Katamari has been proudly perched upon the pedestal that is Japanese weirdness since its inception. Let’s take a look at what makes these games the cosmic kings of fun.
I think its been well established at this point in my blogging history that I am a bit of a nerd. Wife…nerd. Son…small nerd. Cats….fluffy weirdos who only view gaming as an opportunity to chew cables and loudly fight each other when I’m trying to record. We of the Pixel Bites household are a proud family of nerds and therefore enjoy all things nerdish and weird.
And so we are gathered here today to discuss a series that by far tops the list of weird, cult classic gaming series’: Katamari. Haven’t heard of it before? Google it my friend and you’ll say to yourself “Riiiiight…moving along…” But hold your horses young buck, don’t move along just yet! Rent it, buy it or borrow it from some weirdo that you know! It will be worth it, I promise you this!! Bandai-Namco took a simple puzzle/action game concept, wrapped it in a thick layer of glorious Japanese weirdness and set a standard never to be surpassed. Prepare yourself for an addicting, quirky and colorful good time.
Now that I’ve got the ball rolling, let’s get into what makes the Katamari series a cosmic must play!
The Birth Of A Katamari
Firstly, this is a pretty expansive series. Considering it hasn’t been around for that long, only since the PS2 days, thirteen titles is a pretty hefty line up. Now, about half of those thirteen are for mobile devices and there is a lot of reused/revamped content even in the actual console games, but all of them easily stand alone on their own merits. Each game is given its own fleshed out backstory and maintains a solid level of quality content regardless of the platform it’s played on.
Katamari got its start the same way a lot of great games do, as a Japanese exclusive. However, it quickly became a huge hit in the west and was not only imported and localized, but came with a full fledged sequel right on its heels. We’ve been flooded with Katamari games ever since and I honestly couldn’t be happier about it.
A Day In The Life Of A Katamari
The premise for the Katamari games is usually the same, where your father, “The King of All Cosmos” has trashed the galaxy through some form of tomfoolery or another and promptly tasks you, The Prince, with fixing it. You have to make new stars and planets by “rolling up” various objects using a colorful knobby ball called a Katamari (which roughly translates to “mass”). While the King is a massive, overly-judgemental and ever befuddled entity, you The Prince are just a miniscule innocent. Who apparently has been blessed with the strength of a god since even though you’re the size of an ant, you can still manage to keep rolling this Katamari, that eventually grows to planetary sizes.
In the beginning you start off with a small katamari, simply rolling up small things like thumb tacks, candy, soy sauce packets and yen coins and eventually progressing to larger and larger things until you are big enough to roll up the King of All Cosmos himself. Are you still with me? Haven’t maxed out your weird meter yet? Hold my non-alcoholic beverage…There’s still more to divulge.
A lot of the stages will just require you to make your katamari a certain size and you are usually given a gauge to tell you how you’re doing. You happily go about your business rolling up school supplies, furniture and people (yep, people, who will proceed to make various sounds of distress as you stick them to your katamari) until you reach your goal or run out of time. Other stages though, and these are usually my favorite, require you to roll up specific things like expensive items to make a “Rich” planet or items that will keep your Katamari aflame to make a Sun. My all time favorite stage is one from We Love Katamari, the second game in the series. You are given a skinny aspiring sumo wrestler instead of your typical katamari and your task is to use his body to roll up food to make him fat enough to “defeat”, a.k.a. roll up, another giant sumo wrestler that has been placed in the stage.
Starting to get excited now aren’t you? Seriously people, Ebay prices for this game are great. I will understand completely if you want to leave in the middle of my post to start a bidding war on one…just make sure to leave an upvote before you go. Back to the topic at hand though, stages like the one I just described are the bread and butter of the Katamari series and never cease to draw me in with their endless slew of odd and strange missions. Don’t get me started on the Cowbear stage.
As the Prince rolls along on his quest to reconstruct the demolished cosmos he will discover other characters referred to as Cousins. Distant relatives of the royal family I suppose? These are strange little creatures of various size, shape and color that belong to the Prince’s “race” ( I guess?). They can be interchanged with the Prince once you collect them from their respective stages. They don’t have any abilities or add anything to the game other than counting as a collectable and adding to your completion percentage. They are downright adorable and entertaining though. Their random shenanigans as they wander about the stage select screen is more than enough to justify their presence. My favorite is a toss up between Miso and Fujio, while my wife likes Ichigo and Kinoko.
Katamari Shapes and Sounds
The graphics are fairly basic with only mild improvements as the games have moved up in the console/platform generations. They consist of simple cell shaded polygons, as well as, low resolution textures for the large variety of objects found in the world including people, places and countless other things that you can stick to your Katamari. Which makes sense especially for the earlier games where literally everything can be rolled up once you reach the proper sized katamari. Buildings, clouds, even pieces of entire land masses, you name it, and it can join your Katamari mass.
The music is fantastic and completely suits the game to a tee. A lot of cheerful, quirky Japanese songs that just make you want to bop right along, happily rolling up your surroundings. Nothing like intermingling bubbly J-Pop music with hilariously exaggerated shrieks of people and animals as you bowl them over with your rolling trash pile. And it’s just as memorable and addicting as all of the distressed sounds of the Katamari denizens if I do say so myself. Honestly, these weird sounds have stuck with me for years and my wife and I, pre-established weirdos that we are, still to this day tend to randomly pepper them into our daily conversations. Gotta love those inside marital jokes that make people think you’ve both just escaped from the local mental ward.
We Heart Katamari
This series will forever hold a solid place in my heart, especially We Love Katamari, since it was just one of those games where you look at the cover and you think to yourself “Well this looks like it was drawn by a 4 year old. I should totally never waste my money renting it.” But then you do rent it because it’s Friday and you and your girlfriend are plan-less shut ins and you live in a very small town with video stores that only have like ten games to rent. And then you discover that you were way too quick to judge this game and it’s actually amazing and you play it constantly the entirety of the weekend until all you see once you do decide to get some sleep is that little green cylinder head guy rolling a knobbly little ball around. *out of breath*
Come to think of it I believe the current copy in my collection is from that very store. No, I didn’t steal it….I would never do that. I legitimately purchased it from their yearly sidewalk sale where they purged all the stuff no one ever seemed to want to rent. I glady dropped whatever tiny price they were asking for it and walked away a happy man. The first game in the series however, Katamari Damacy, eluded me for a very long time. I couldn’t find it for sale anywhere in my hodunk little town and in its hodunkyness, my town also lacked a reliable mail service so ebay was out.
That’s when I turned to the good ole failsafe of…*drum roll*… My mother. She was living in the U.S. and had access to all kinds of stuff I didn’t, so I sent her on a mission. The next time she came to visit she proudly presented me with my long sought after copy of Katamari Damacy. My girlfriend/wife baked her a pecan pie and we called it even stevens. Good deal I’d say. On the other hand there’s no real tales to tell involving my acquisition of the other games in the series. They usually go along the lines of “Oooh Hey! A new Katamari is coming out!”. My wife will yell “Preorder that [email protected]$t!!!” and so I do and that’s about how those stories go.
These games are an embodiment of my soul, aside from the Japanese part that is. They are an affirmation that my weirdness is indeed justified plus, you know, they’re just plain fun and addicting and all that good stuff as well….*cough*
What’s your take on the Katamari series? Too weird for your taste? Or just the right flavor? Do you know of any games that might top their addictive oddness?
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You can also find more of my reflections on my Paper Mario collection right… about… here: