Rock & Roll, Japanese style!
The Katamari series has finally reached the next generation of gaming with this new ball-spinning adventure. If you are unsure of what a Katamari is, you might have to check the old PS2 library and find out what Namco has been up to. Three successful Katamari games were released for Sony consoles between September of 2004 and March of 2006, so it was time to reach the competition! Not only are they now part of Microsoft’s console, but it’s rumored that you’ll find Beautiful Katamari on the Nintendo Wii sometime in the near future. We’ll see if there’s any truth to that.
For now, we’ll have to comfort ourselves with playing Beautiful Katamari on the Xbox 360, which is nothing to be sad about. Thanks to the 360’s achievement points system and the nice online capabilities it has to offer, Katamari has come back to life at its best. These features are certainly what make this game worth it all over again, in spite of the fact we played two games on the PS2 that were a bit too similar and one on the PSP that didn’t have much more to add.
Beautiful Katamari, just like its predecessors, is a “royal” game. It’s royal because it’s successful and also because there’s a royal family in it. Of course, don’t expect to find Prince Charlie or the Queen of England in it. Instead, you’ll have the pleasure to meet his Majesty, the King of All Cosmos. He’s an almighty individual who thrives for a perfectly ordered universe where peace and harmony abound. Things don’t always happen as expected and he often has to put his young lad to work. The Prince is a hard-working character who you’ll be handling most of the time, unless you decide to share the tasks with his cousins, whom you’ll find hidden throughout the game. This time around, his Majesty the King was playing a game of tennis with the Queen and, all of a sudden, with a forceful hit, he launches the ball up to the skies and creates a black hole that starts sucking things in non-stop. He manages to stop the evil black hole, but now it’s time to restore the harmony in the world.
We’re talking about all these characters as if they were normal human beings, but when a game has been designed with a pure Japanese gaming audience in mind, we’ve come to expect zany characters, awkward gameplay, and colors, lots of colors! That’s also the case with the Katamari series. The King looks like a wacky, oversized, butt-chinned God with a gray face, colorful ear warmers, and a majestic, purple robe that he wears with pride. The Queen is a sweet lady with a white and pink dress, blonde hair, and a friendly smile. Our Prince wears a green shirt and purple tights; he’s a bit like Link in the Katamari kingdom. For some reason, he also wears an antenna on top of his head. Maybe that’s what the King uses to annoy the heck out of him! Somehow he’s always where you least expect him, telling you hints and other nonsense, and taking over the whole screen while you play.
Your job throughout the whole game is rolling a ball. You’ll go all over the stage rolling and rolling, while the objects that are on the floor somehow stick to the ball as if it was a magnet with ultra powers. You’ll start off with a small-sized ball and, as you pick up things, it will grow bigger in size and allow you to gather even bigger items. When you start, you’ll bump into almost everything, so it’s important that you try to strategically roll over those areas with smaller items in place. Later, the gameplay will pick up and you’ll be rolling everything along like a mad ball of energy. Usually, the King will request that you roll a ball of a certain size to clear the stage, but in a few of the levels you’ll be challenged with other duties like gathering hot objects and avoiding the cold, etc.
The formula is basically the same as always, and so are the controls. As you might know, you’ll roll the Katamari by using both control sticks at the same time, pushing both sticks forwards to roll ahead, pushing one towards the front and the other one backwards to turn the ball around, pressing both of them down to do a quick 180-turn, etc. You can also dash by alternating the left and right controls with an up-and-down motion. This will launch you like a rocket, which is helpful sometimes and can be catastrophic in others; bumping into walls can rid you of some objects or even destroy the ball! In fact, that’s one of the goals that will grant you achievement points. I have to say that Beautiful Katamari is not a very “generous” game when it comes to achievement points. You’ll have to obtain many of them by playing online, so those who don’t have access will have an even harder time obtaining more points. Even though the controls are traditional and there wasn’t much to add here, the camera angles should have been worked on a little more. I can imagine how difficult it is to get it right, with the crazy amount of objects spread throughout the game and the multiple walls that you’ll find all over the place. However, dreadful camera views will often handicap your actions, and that’s just not fair.
There are various levels in the game with different stages in each of them. The main screen is the Princedom. It has numerous buildings with different purposes: one for changing the sound and vibration options, another one for loading and saving your game, one where you can check out your collection of items, etc. One of the buildings will also host the accessories and other presents that serve to customize your character, and the rocket takes you to Katamarius (online play). When you beat a level, the Princedom will grow and you’ll have access to a new area with more stages in it. Also, when you pick up the camera, the camera building will show up in the Princedom, giving you access to pictures you can take along the way; it’s more of a gimmicky feature but at least it’s there, which proves that the developers were trying to innovate.
The graphics did get an upgrade that you will definitely notice on the animations. Spectacular magic, rainbows, and star trails turned the Princedom into an even more enchanting and awe-inspiring environment. The objects and characters are not necessarily more detailed, but they do look sharper and proper of a weird next-gen title like this. If it weren’t for the camera angles I’d be perfectly pleased with its visuals, including characters and the items scattered throughout.
What elements could we expect to find on the floor, shelves, or outdoors? Well, that depends on each stage, but don’t be surprised with what you find. You’ll be rolling up all sorts of things from candy to teddy bears, bikers, rubber duckies, shoes, elephants, sushi, speakers, stars, roasted turkey, and everything in between. It gets especially fun when you become big enough to haul people as well; you’ll hear them screaming helplessly, shaking their legs up and down, trying to get away. Most objects produce sounds when you pick them up, and it’s easier to hear them if you turn the music off and leave the sound effects on.
The music is actually really good for this kind of game. It’s a new soundtrack that was created specifically for Beautiful Katamari, and I think they made it right-on. You’ll still hear the popular tune on the welcome screen, but then each level is flooded with this funky, poppy, Japanese music that drags you along. I’m glad it has some energy, because that’s what’s needed for this kind of gameplay. The different songs will not be repeated much throughout the game if you beat each stage without a problem. However, I can see how one could get annoyed by failing a stage continuously and hearing the same song over and over again. Maybe a “shuffle” system would have come in handy for this; that or turning the music off.
Beautiful Katamari also provides multiplayer action. Only two players can compete, but that should be enough to satisfy everyone’s hunger for competition without splitting the screen into several smaller displays. You can also team along and play co-op. Online play is the best part of this game, and at the same time it may be the worst. Most people will be really excited to know that they can take their Katamari online and roll with it, battle with their friends, and see their scores grow in front of the world. You can create custom matches where you choose the stage where you’ll be playing, etc. There’s also the option to play a quick game. Just like any other online game, these features make it easy for everyone, whether you’re the master of online play and want to use a custom match to your advantage or you just want to start playing right away. Either way, only four players are allowed in each encounter. The online battles consist of picking up specific objects the King requests. You’ll have to make sure and pick up as many of that object as you can and also survive other people’s attacks. With the lock-on feature, you can target a Katamari and then perform a dash- roll that will leave the other person hanging; a lot of what they picked up will launch in the air and then fall in the ground. It’s your chance to steal what they lost and run away. It’s easier said than done, but it sure is fun. What makes the experience uneasy is the continuous lags you might experience. Having played a multitude of online Katamari battles, I can say that 75% of them had serious lags that just made it almost unbearable. I know I have a good Internet connection, so it must be that other people’s connections create lags on everyone’s gameplay.
As you might have guessed by now, I do recommend this game to all of you Katamari lovers who have an Xbox 360 at home. You will enjoy the online play, even with its random lagging problems, and the game also offers a good amount of new stages to play. The Katamari series is very particular, so if you’re new to it and are not sure you’ll enjoy the wacky sense of humor and bizarre gameplay, you might want to rent it first. The game is entirely addictive, and even when things are going wrong for you, you’ll have this ridiculous desire to continue playing to see if you can beat the level once and for all. That’s why I call it “good ol’ evil Katamari.”
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.6 Graphics
Updated graphics with the same old look but more defined. The animations are very nice and proper for a next-gen title. Random, bad camera angles hurt the score. 3.8 Control
Great for the most part, but they should have been updated a bit to avoid frustration. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The new soundtrack is really fun to listen to. If you are good enough to not fail any levels, the music won’t annoy you at all. 4.0 Play Value
The best addition to this new Katamari is the online play. The game is fun all over again, and just as addictive as the old PS2 titles. 3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.