I was a big fan of Katamari Damacy. Big big fan. I had it preordered before all you bandwagoners jumped on. So having a cold or the plague or whatever I have, I was confined to the couch and figured I’d pop in the latest release: Beautiful Katamari. As a player, it is exactly what you expect from a Katamari game – you roll things up, there’s some silly shit, it’s a good time. But as a fan, Beautiful Katamari absolutely fails where the original succeeded.
One of the fantastic things about the original was how seamless the final stage was: you start as a tiny Katamari with gigantic objects in the distance that you can just barely fathom and then you eventually over the course of the stage, gain the girth the roll them up. This is done technically by the “zoom outs”, where each zoom out changes the scale and “rollability” of each object in the game. In the original, this was seamless. You never realized when an object went from background to a game object. But in Beautiful Katamari, that seemlessness is gone. Objects pop into the world when you zoom out (and likewise, small objects pop away). The worst offender is in the final stages where you feel like you have a grasp of the entire environment and then when you reach 300m, thousands of objects just appear out of nowhere. A subsequent “zoom out” then apes the credits of the original by taking you out of the world you were in and sticking you against the Earth to roll up countries. The feel is completely different.
That isn’t all I am disappointed with either. The “wackiness” isn’t there. The king’s quips aren’t as odd or funny as they have been. The songs are mostly reused from the previous game (And why God why did they reuse the Dog’s Barking remix of Katamari on the Rocks?). The level design seems to have entailed throwing maximum amounts of junk into the level with little regard for size or progression. I felt in the final level of the original that there was an optimal path to take – in this version, I feel like you just keep rolling and see what happens. The framerate jumps back and forth between unplayable and silk. It was more consistent on the PS2!
There are things to like, of course. The leaderboards are nice. The variety of presents is expanded and the cousin and presents you used appear on the leaderboard beside your score. The final credits have a fantastic 2d minigame that is actually more playable than the game itself.
But as a fan, I am sorely disappointed. Katamari Damacy used to be an inspiration for game designers – that you could create something with love and playfulness that appeals to the essence of play rather than the serious capital A Art that many designers want above delivering actual fun. There was a license here to recreate that fun and go nuts and it feels like they just went through the motions. Whether it is the fault of the designers, team or management, it is impossible to tell, but the end result is something that is a shadow of the original.