Review: Katamari Damacy REROLL

22 Dec 2018

Stick With It

There are times when I approach any Katamari game, I have to step back and recognize how nice it is to keep getting these quirky titles here in the US. Little is done to hide how weird this franchise actually is, and honestly that’s part of the reason I love Katamari as a whole. When I heard that the original PS2 release was getting the HD remake treatment, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t excited to hear that a new audience would be able to play this with the added benefit of playing it on the go. Not only that, but having such a title available for portable play is pretty convenient. 

While many of Japan’s more quirky IPs have made their way stateside, audiences latch on to some of them more than others. Considering that this franchise has seen somewhat regular releases since 2004 on many different platforms, people have grown attached to the characters and aesthetics presented here. Newcomers getting a chance to experience where it all started at an affordable price makes things much more enticing. Developed by MONKEYCRAFT Co. LTD. and published by Bandai Namco, Katamari Damacy REROLL was released on December 7, 2018 on PC and Switch at a price point of $29.99. The Switch version was played for this review.

More Rolling, More Problems

Katamari games have a habit of building a somewhat paper-thin, yet story-driven excuse to engage in the unique gameplay that it presents. Usually it involves all the stars in the cosmos getting destroyed and having to restore the night sky back to its original state. Here in the original title, the eccentric (and massive) King of All Cosmos goes on a seemingly intoxicated bender and proceeds to destroy every star in the process. Once he comes to and realizes what he did, he does what any responsible adult does and pawns off the restoration process on his pint-sized Prince.

This is accomplished by means of collecting items with the titular katamari to specific sizes within a given time limit. Meanwhile, a concurrent subplot of a random Japanese family indirectly dealing with the actions of the Cosmos Court also takes place. Their contributions aren’t especially deep aside from inserting the “everyday people dealing with a weird occurrence” aspect, but the way that it’s handled is amusing anyway.

Outside of dialogue from the family in somewhat limited cutscenes, you’ll mostly be treated to the King conversing with you before each stage. Sometimes his pre-stage dialogue will be tailored to more specific goals, but more often than not he’ll be his judgmental yet slightly passive-aggressive self. Not only that, but his speech is interpreted as a series of record scratches. It’s not really all that annoying, but it is one of his unique quirks.

Wad Of Undue Responsibility

Since your main goal is rolling up objects to get to the target katamari size, the game places you in an environment that is relative to the starting size and lets you roll up stuff from that point. The more objects that you collect, the bigger your sticky ball gets. This allows you to pick up larger items that you couldn’t get beforehand. Continuing this is a blessing for you and a curse for some of the more mobile things in the game that once attacked you, because they’ll flee once you’re at a size that you can roll them up. Once you hit your target size, you’re encouraged to make the katamari bigger than that. On the other hand, failing a stage incurs the angry (and somewhat concerning) wrath of the King. While you’ll have to restart the stage, coming to this conclusion is far from a pleasant experience.

Since we’re dealing with drastic changes in scale in later stages, it’s fun to watch the progression from picking up everyday objects and escalating from that point. Series veterans are used to this, but newcomers to this release will find some enjoyment in watching that progression unfold. There’s a bit of satisfaction and joy in watching someone react with “Whoa, I can pick this object up now?” especially towards the end of the game. Being at a specific size will also give you the ability to roll up the Prince’s various cousins in multiplayer as well as bonus presents that let you dress him up in single player stages.

Non-story related stages will have you rolling up objects related to constellations, some of which are tied to the Zodiac. Sometimes they unfold like a normal rolling stage, other times you have to be careful what you roll up if you’re trying to go for the best possible outcome. If you’re just here to complete the story stages, you can largely ignore them, but considering that some of these story stages are short early on and just get longer as you progress, these are worth your time in any case. While there are times where I question why certain items can’t be rolled up at a size that can seemingly be rolled up, it comes off as more of an annoyance than a major issue.

Star Shine

If you’re looking for extremely detailed visuals, you won’t find that here. The simplistic graphical style that’s been a franchise mainstay is something that works in its favor. The best way to explain it to newcomers is that it’s…blocky. Not in the way that people now associate with Minecraft, but everything in the environment is simple and easy to understand. People are dressed normally (most of the time), animals look like animals, and elemental effects behave in a simplistic way that doesn’t come off as lazy. The uprezzing to HD looks quite nice while the Switch is docked, and performs well while in this state. The framerate does seem to take a bit of a dip while in handheld mode, but it’s still playable and still looks pretty nice.

While the developers do take some liberties and make references to Japanese pop culture (Ultraman, etc), the desire to make the environment weird does make rolling up humans and creatures feel satisfying as well as somewhat disturbing because of how much some things wriggle around as you roll. Though I will say that the graphical progression of pint-size annoyance to terrifying force of nature is as entertaining now as it was then. It’s best to discover that yourself, though.

Exclusive to the Switch version is a motion-controlled variant that’s accomplished by using both Joy-Cons. In a sense, you’re basically using the motion controls as a stand-in for the analog stick. The execution here is somewhat awkward, as the game doesn’t expect you to make subtle movements. Instead, it looks an awful lot like you’re directing air traffic. You won’t be flailing wildly for many actions, but it’s not my preferred method of playing the game. It’s there if you want to use it, though there’s nothing stopping you from using the traditional controller based control scheme with the Joy Cons various configurations or the Pro Controller. Thankfully, this option has been left alone and controls just as well as it did when it was originally released.

Multiplayer here is also unchanged from the original, as you and a friend can pick an unlocked cousin or the Prince and see who can collect the most stuff in within the short time limit. Once a player exceeds the size of the other, they can roll them up to give them less of a chance to pick up more stuff. You can wriggle yourself free, but the frantic nature of collecting items while also trying to avoid each other is honestly quite fun. The short length of the rounds keeps things from getting stale too quickly, but this also helps with folks on the go who just want to squeeze a quick game in if they want.

Audio Candy

Helping move the unique aesthetic along is the superb music and sound design. I’m not going to gush too much about the soundtrack, but I will say that it’s one of my go-to jams for when I’m feeling down. The diversity here is still out of this world, and it’s not every day I can go from casual J-Pop music to a crooning love song about making stars. There’s a lot of music to love here, and it’s honestly best that you experience it for yourself. That and maybe track down a copy or add it to your Spotify playlist or something. I can’t recommend it enough, really. It’s just that good.

One oddity that threw me off from the original release is the omission of the English dub in the voice acted cutscenes. Instead, we’re presented with the subtitled Japanese dub. It’s not something I would call a deal breaker, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a drastic change considering that most of the time you’re hearing the record-scratch dialogue of the King. Picking up most items comes with a silly sound effect, and certain creatures will let out a yelp or terrified scream upon being consumed by your katamari. Sometimes it’s cute, sometimes it’s slightly disturbing given the circumstances that surround it.

Portable Joy

Simply put, this game was marvelous in 2004 and it’s still a joy to play now. Adjusting to the dual-analog control scheme might be a challenge for some, but it’s accessible enough once you get used to it. Sure, certain aesthetics and mechanics might not have aged as gracefully as others. But I can say with confidence that this game makes up for it in personality alone. It might be a bit of a played out joke to say that there are games that are “perfect for Switch,” but it feels especially relevant here. It’s fun, unabashedly weird, and it’s filled to the brim with charm and love. While some may be turned off by its somewhat short length, what’s presented here is still worth the price of admission. Being able to play this anywhere is not only a treat, it’s also one of the most convenient ways to play what I consider to be a bona-fide classic.

~ Final Score: 9/10 ~

Review copy provided by Bandai Namco. Screenshots taken by reviewer.