Beautiful Katamari Review
Written : Thursday, November 01, 2007
By: Alan Pettit (GT: The Pants Party)
Beautiful Katamari is unlike any game you've ever played. Well, unless you've played either of its Playstation predecessors, that is. Many games try to make this claim and end up being exactly like every other game in its genre. However, this game lacks a genre, unless you consider "extremely weird" a genre. The Katamari games are made by the mad thinkers at Namco Bandai, also responsible for the recent RPG Eternal Sonata, which had a story equally unique to the Katamari universe. They are paving their way to becoming a big name on the 360 console, one quirky hit after another.
The basic story of the Katamari universe is as unique and quirky as the gameplay itself. The King of the Cosmos, who is so big he needs to float out in space, keeps messing up the cosmos. He then asks The Prince to fix it by rolling up everything on earth to throw into the sky and make new stars, satellites and planets. This particular time, the King had a tennis mishap and created a large black hole in space. It is once again up to the Prince to roll up everything he can in an attempt to plug up the black hole.
Obviously, this is not your run-of-the-mill family game. It does however fit the basic premise of the family genre, which is usually to focus on fun, addictive gameplay that you can share with your family and friends. Beautiful Katamari does this extremely well, building on a very simple idea and making it increasingly ridiculous, but ridiculously fun at the same time. When you first begin the game, you have a very small Katamari to roll things up with. You start with thumbtacks, coins and crayons while working your way up to watches, radios and plants. Soon you're rolling up pets, people and cars before snagging ships, planes and buildings. Not long after that you find yourself taking statues, monuments and stadiums before finally you've engulfed entire cities and countries, leaving nothing left but to float in space, grabbing the stars and planets before attempting to plug the black hole.
You start out smaller than candy.
Like I said, a completely simple, ridiculous concept, but when you sit down and take part in it, there's nothing more exciting. Playing through the game, most of the stages will go how I described above until you run out of time to roll things up, hopefully having hit your target size somewhere along the way. If you fail, you are put into a large pool table where the King throws the balls at you until you decide whether to give up or try again. This is another thing the game does very well; it takes something simple like making a choice and turns it into a mini-game. Even after you successfully complete the game, you are thrown into a retro up-scrolling shooter while the credits roll.
Rather than employing a strict menu system for you to choose which stages to attempt, the game puts you on a series of planets called the Princedom that have houses and other objects to represent the menu options. From the center island you can access the Live Marketplace, head to the Xbox Live Vs arena, save your game, check your collections, and view photos. On the planets surrounding this center one, there are houses to represent the stages you can play. The objective on most stages is simply to roll around until the time runs out, trying to hit a certain size. One level tries do something different, however; this stage focuses on rolling up hot items to hit a certain temperature. It would have been nice to have more of these levels to add more variety to the gameplay. Even just the opposite to roll up cold items would have been nice.
Once you finish a level a Time Attack mode will be unlocked, where the objective is to get to the certain size as fast as possible. You can do it the intended way and try to get a good time to make the online leaderboards, or you can use this opportunity to go slow and find objects, presents and cousins for your collection. If you happen to impress the King with one of your Katamaris during the normal gameplay (with a score of 100 or more), you unlock Eternal Mode, which is an even better option for finding hidden things because the time aspect is removed completely and you can roll until your heart's content. Once you're done, simply hit X to head back to the Princedom and anything you found will be saved.
Before long, you're picking up cars.
The controls in the game are somewhat difficult at first, but with a little practice it really makes sense. Most of the time you'll simply be moving the thumbsticks to control the direction of the ball. Both pointed up, you'll go straight forward and both down will move you backward. To roll in a circle you'll need to hold one forward and one diagonal. There are two additional "moves" the Prince can use to navigate levels. A "dash" move can be employed by moving the thumbsticks forward and back rapidly to rev him up like Sonic the Hedgehog and a "quick turn" move by pressing both thumbsticks in at the same time, which will cause the Prince to jump directly to the other side of the ball so you can go in the direction you just came from.
During the normal course of the game, you'll want to watch out for large presents hidden (and sometimes not so hidden) around the area you're rolling. Finding these will unlock accessories for your character, usable in three slots: head, face and body. They range from crowns and flowers for your head to swords and guitars for your back. You'll also want to watch out for your cousins, of which 42 are present during the course of the game. Each cousin you find will be transported to the planet grouping that acts as the menu system. From here, you can switch between them at any time by simply standing near them and pressing a button. This doesn't really do anything but give you variety in the character you're using, but it is yet another small thing that give the game its charm.
You can also interact with cousins and the various things around the planet grouping. If you are on the snowy planet, you can scoop up a snowball and throw it. If you hit a cousin, they'll return in kind. Make them miss and hit another cousin, and they'll start to fight. There is a train to ride to take you from one planet to the next, as well as rain clouds to fly on, which can also shoot lightning down on your cousins. There's even a jukebox to turn on, which will start a dance party with every cousin you have unlocked.
To go along with all these great little features, the graphics and sound do a remarkably good job for the seemingly low quality. I say seemingly because they are not what we may be used to on a next-gen system, but they fit the game perfectly. Each stage has blaring Japanese pop music for a backdrop, while every item you snag makes the same noise when picked up. The ambient noises from the cars, pets and people are extremely low-budget as well. This all serves to further the purpose of focusing more on the gameplay than anything else, however. Since the sounds are really negligible, you'll find yourself focusing more on finding new objects to roll up, as well as the presents and cousins to unlock.
The graphics are in much the same boat as the sound. All the living things are basically block figures with little to no detail. A girl has six parts to her: two arms, two legs, a torso and a head. The clothing and details of her are basically drawn onto those six block pieces. Think of a Lego set and you'll basically have a game of Katamari. But once again, knowing up front that they're not trying to make this a realistic endeavor just furthers your focus on the gameplay, which is the entire point. The game looks like what it is, a low-budget Japanese family fun game. You really shouldn't fault it for that, but at the same time, in this high-production age, many people can.
A game so quirky, you pick up the system you're playing it on!
The game has a limited online play section. You can setup your own planet with custom rules or join someone else's planet. Once you join the planet, you both can run around and mess with each other before actually starting the match, much like the single player portion where you can interact with your cousins. During the match, the object is to simply pick up the most items. You can use the "dash" maneuver to knock into your opponent and force some of the objects to fall off his ball. Each match is very short, basically boiling down to who can use the "dash" maneuver the best. After the match, the King awards cookies to both players, depending on their performance. If you have the "bonus cookie" option for your (or their) planet, the King will sometimes reward players for doing certain things, such as losing the most items or getting knocked out of the playing field.
The achievements for Beautiful Katamari are somewhat difficult. A few achievements are unlocked by simply playing the game, but most require a bit of effort. There are a few that require you to do the same thing a number of times during a single stage, such as the two maneuvers you can do, or even a negative one to run into walls to break pieces off your Katamari. Eternal mode makes these extremely easy, seeing as you have no time limit and can simply do the same thing over and over and then leave the level whenever you want. With a good guide, finding the presents and cousins isn't that difficult, but will easily take multiple playthroughs of each level. Luckily, the biggest boon for achievements in general is usually online play, but Katamari simply rewards you for playing the online mode a number of times, rather than forcing you to get wins.
The biggest setback for the achievements are the secret ones. 100% completion will take quite a while for most people, even with help from online forums. 50/100 hours played is way over the top for how short the game really is and the 100/200 Requests achievements will force you to play the same level over and over just for that achievement, since most item hunting will be done in Eternal modes. Those achievements only count levels played in Normal mode.
Another somewhat big setback for the achievements is that the 250 extra achievement points available for Downloadable Content was built into the original list. This led many people to think the content was already on the disc and they would simply be paying for a key to unlock it, based on the size of the DLC download. However, you are only downloading a new scenario using existing game data. All the environments and items are already on the disc, the scenario just needs to tell the game how to arrange it.
The music in the game is both infectious and ridiculous. Japanese pop songs with occasional English lyrics can get stuck in your head, but that's not always a good thing. The same noise is used almost every time you pick up an item, which gets extremely repetitive.
While the graphics seem "low-budget," they are really exactly how they should be. Something with this ridiculous of a premise can't be set in a Halo or Gears style environment and still have the same addictive charm.
The controls are cumbersome at first and the camera angles can get stuck behind objects at time. Once you've got the controls down (it only took my wife about ten minutes), most of your rolling experience is very enjoyable.
While there is not a whole lot of improvement over previous Katamari games, this does what it does with flying colors. A lack of diversity in the levels is a major drawback, but the gameplay is extremely addictive regardless.
The large amount of points invested in "searching" achievements might be disappointing to many people, and the achievements for doing 100/200 requests, as well as 50/100 hours played are way over the top for such a short game. Fun achievements nonetheless, but they will take a bit of time to complete.
Overall, the game is short and sweet, but it has a very high amount of replay value. Finding all the items, cousins and presents can be downright addictive. The quick online battles can be frustrating if you're losing, but very fun if you're winning. It is a very unique game, and because of that you'll definitely find yourself strangely drawn to it. The ridiculousness of it will make you chuckle ever so slightly almost every time you play, and there really is something to be said for a game that doesn't try to do too much, but instead does one thing extremely well.