The Greatest Games: We Love Katamari (2005)

We Love Katamari (2005)
Developed by Namco

Video games have always been able to get away with oddity unquestioned. After Super Mario Bros. smashed onto the scene, nothing seemed too conceptually ridiculous. It takes a massive quantity of absurdity to actually register and, boy, does the Katamari series deliver.

The second game in the series, We Love Katamari took everything from Katamari Damacy and made it even better. Your goal is to push around a tiny ball and collect smaller objects which stick to the surface. Anything too big won’t fit, so each level is built around a loop of collecting the small objects until the ball is big enough for the next set; but if you want to maximize your size, you must quickly find those objects which give the biggest boost. Once you get rolling, there’s no stopping. A pencil? Go ahead. A cat? No one’s going to question your morality here. A fleeing school child? Baby, when we’re finished here, every country on earth is going to be shot into space. All will be sacrificed to the beautiful ball.

This is a game that nearly defies genre labels; it can be called a puzzle game, though that doesn’t feel quite right. Katamari became a momentary craze because it’s so singular; it faded just as quickly because there’s no meaningful way to expand beyond what we got here. Like Tetris, Katamari is inimitable and as good today as it was upon release.

The narrative presentation is completely baffling. You play the teeny Prince of All Cosmos, who came to earth because his father destroyed everything else in space and the only way to fix things is the katamari ball. After restoring the stars in the first game, you must now make themed planets for the inexplicable fans of the process. The King will make completely bonkers statements as you progress during the level before giving an equally inexplicable evaluation once it’s all over. This kookiness is a bit of a necessity, since one might actually ponder the morality of their actions here otherwise (save us if anyone even suggests an edgy reboot).

The levels expand upon the basic concept in several ways. Many have you in search of specific objects, such as paper cranes or clouds. One memorable level ends the moment you collect either a cow or bear (or anything which may be confused for such), forcing you to navigate around these objects until you’re big enough to collect something good. The highlight is the simple but ambitious As Large as Possible finale, where you start with a 1 meter ball and have 17 minutes to reach 500 meters; but since the game lets you keep going to get as large as possible, it’s always fun to go back and break into the thousands. There’s something mesmerizing about rolling up literal landmasses and looking back to realize you started by getting knocked around on a street corner. All of these stages are backed with music as strange and wonderful as the game itself.

Katamari is one of the purest experiences in gaming, a simple yet addictive exercise in growing very large. There’s no hidden meaning or anything to analyze. A team at Namco simply came up with a fun idea and immediately grasped everything which would make it excellent.

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