The original Katamari Damacy was a sleeper hit when it launched on Playstation 2. It featured a rather unique premise, with the King of All Cosmos requiring the young Prince to roll up tons of objects into a sticky ball called a Katamari. The prince goes from picking up small objects like pencils to gigantic fare like buildings and even islands, creating an amazing sense of scale. Japanese wackiness and humor abounds.
There really is nothing like the Katamari Damacy series, so I was thrilled when Namco released the game on Windows Phone 7 as an Xbox Live title. Then again, I love Katamari comes from the same developer who brought a rather lackluster Pac-Man port to Windows Phone 7, so quality was not guaranteed. I’m pleased to report that while I Love Katamari has a couple of serious issues, its personality and spirit still remain intact.
Roll past the break for our full review.
Four rolls to play
I Love Katamari has four game modes:
- Story Mode: The King of All Cosmos is struck by a meteor while flying through space, causing a mild case of amnesia. In each level, he asks the prince to find a certain object or creature in order to remind him of what it looks like. The player rolls through the stage, grabbing everything in his or her path until the Katamari is large enough to pick up the requested object. Story Mode has very strict time limits, unfortunately.
- Time Attack: Naturally, this mode is timed too. Players simply try to make the largest possible Katamari within the time limit. Time Attack is the only mode whose scores have a Leaderboard.
- Exact Size Challenge: Here the King of All Cosmos tasks gamers to try making a specific size of Katamari. The catch is your katamari’s size is not displayed, so you have to do it by intuition. Simply pause and choose to Stop Rolling when you think the size is right.
- Eternal: Wouldn’t it be fun to just roll up everything in a level without worrying about time limits or other objectives? Heck yes. Players can potentially roll up every single item in a level during Eternal Mode. It’s a great, relaxing way to gather up items for the Exquisite Collection.
In the console Katamari games, players only have access to Story Mode from the start and must unlock the extra game modes. I Love Katamari allows all four modes to be selected right off the bat in any unlocked stage. The extra modes aren’t optional, either. Each mode has a few unique items, so the only way to collect every single item in the game is by playing all modes on all stages. I suggested starting out with the untimed modes to collect items and get a feel for things before moving on to Time Attack and Story Mode.
From small to large
The first stage of I Love Katamari takes place within the Takeda Residence. The Katamari ball is so small at first that you can only roll up thumb tacks and Mahjong tiles. Still, every piece makes the ball a little bigger, as evidenced by the size counter in the corner of the screen. By the time the level ends, the Katamari will grow enough to catch a Calico Cat (the stage’s goal). No other game has such a changing sense of scale. In the last of the game’s six stages, the Prince will roll up jets and cruise ships.
Everything the Prince rolls up in I Love Katamari winds up in the Exquisite Collection (provided you successfully complete the level). Each of the game’s six levels has at least 50 unique objects, which makes for over 300 items to collect in total. Items can be viewed in 3D from the Exquisite Collection menu. The accompanying text descriptions display a wry sense of humor.
Why Katamari Rocks
The Katamari Damacy series has never been a graphical powerhouse. The 3D characters and environments are extremely simplistic. Instead of trying to blow gamers away with fidelity, Katamari brings bucketfuls of style. The King of the Cosmos is a giant, bizarre figure, clad in multicolored, effeminate clothes. Between stages, he rattles on (through text) about all kinds of crazy stuff, including haircuts and foreign languages, as well as berating the player’s performance 95% of the time.
While I Love Katamari doesn’t have any real voice acting per se, humans and animals do make hysterical cries and sounds when the Prince rolls them up. Their distress is lighthearted and far less disturbing than you might imagine. The Katamari series is also famous for its eclectic musical selection, and the Windows Phone version does not disappoint. The first stage’s lyrical theme song “Katamari Rocks” is as catchy as it is quirky. A piano version of the song plays at the title screen, too. The menu and other stage’s songs sound great too, with perhaps the exception of Stage Two’s scratchy electronic tune.
Tilt to roll
This game uses tilt controls to steer the ball. It works, but not without some issues. Moving in a straight line is occasionally difficult, and sharp turns are hit-and-miss. An on-screen 180 degree turn button thankfully aids navigation. Players can also dash forward by tapping the Katamari rapidly, but dashes can be hard to perform consistently and are pretty much useless anyway.
I Love Katamari is certainly playable in its current state, but it really would have benefited from the option to use virtual sticks instead of tilting. The console Katamari games use twin analog sticks for tank-style controls, which is less intuitive than just moving with the left stick and looking with the right, FPS-style. Still, that’s the way the series has always been played. Rocket Riot controls great with virtual sticks, as do many other mobile games. Had I love Katamari included the same kind of controls (at least optionally), the gameplay would be more faithful to the rest of the series.
Time to die, say the developers
I Love Katamari is already a little harder to play than it should be due to its tilt controls. Why, then, did the developers apply such strict time limits to the game’s Story Mode? I repeatedly ran out of time on all but one stage. You lose all the objects you rolled up when you fail, making losses all the more frustrating. I assume the high difficulty is meant to keep players from just steam rolling through the game and calling it quits, much like classic NES and Sega Genesis games. But cell phone games are meant to be played in short bursts on the go. Forcing repeated retries and not saving collected items on failed attempts just doesn’t play to the platform’s strengths. Still, with ample time and practice, I managed to complete the game. The reward for completing Story Mode? Absolutely no ending. That’s some tough love, Katamari. Don’t do me like that!
Oh yes, speaking of poor mobile phone optimization, I Love Katamari quits to the title screen without saving progress every time you get a call, lock the screen, etcetera. That's the wrong kind of sticky.
Absent the reward of an ending, Achievements will have to suffice. I Love Katamari’s Achievements all revolve around finding specific items and completing the Exquisite Collection. Initially, they dole out pathetically small quantities of GamerScore, like one or two points. But the reward for completing the Exquisite Collection is a massive 110 GamerScore, more than any other Windows Phone Xbox Live Achievement so far. Players must do some hunting and master the game to collect everything, which is all part of the fun in Katamari games. We’ll soon run a strategy guide (our first) in order to help.
I Love Katamari on Windows Phone is a rough ride with its touchy controls and strict time limits. It also costs a bit much right now at $6.99. Yet it really stands out from the crowd with its completely unique premise and presentation. Filling out the Exquisite Collection and capturing the most valuable Xbox Live Achievement will take plenty of time. Namco has captured most of the fun of the console versions in this pint-sized Katamari title. Series fans will want to pick it up immediately, but gamers with only a casual interest should wait for a sale.
I Love Katamari costs $6.99, and there is a free trial. Roll up to the Marketplace here (Zune link) and see if the game sticks to you.