roll up a lot of [x] object, (3) Roll up the biggest cow/bear, and (4) Get as close to 10 meters as possible). You’ll be happy to note that there are quite a few more mission types in WLK, and many of them are incredibly creative.

For starters, there are only half as many of the regular “get bigger in the world” missions than before. However, each of these missions has a corresponding time attack stage that appears when you complete it. Here, you’ll have to get your katamari to a certain size before time runs out. The object missions return as well, but are pretty different than before. Instead of the objects you’re looking for all interspersed within the stages, there are TONS of the objects laying everywhere. Where there were only 100+ before, now you’ll be rolling them in the THOUSANDS. Most of these missions have time attacks as well, having you collect [x] amount of objects as fast as you can.

The newer missions show off the creativity of the staff in ways I never thought of. One has you roll up kindling for a campfire, but you CONSTANTLY have to roll objects to keep it from going out. Another mission has a 50 objects limit, so you must find the biggest ones possible and avoid the tiny ones. One of the most creative in the game has one guy asking for a donation, so everything you roll up has a dollar value attached to it. Your goal? Be EXPENSIVE, and not necessarily big.

One thing you’ll notice about the missions in this game is that they are much more strict time-wise. Half of give you five minutes or less to complete, so you are definitely going to need to learn to roll faster in order to perfect the game.

Long story short, there is a TON here, with plenty of new spins on the existing formula, and more of your favorite missions from the past. The controls are a bit stiffer, but not too terrible.

Controls/Gameplay: 8/10


REPLAY VALUE

As noted, there are plenty of missions to play around in. And just like the last game, there are different ranks you can obtain in each. The King will either praise you for a job well done, or chew you out for just barely meeting your goal. And as usual, his standards are ridiculously high. (The again, we must all trust the judgment of The King. It’s his game, so he makes the rules!) So you’ll be spending quite some time in every mission refining your skills and reducing your time attack scores.

The cool thing is that once you see the end credits, MORE missions and tasks open up for you to complete. And when you finish those, one last mission opens. One final romp in the world of Katamari Damacy, at least for the time being. And without giving the goal of this mission away, this single solitary mission will add weeks, if not months of replay value ALONE to this game. Trust me. It’s been a few weeks since I started the game, and I’m not even close to halfway done. And I love every minute of it.

Replay Value: 10/10


BALANCE

On the whole, the game is somewhat harder than Katamari Damacy thanks to a combination of factors. The stricter controls, the tighter time limits, and the brand new mission conditions add to the new difficulty. Now, it may not be as hard to complete each stage, as you’ll probably unlock the end credits after a couple of days. But in order to complete everything and get all the best times, the difficulty skyrockets.

Balance: 6/10


ORIGINALITY

From a basic gameplay standpoint, there isn’t much distinguishingWLK from its predecessor, outside of new mission types and graphical enhancements. But from a creative standpoint, WLK shines like the brightest stars you end up creating. The locations you roll up in all have their unique feel to them. The situations you encounter as you roll along are also a sight to behold. (Nothing like snatching the newspaper out of the hand of a student squatting in the school bathroom!) And you’ll look forward to all the new insights The King will eschew as you progress. It’s almost like traversing an interactive work of art.

You’ll also notice that most, if not all, of the objects found in the last game can be rolled up here, albeit in different positions. But fear not, as there are more than double the amount of original objects for you to find and roll up. And of course, some of them are incredibly rare and hard to find. Good luck rolling up everything! It’ll take you MONTHS!

Originality: 7/10


ADDICTIVENESS

Do you realize why this review is a little late? Because The King is so damn cool! I just couldn’t stay away from his majesty for long!

Oh…er…I mean the game is just that damn addictive.

Just like the first game, WLK is game that’s very hard to put down. You’ll end up playing and playing, wondering where the last three and a half hours of your life went. The Katamari franchise keeps that special something that made it so special in the first place, no doubt about it.

Addictiveness: 10/10


APPEAL FACTOR

The first game was incredibly accessible at $19.99, and managed to reach many more people than was originally planned. The game was INCREDIBLY successful, even selling more copies in America than Japan if you can believe it. Now the sequel is upon us, and it costs an extra ten bucks. So does the price increase adversely affect interest? I wouldn’t say so. Diehard fans of Katamari Damacy probably have bought the game already, regardless of price. And $30 is still relatively affordable for a game with over forty challenges to complete, and replay value in droves. There’s more fun material in here than half of the games at $40 and above that I can think of.

However, a couple things may deter your average consumer. Number one, the game’s a sequel. While you don’t necessarily have to play the first game, quite a few of the game’s references and nuances might be lost on those who haven’t played it before. Plus, the quirky Japanese feel that makes it so appealing to some will turn off others. You know, the idiots that judge a game on looks alone, and whether or not there’s enough blood and guts. In any case, WLK still has an excellent chance of reaching out to everyone.

Appeal Factor: 7/10


MISCELLANEOUS

You know, its really hard to describe an experience in We Love Katamari accurately to those who haven’t gone through it. Sure I can describe how to play the game, and the main missions you’ll go through, but the experience of seeing where all the objects are placed, and all the little nuances and jokes included would be lost in the translation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve smiled when I came across a hilarious situation that has to been seen to be believed. One can’t express the joy in coming across the “You Are Here Sign” again, or rolling up a money katamari and having it jump $20,000 in value in a blink of an eye. And then there’s cycling through the presents with your different cousins, and seeing the different combinations unique to each cousin. It’s quite amazing, and one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever gone through. And hopefully, it shall be the same for you.

Miscellaneous: 10/10


THE SCORES

Story: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 10/10
Controls/Gameplay: 8/10
Replay Value: 10/10
Balance: 6/10
Originality: 7/10
Addictiveness: 10/10
Appeal Factor: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 10/10
Total Score: 82/100