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Make a clump of souls in ‘Katamari Damacy’

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By Robert Crippin

By Robert Crippin

After a night of hard partying, the King of All Cosmos gets a little tipsy and destroys all the stars in the night sky. In order to correct this minor foul-up, the King assigns his pint-sized prince, a little green kid with a pill-shaped head, to make new stars by rolling up whatever detritus he can find on the planet Earth. Why Earth? Because it has “lots of stuff,” of course.

That is the story behind Namco’s Katamari Damacy, a niche Playstation 2 game that found a mainstream following when it was released here in the states in 2004 for the budget price of $20. Though it’s a year-old even in America, the recent announcement of a sequel, tentatively titled “Everyone Loves Katamari Damacy,” has reinvigorated interest in the original.

For the uninitiated, Katamari Damacy’s mechanics are as strange as its plot: players, as the prince, use the DualShock2’s twin analog sticks to roll a ball – the katamari – around the earth to collect objects. Once the katamari reaches a certain mass, it can be transformed into a star. Through these means, the prince can eventually restore all the stars in space, one constellation at a time.

The game starts out fairly small in scope as the diminutive hero begins by rolling his katamari around on a desk, picking up thumbtacks, cherries and whatever other little trinkets he can find. The world isn’t laid out logically or realistically – instead, random objects appear everywhere.

The first bedroom stages has a pair of mice running around, with all manner of odd snacks strewn about the floor and school supplies lined up in little rows just waiting to be rolled up.

The prince eventually graduates from tiny household objects to pets to people and cars and then to buildings, whole islands and rainbows.He even gets to roll up the island which contains the house, which contains the room, which contains the very desk that he started on – in addition to all of the island’s inhabitants. What basically amounts to genocide is sugar-coated by the game’s simplistic, cartoonish look and oddball soundtrack, which features everything from children’s choruses to a sound designer humming into his cell phone.

Getting ahead in the game is never really difficult. It takes a while to get acclimated to the controls, but even non-gamers can learn how to maneuver the katamari in a couple of play sessions or so.

It’s never expected of players to become particularly adept at rolling things up either. There’s a time limit or similar condition for each level to add urgency and make the game feel like an actual game, but rarely will any given stage take more than one or two tries to complete.

Katamari Damacy is far from a perfect experience – rolling can occasionally be frustrating, especially when the prince has trouble gaining enough speed to burst through a wall or if he grabs an oddly shaped object that makes his katamari oblong and difficult to maneuver – but it has so much personality, and it’s such a unique game, that it’s hard not to recommend it to anyone who’s missed out thus far.

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