If you wanted one word to sum up the Katamari series, it would be “quirky.” Originally released for the PS2 as a $19.99 budget title, Katamari Damacy proved to be quite the surprise hit in North America, in spite of its simple premise of rolling a sticky ball around various levels to pick up random objects. This success was much to designer’s Keita Takahashi chagrin, as he was more than happy to cross an item of his life’s to-do list (“create a video game”) and then move on. Reluctantly, he contributed to the sequel, We Love Katamari, which added a little more to the concept but wasn’t nearly as magic as the first — and cost consumers $10 more. Katamari continued its voyage on PSP in Me and My Katamari (for $39.99), and now it’s rolled onto the Xbox 360 in Beautiful Katamari with, yep, another $10 increase.
Having played all the console-based Katamari games, no one was more excited for more Katamari-rolling goodness than I. But after playing Beautiful Katamari and hoping that yet another $10 increase would lead to $10 of more fun, I’m sad to report that Namco Bandai has completely dropped the ball.
If you’re a newcomer to the Katamari world, here’s the premise: You, as the Prince of All Cosmos, are tasked by your father, The King of All Cosmos, to roll up various items into a ball to achieve a certain size in the time allotted. The goal? Roll up katamari (balls) that are large enough to re-populate the skies with stars. Initially your Katamari is quite small, but much like rolling a snowball, the Katamari gets bigger and bigger with the more items you grab. As it grows, the sizes of objects you can pick up increase from thumb tacks to entire landmasses. Throw in a wacky Japanese soundtrack and some of the most bizarre dialogue ever, and that pretty much sums up the game.
Alas, Beautiful Katamari does away with the general stages of the first two games and tasks you to not only roll a certain-sized katamari in the time allotted, but to also include in the collection various objects that the King requests (fish, drinks, etc.). You are scored based on both size and request fulfillment, then moved to the next area/planet. While you aren’t penalized for a low score, getting perfect will unlock the “endless” mode for that level, which lets you roll forever without a time limit (truly the sweet spot of the game). This is all well and good for experienced rollers, but for first-timers this may prove frustrating.
Also, the controls and camera, if you’re not used to them, may seem awkward and annoying, and the visuals, while ramped-up to HD settings, can’t compensate for the feeling that the engine itself seems the same as the original PS2 version. In other words, Beautiful Katamari feels and plays like We Love Katamari, but with a few things taken out and others put in, including a better soundtrack.
One new addition is both offline and online multiplayer, but that sounds a heck of a lot better than it actually plays. Really the game doesn’t need this, and its execution feels almost as though the option was tacked on. There’s also the option to download new content, as there are currently three levels available on Xbox Live (in Japan) for 800 Microsoft points, all of which are scheduled to hit U.S. shores soon — for another $10. See where this is going?
Katamari was never meant to be a triple-A title, and I found myself more forgiving with the two PS2 titles because the price point warranted that. But to release what’s essentially the same game for a higher price has me questioning the life of the series. Honestly, Katamari on the Xbox 360 may have worked better as a simple Xbox Live Marketplace download, or even as a bundle of the first two games. As a stand-alone and $50 title, though, Beautiful Katamari just deserves to be rolled on by.
- Score: 6
- The third time is definitely not a charm. Multiplayer is better in concept than practice, and the rest of the game just feels “tired.” Even fans of the series will lose interest.
— Phillip Vollmer