When Katamari Damacy hit the scene a few years back and became a cult hit, no one expected to see the Katamari series’ popularity and influence soar like they did. If you had told me at the time that we’d be seeing its influence in pop culture-licensed games like Jackass: the Game and the Simpsons Game just a few years later, I wouldn’t have believed it. Unfortunately for Beautiful Katamari, all the time since the original game’s release hasn’t done much to expand the experience as a whole.
The series’ unique double analog stick controls, which require you to move them simultaneously to move, have been retained, and long-time fans will be relieved to learn that despite the sticks not being right next to each other, the controls don’t suffer much as a result. Cornering seems to be slightly harder now, but otherwise, I had no trouble acclimating myself to playing the game with the 360’s pad.
We Love Katamari added a lot of gimmicks to the concept (like feeding sumo wrestlers a certain amount of rolled up food), but the basic idea of “roll a sticky ball around to make a large quantity of things stick to it until it reaches a certain size” has remained mostly unchanged, leading all of Katamari Damacy’s follow-ups to feel like little more than expansion packs.
Granted, the formula works very well and has always resulted in a very enjoyable game, but the stagnation of the gameplay cannot be denied, and no matter how many quirks you put into the game, one can only roll a virtual ball around for so long before it eventually gets tiresome. Even the expansion of the wacky concepts found in We Love Katamari to extend the life of the game (like either restricting what you can pick up, or giving you a set amount of things to pick up of a certain item type) do much to help, as they too feel like just an expansion pack. If you’re new to the series, then the repetitious gameplay might not be much of an issue. However, for series veterans, the offline experience feels like déjà vu. That isn’t entirely a bad thing, as it is still a very fun game to play, but I do feel like the offline gameplay hasn’t changed enough since We Love Katamari.
The freshest new gameplay wrinkle I found involved a stage that forces you to heat up a katamari to 10,000 degrees, forcing you to meticulously control your katamari, because hitting cold objects could easily take you from 5,000 degrees down to 0 with just one bad turn into a pile of cooling objects (like snow cones or snow men). It requires a great deal of skill and some luck to overcome, and unfortunately, there aren’t any other new stages that come close to requiring that kind of precise gameplay to succeed.
While the offline game left me feeling disappointed at times, the online side of Beautiful Katamari is mostly stellar. The mode variety is plentiful, and you have the option of going with the usual “get katamari to this size” goal or try to get the highest amount of a certain item, all while competing against up to three other players. While the modes are a bit simpler compared to the main game, they actually feel completely new, and I think that’s due to the addition of competition beyond just the in-game clock or katamari limits. Having someone else to compete against adds a great deal of excitement to the game, I think that a future installment would benefit greatly from making these modes available for offline play, just with CPU-controlled bots in place of real-life foes as they add a much-needed feeling of something truly new in the series. The lack of lag during most of my time spent online made it even more of a joy to play.
The biggest issues I’ve found with the game aren’t due to their lack of overhauling, but instead caused by excessive slowdown, an overly-cluttered game screen, which can ruin an otherwise enjoyable play session, and serious camera problems. Slowdown wasn’t an issue in previous games, but it’s a fairly regular problem here, including early on in the game when you’re trying to create small katamaris.
I could understand it if it was just limited to the stages where you’re rolling up massive, screen-filling skyscrapers on a regular basis, but when it’s occurring when you’re just gathering up things like toy cars and office supplies, it’s quite ridiculous. It also throws you off your gaming, and in a timed game like this, that can easily mean the difference between you winning and losing. Given the lack of a major visual overhaul, and the massive increase in hardware in the 360 compared to the previous entries I’m quite surprised to see Beautiful Katamari have any slowdown in it, let alone the bothersome amount it has.
Aside from the slowdown, the gameplay screen gets way too cluttered by the King on a fairly regular basis. His screens at the beginning of a stage can be skipped, but his mid-game screens informing you of things like special items that you’ve rolled up, how big your katamari is, your new katamari’s size enabling you to enter more of the game world, and how much time you have left can’t be, and take up about 1/3 of the screen. This prevents you from adequately being able to see what’s in front of, and if you’re in the home stretch of a level, this could easily cause you to lose.
Camera problems have been a fairly minor annoyance in past games. In the original, they tended to just creep up if you were in a tight space, which was slightly bothersome, but not enough of a problem to kill the game. Later, a window was added that let you see through whatever was blocking your view in that narrow space. Now, the window is still there, but it also cuts off part of your play area. The most notable part of the playing world affected by this seems to be ramp ways needed to move upwards in earlier levels of the game, which are sometimes completely erased from your view by this window. Like the slowdown, this is a serious issue that is quite perplexing since it wasn’t in past games, and you’d naturally expect this newest entry to improve on past problems, not make them worse.
Graphically, Beautiful Katamari is a very minor improvement to the PS2 games. Objects and people look sharper, but that’s about it - the simple look of the series has been retained, which is mostly a good thing because it’s part of the game’s charm, but I wouldn’t have minded a more notable graphical increase that retained the same simplistic style. As it stands, the only visual evidence of a generational leap for the series is that instead of rolling up NES-lookalike systems and controllers, you roll up official Xbox 360 wireless pads and consoles.
Musically, Beautiful Katamari continues the series’ tradition of having some goofy Japanese-language tracks alongside some pop and even some rock songs. Unfortunately, it has the fewest amount of memorable songs, and while it’s still better than most game soundtracks out there, it falls slightly short of the high standards set by prior games.
Overall, Beautiful Katamari is a very fun game, and one that I will keep in my regular rotation for years, but it’s also quite flawed, and has more drawbacks to it than past entries in the series. I hope to see its problems ironed out in a succeeding entry in the series, but I’m disappointed at how the first “next-gen” katamari game turned out, as it’s a step back for the series in some crucial ways, and seemingly would have benefited from a delay to fix some of its problems.
As it is, I’d recommend it only for series veterans dying for more katamari-rolling action and have the ability to make use of the well-executed online multi-player modes, otherwise, just sticking with the earlier games will probably suffice. For people new to the series, download the demo and see if the gameplay clicks with you. If it does, then you’ll probably get your money’s worth out of a purchase.