Katamari Damacy REROLL is rolling onto PS4 and Xbox One, two years after Switch and PC. Is it a timeless classic, or a nostalgia trip best left in the past? The Finger Guns Review:
I’d noticed the Katamari games in their various iterations over the last fifteen years, but had never taken the plunge and played one. Though it’s clearly a highly original concept and has therefore garnered deserved praise, it always struck me as something of a gimmick. I struggled to find the drive to pay actual money for something that looked so short lived and one-note.
I am pleased then after some fifteen years of absent-mindedly avoiding the franchise, to finally have a chance to play the Remastered version of the original Katamari Damacy from 2004 in REROLL, which hit Xbox One and PS4 this last week. Does it convince fifteen years later, or is it a gimmick best left to those on a nostalgia trip?
The King of All Cosmos has been Naughty, very Naughty; while on a drug-induced mind-altering bender of galactic proportions he accidentally knocked all the stars out of the sky. Now, as the Prince (no given name) his problems are your problems. He’s also very concerned with how small you are as his son. You must get bigger. Good job then that you also have a Katamari. Essentially a Katamari is a knobbly ball, that’s capable of sticking anything and everything to it, as long as its mass is bigger than the object it’s trying to pick up.
Think of it as if the Katamari is the core of a literal star, and the larger it gets, the more gravity it’s able to exert on its surroundings. This is why and how you start small and get larger, and only by being larger can you then collect up larger things. It’s gravity. You bump into a lot of bigger things when you’re small, but when you are as big or bigger, they can no longer resist the gravity of being stuck to the Katamari.
And that’s basically the name of the game. Stars are made of matter, we are all made of stars. Therefore rolling up every object, creature and piece of garbage you can stick to your Katamari makes a strange kind of sense. It’s all matter that can then be made into a star by magic rather than billions of years of ultra high-energy fusion. I’m convinced, dunno about you.
That story is fine, and will take you through close to twenty different levels, but there’s also a truly horrible little story told in cutscenes between levels of two children noticing the stars have disappeared. It’s presented in a highly stylised, garish 1950s sort of aesthetic, and I get the style is deliberate but it literally offended my eyes. Eventually the stories tied together, but I could have done without it.
With such a simple game mechanic, roll over everything, there’s a surprising amount of fun to be had collecting up everything you can. Levels generally require you to reach a certain size before being made into a star. You must start small collecting drawing pins, stationery, seeds, paper, and then progress through to bigger items, always based on whether you are bigger than them. Rolling around a house or bedroom in the first levels, quickly you become big enough to roll up most of the furniture. In later levels you’re set free to roll up every item in a park, shopping centre, or beach.
The final level really ups the ante, tasking you with rolling up the largest items, including buildings, ships, islands, whatever you can, in a bid to create the moon, a 300m behemoth of trash. While this level and others are fun, I got to the point where again I felt like my initial assessment was correct. You are basically just rolling around collecting things. Great games have been made of less, but they’ve also been made of more.
Some levels do ask you to be a little more specific in your choice of items, like creating a ball of swans, or crowns, but in order to get most of the items you will still need to get progressively bigger, which means it’s still the same setup. I longed for different modes, a free roll mode or just something deeper.
Initially I thought it was one of those rare games where you aren’t required to kill anyone. It certainly looks that way. But I soon realised that wasn’t quite the case. In some of my Katamaris, I rolled over dogs and cats and plenty of people, and then, come the end of the level, the King sent them to be a star in the sky. You don’t kill them yourself, but in a roundabout way, you do send a lot of people out into the cold dark abyss to die of suffocation.
Graphically, even with a remaster Katamari Damacy is not trying to be anything like real. It’s a cartoon, and a stylised one at that. People are blocks that looks like toys, animals the same, although at least the regular objects looked about like they should. It’s close in look to Untitled Goose Game, with that washed out pastel colour scheme, and cel-shaded style. Though the Remaster is a clear step up from the original 2004 release its not a game that benefits much from looking better.
However its sounds are kind of wonderful. Everything you roll over has a little squeak or appropriate noise to it as you collect it, making the game a cacophony of strange and wonderful noises. The soundtrack is an inspired and original set of pieces that are very Japanese, very jazz and samba influenced with lots of vocal beatnik-style elements and perfectly fitting for the game. I’ll probably find myself humming them long after the game itself has become tiresome.
One of my major gripes with Katamari Damacy REROLL, is that the Remaster has retained the frankly disturbing control scheme from the 2004 original. These days I can imagine half a dozen better ways I have controlled balls in games before, and this has to be one of the worst. In Katamari you use both thumb sticks at once to roll the ball, both forward to go forward, one back and one forward to turn left or right, both back to roll back. It’s counter intuitive in the extreme, and for me at least, never felt natural. Even by the time of completion I was no more able to roll the ball in a convincing manner than I had been at the start.
The early 2000s were still a time of rife experimentation with control schemes, and this feels very of its time. I feel like a freeform ball control with the left stick, and camera (and therefore direction) with the right stick would have been a great option, or even default to have included.
Katamari Damacy REROLL is a pretty short and simple game and won’t take you more than a few hours to roll through. You can also earn a trophy/achievement for every level you complete, and then just a couple of special tasks, like rolling at least one of every item and it’s a simple and rather pleasant platinum/1000 gamerscore.
A timeless and quirky videogame that embodies the weirder side of indie games, its originality is still as evident now as it was in 2004. That said if you played it then, Reroll doesn’t really add or drop anything from the original, and retains a few of its faults as well. For those who haven’t had a chance to sample this strange and memorable gem from gaming’s past, well now is the perfect time for a new generation to roll with it.
Timeless and strange, Katamari Damacy is as original now as it was when first released. There’s nothing else like it. REROLL is a faithful remaster, but on PS4 that means retaining a very out-of-date control scheme, and no new features, but even that can’t hold back this big ball of fun.
Katamari Damacy REROLL is available now on PS4 (review system), Xbox One and previously on Nintendo Switch and PC.
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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