The B[ack]log: Katamari Do Your Best

Ludwig Kietzmann
L. Kietzmann|06.26.07

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The B[ack]log: Katamari Do Your Best
Well, the title seemed sort of clever at the time. "The B[ack]log" represents one gamer's fight against that seemingly insurmountable and entirely self-inflicted obstacle, the ever-sprawling backlog of games that are either unfinished, unplayed or unloved. That's the "Backlog" part. After surgically inserting some brackets, it becomes "B[ack]log," a reference to both the blog format and the unique sound emitted whenever I view the stack of games I keep adding to every month. And every week, I hope to subtract at least one and ramble about it for a few paragraphs... if you don't mind. A review this is not.

It seems simultaneously appropriate and depressing then, that the first game to be ejected and examined (and then ejected again) is one primarily concerned with hoarding as much stuff as you possibly can -- We Love Katamari for the PlayStation 2.

Gamers are a greedy lot. That certainly doesn't set us apart from other human beings, but when you've played enough platformers, you do tend to feel a bit like an obese kleptomaniac gone berserk. If it's not treasure and golden statues and magnificent gems you're after, it's the oddly spinning peaches, apples, cupcakes and yams you'll want ascend the highest mountains to. And when we're faced with the predicament of choosing between the jeweler and the bakery, Katamari Damacy's solution is to empty the shelves of both, shortly before picking up the stores in their entirety along with the rest of the neighborhood. In Katamari Damacy, you want everything.

Appealing to this primordial desire to collect is probably one of the reasons we were so glad to accept -- and collect -- a sequel in We Love Katamari. Another is that picking up every piece of arbitrary junk is both the game's ultimate goal and its ultimate reward. Not many games convey your progress as immediately and obviously as in We Love Katamari, with your rolling prowess visually represented by the expanding ball of stuff and the shrinking size of everything around it. When you pick up that obnoxious brat that kicked you away earlier, you know you're getting somewhere. Interestingly, you also pick up a little irony on the way. As you're sure to remember, the original game was widely praised (by you, probably) for being a wildly unique experiment in an industry so fond of producing all-too-similar sequels. You know, games like We Love Katamari.

Artist's rendition of We Love Katamari's awful box art (also done in MS Paint)
I never could figure out exactly what message the game's director, Keita Takahashi, meant to impart with We Heart Katamari. The storyline sees the people of the world embracing the wonders of the original game, quickly demanding that the infinitely bizarre King of All Cosmos give them more of the same joy. He listens and complies quite nonchalantly, responding to their requests only because they're in complete awe of him. At one point a young man, perched atop the gigantic king's shoulder, skews his head and asks, "Complacent much?"

And really, that question is posed as much at the king as it is to Takahashi. Is the answer, "Yes, I'll do this one thing for you, but don't expect me to put much effort into it," or does the game merely serve as a reminder that the eccentric designer was and still is a bit of a one-hit wonder? Before expressing interest in designing (and presumably frolicking on) children's playgrounds, Takahashi sent some criticism towards gaming, lamenting its ability to keep you inside all day twiddling analog sticks. Of course, that's exactly what Katamari was and the arrival of a sequel further turned it into the sort of game it couldn't originally be mistaken for -- a solid, albeit unsurprising sequel.

This is Beautiful Katamari. I think.

That's hardly a dreadful description of what is an enjoyable game, but it does make one consider just how many solid, albeit unsurprising sequels it takes before interest starts to wane. Already initial impressions of Namco Bandai's Beautiful Katamari indicate that it's more of the same and distinctly devoid of that new katamari smell. Whose fault is that? In our established and understandable desire for more of what we like, did we inadvertently lessen the series' innovative impact? Wait, it's a series now... Did we do that? Oops!

Though we can't honestly fault ourselves for supporting ideas we approve of, it is perhaps a good strategy to question why we support them in the first place. If we were being honest, we'd note that in terms of raw gameplay, Katamari Damacy borders on being a gimmick thoroughly entwined with inescapable charm. Oh, you can try to imagine a humorless game of object collecting sans a perennially unhinged god and wonderfully insane music, but it'll do you no good. Separating the style from the substance is like cutting through a river with a knife. Nobody loves Katamari primarily because of its gameplay.

The arrival of Beautiful Katamari (likely to be one of those solid, albeit unsurprising sequels) this October will be just as illuminating to us as it will be to Namco Bandai, I suspect. Do we still heart Katamari for what it is -- a delightful diversion from "serious" gaming -- or is it time to restart the innovation-to-franchise cycle? I'm choosing the former for now, but even diversions run the risk of having the attention laid on them... diverted.


Next week: Ludwig wonders how a game that's over ten years old can be better than most of the stuff released in 2007.
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