|By Zach Patterson||Thursday, 12 Nov 2009|
So here at Good-Evil, I’ve been reviewing (and anticipating) Katamari games since they started coming stateside. I was there the day Katamari Damacy came out and the bemused EB Games clerk quipped that he’ll never understand why people buy this wacky Japanese shit. At that time, it was a $20 dollar budget PS2 title that became a huge cult hit. Since then, there’s been an equally enjoyable sequel, an acceptable PSP translation, some random cell phone translations…and this version for Xbox 360. As the series has progressed, it has lost its original creator, and the price of entry has steadily risen. All that being said, how does this one fare?
Well…it’s Katamari. They didn’t “ruin it”. While some stuff seems a bit familiar level-wise at times, most everything is completely new and it’s now in widescreen HD, which makes those simplistic PS2-block-style graphics really “pop”. The controls are spot on, and the art is wonderfully ridiculous as usual. I’ve described how Katamari games work a couple times now, but everyone reading this should have a good idea. Roll stuff up in a ball before time runs out.
My problem with this version of the game is that there’s just no new wrinkle. Katamari Damacy was a wonderful innovative game that anyone could play. We Love Katamari built on that and added some fun new twists, like objective levels and themed levels, like the flower or sweets or race car levels that came to define that version. Me and My Katamari was, well, portable, so I forgave it’s occasional vanilla-ness. Well, Beautiful Katamari feels like Me and My Katamari on a bigger system. There’s only a couple themed levels, and pretty much none of them are memorable. So this version is really just more of the same. Well, it had been awhile since I played a console version with the awesome dual analog controls, so I was at peace with this too.
But…there’s other problems. Problems that shouldn’t exist. Take for example, the loading times. How in hell have they not improved? This is the Xbox 360, which pumps out near lifelike looking graphics in its sleep, and it needs to load a Katamari level that looks identical to what the PS2 did for over 15 seconds? That’s unacceptable. Not only that, but there’s occasional load times mid-level, which break up the flow of the game briefly, and there’s slowdown. I mean, come on. There should not be slowdown in this game, it isn’t pushing the system in the least. These kind of things are ultimately minor when playing, but give you the distinct feel that this was slapped together kinda lazily assuming people would buy it anyway because “Hey it’s Katamari!”
Another issue is the music. Katamari games always have great music…hell, that’s half the reason to own them. But this one just disappoints. They took some music from the old games, which is good but unoriginal, and the new tunes are rather underwhelming. Not only that, there seems to be a lack of new music in general. The original two games’ soundtracks were huge, this game seems to have half the soundtrack.
And then there’s a big problem. The game is SHORT. Sooo short. Don’t get me wrong, Katamari lends itself well to replaying levels to get better scores and finding the secrets, but there’s only a few hours of gameplay here. I think I might have gotten 5 hours (6 if you are generous) out of this before I got to the end. And like the old games, many levels repeat with different objectives or add slight alterations, so you see a lot of the same real estate. That was okay on the last generation, I expected something more ambitious here. It’s pretty bad when I get the most excited about the bonus retro 2D sidescrolling shooter game that rolls during the credits.
Of course, there’s a reason this game is short. They cut a good deal of the levels and instead have them sitting on the marketplace as downloadable content. Levels that should be in the game. It’s one thing to add extra levels as a bonus after the fact, but to just cut half the game and make you pay to unlock what you originally paid for was one of the reasons I strongly disliked the idea of DLC and microtransaction bullshit that came with the 360 in general. Since then, I’ve come to terms with the fact that it can be a good and decent thing, if used for good. But this is certainly one of the most evil ways to produce paid content. As I type this, I’m still sitting here debating whether I throw down the couple bucks or so per level that they are asking so I can have the whole game. My wallet and morals say it’s wrong, but I just want more Katamari too…
That the game is so short, riddled with loading problems, largely the same as the old games, and lacking in a true heart gives it a real phony feel. I feel like this game was produced not to expand the franchise and take it to a new level on a superior system, but instead to lure in gamers like me who loved the cheap, innovative originals and milk me for all I’m worth. It’s still a fun game, no doubt about it, and if you pick it up inexpensively and can ignore the outside bullshit, you still have a great title worth owning. But for me, I basically liked the game, again, but it also really feels like a lazy cash-in that I’m not comfortable giving an enthusiastic thumbs up to. Tread lightly, and be aware of what this is.