Previews

Beautiful Katamari

Namco's charmer rolls on to next-gen consoles

Who knows where he is now? He's certainly not working on Beautiful Katamari, that's for certain. He thinks games are stupid. Last we heard he was off to design playgrounds, or something. He's probably moved to a caravan somewhere in Tanzania, designing a new type of giraffe with his bohemian arthouse girlfriend. Kinda hard to second-guess. He's that kind of person. He had to be, to make the best PlayStation 2 game ever.

'He' is Keita Takahashi, the game director of Katamari Damacy, a surreal puzzler that is often described as a niche game. Yet if only publishers and retailers (and, to a very real extent, consumers) were more prepared to take a chance on The Unknown, perhaps more people would understand what those 'in the know' have already long since realised - Katamari is, in fact, one of the most instantly accessible, gloriously simple and silly games that ever was, instantly beloved by almost anyone whose lives it has touched. In a real sense: beautiful.

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BEAUTY'S ONLY GRIN DEEP
Here's how it rolls: you control a poor, put-upon Prince (who is only a few inches high and looks like a double-ended condom) who rolls a Katamari, a magical ball that sucks up anything around it like some kind of black hole. As you swallow up more and more objects, the size of the Katamari ball increases, and the size of the objects you can round up gradually increases. If your rolling stone begins out by gathering moss, then eventually you'll be uprooting trees. Begin by running over rubbers and pencils in a school classroom and it's nailed on that you'll eventually wind up incorporating grumpy schoolteachers into your collosso-ball. In We Love Katamari's unforgettable climax, you have to roll up enough planets to obtain the mass needed to slurp up The Actual Sun itself. As we said before, beautiful.

Control is awkward and frustrating - and that's why it's brilliant. The two analogue sticks are used in conjunction with one another to push the Katamari around, and it always feels like a struggle to get the ball to go where you want it to. Awkward, elongated items such as lampposts and small children stick out of your Ball O' Stuff, causing the whole lot to stutter and limp around until you finally amass enough crap to even out the discrepancies. In short, it feels exactly like you'd imagine rolling up a giant ball consisting of yawning hippos and angry samurai feels. It sounds like hard work. It sounds like it couldn't work. But it's a thing of beauty.

Details are scarce at the mo - we do know that the crazy ball-rolling cousins will be going online for the first time, but the co-op mode in the last game was shat. And it doesn't look that much different to the original - is it just a re-jig, like '06's We Love Katamari? The one thing we know is - wait, why would anyone need a double-ended condom?

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