Beautiful Katamari

Written by Joe Martin

March 1, 2008 | 08:58

Ball Games

Rolling a sticky ball around picking up stuff – the premise of Beautiful Katamari’s gameplay may sound overly simple, but it actually has some hidden depths.

The control system for the game is as simple as you’d expect and players will use the analogue sticks to look and roll their Katamari around. Unfortunately, we found the controls to not be as fluid or intuitive as they could have been – rotating around the ball is done with up/down instead of left right and learning to turn on the spot can take a while.

The theme of the game is obviously one of micro/macro scales – evidenced by the gargantuan King of All Cosmos who mentors and instructs the Prince, and the diminutive Prince himself. This theme stretched deep into the game design itself too and forms the primary challenge for players – the Katamari can only pick up things that are smaller than it and once it picks up enough stuff it’ll grow and be able to pick up bigger things.

So, at the start of the game you’re rolling around picking up ticket stubs and marbles and, by the end, you’re picking up houses, people and landmasses.

Beautiful Katamari Ball Games
The Prince can wander freely around, choosing levels as he wants.

For Katamari though, there isn’t any new or exciting about that – it’s been the premise of all the games in the series. Thankfully, Beautiful Katamari expands on it a little and offers up some new challenges. The most obvious expansion is the addition of themes, where the King will analyse what type of items your Katamari is built of and reward you accordingly.

The problem here though is the Katamari is sometimes so unwieldy to turn, so massive, so fast moving or the environment is so cluttered that aiming for specific items even in the pleasingly cel-shaded world is woefully hard. Trying to focus just on picking up certain items is a sure way to waste your very limited time.

Mercifully, other challenges are more forgiving and enjoyable – such as when building Mars and you need to pick up only Hot things. Distinguishing between hot barbecues and snowmen is a lot easier and the lack of time limit on those challenges means that you’re not as fenced in.

There’s also a lot of fun to be had outside of the level by exploring the level hub, the Princedom. The Princedom expands and grows as levels are completed and offers in-game routes to look at all the items you’ve rolled up and collected, rockets to Xbox Live Marketplace, and places to store your snapshots taken with the in-game camera. All of them nice distractions and there’s certainly some nuggets of true comedy gold in there – though to be honest we could take or leave most of it. The levels are the main attraction here and the extra bulk is nice, but dispensable.

Beautiful Katamari Ball Games
The dialogue is funny, but perhaps a little too plentiful.

Conclusions

The unique approach taken to the art design and game premise for Beautiful Katamari is equally fascinating and entertaining. There’s a real sense that an enormous amount of effort went in to creating this weirdly attractive and colourful world, as well as making the game as accessible and appealing as possible.

Unfortunately, that effort has always been properly targeted and there is some scar tissue that mars the brilliance ofBeautiful Katamari. Multiplayer and co-op especially are a little lack lustre and, while multiplayer suffers mainly from a lack of imagination, co-op gaming is just an exercise in frustration. Two people controlling one ball just doesn’t work. Beautiful Katamari Ball Games

There’s also a huge amount of dialogue to wade through, mainly from the King and having him pop up and dominate the screen in the middle of the game is just plain stupid and requires players to forego Katamari control to dismiss him. The dialogue itself is witty, peculiar and pleasant enough not to offend, but we question why the text speech is overlaid with horrible scratching sounds that slowly irritated us more than needles stuck in our teeth.

The lack of autosave is a frankly massive oversight too and one by one we each fell victim to this omission, abandoning unsaved content by mistake.

Beautiful Katamari is a fun game and one that pretty much every family would do well to have in their household as it’ll effortlessly woo and seduce any and all onlookers into playing it. Small children, parental non-gamers and the hardcore PC-playing master race – all will be rolled up in Beautiful Katamari’s wake. The game itself is far from perfect though and there are numerous flaws that, while never destroying the fun of the game, so occasionally mar it.
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