I remember like it was yesterday. It was 2004 and I finished reading the latest news article on Penny Arcade in which Tycho expressed his delight for what he considered “the best 20 dollars I ever spent on a new game.” Intrigued by his eloquent description of Katamari Damacy, I jumped into my car and rushed to the nearest GameStop. At that age, most of my impulse buys were largely governed by the crippling dread associated with Fear Of Missing Out. I needed to play the games people were talking about because I wanted to be part of the zeitgeist associated with pre-YouTube and pre-Twitch forum-based gamer culture. I arrived at the store, walking at a pace that was not quite a stroll but not quite a run either until I got to the counter and asked, in a rushed voice, if they had Katamari Damacy. I’m sure I must have looked a little crazy from the perspective of the clerk who gave me his store’s only copy. With its distinctly Japanese cover featuring a huge trash ball set underneath a lovely rainbow, the clerk and I expressed mutual confusion over what sort of game it was. One short return trip home later, Katamari Damacy revealed itself to be a most beautiful thing.
Katamari Damacy is a delightful puzzle game that’s fueled by Japanese quirk, much of it front-loaded by a wild and wooly title sequence involving singing ducks, dancing pandas, rainbows, and giant mushrooms moving to the rhythm of a shockingly catchy theme song. This goofy opening was matched by the game’s equally goofy premise: the statuesque King of All Cosmos ran joyfully amok, knocking out every star in the sky. With the people on Earth left to wonder what caused this strange phenomena, the King has called upon the Prince of All Cosmos, a tiny green little thing, to make new stars by venturing to Earth and collecting all manner of human and animal clutter using a magical sticky ball. In the midst of rebuilding the night sky, small vignettes featuring a Japanese family are interspersed across the game’s levels to show the effect of the Prince’s activities. Widely considered to be a sleeper hit at the time (it would later lead to numerous sequels), Katamari Damacy struck a chord with its easy to learn, tricky to master puzzle-based gameplay, a positive sense of humor, warm and fuzzy charm, and memorable soundtrack. It easily became a PlayStation classic. And 2018 is the right time to bring it around for another victory lap.
Katamari Damacy: Reroll is a quality HD remaster of the 2004 game that fits comfortably at home on the Nintendo Switch. Whether it’s being played on the TV or taken on the go, the Switch version looks fantastic and, unless I’m remembering differently, controls a lot smoother and comfortably (for tank controls, at least) than it did before. The game is a straight content port of the PlayStation 2 original and doesn’t feature new content. You’re still making visits to the same locations on Earth, though at different size scales, and partaking in bonus levels to rebuild lost constellations. The King of All Cosmos still chimes in from time to time with his record scratch voice, commenting on your progress as you go along. Royal presents that unlock fun accessories for the Prince are tucked away in random locations, and the Prince’s colorful cousins make an appearance to enable two-player sessions.
The graphical enhancements are a different story, though. All objects you can roll up, from frying pans to children to entire skyscrapers, are still blocky and polygonal but are much smoother and have better definition than they did on the PlayStation 2. The Prince has also been given a visual facelift and he looks fantastic, especially his facial reactions as he moves the ball around. Even the on-screen text has been touched up and sharpened. The original Katamari Damacy has never looked so clean and sharp and its HD remaster is truly a beautiful thing to behold.
Katamari Damacy Reroll doesn’t deal in supervillains, rescuing the damsel in distress, or saving the world (think about the premise long enough, though, and it’s more about vaporizing people and parts of the planet into stardust). It trades in pure fun and joy, traits reflective of the game’s director Keita Takahashi who left game development for a brief period to design playgrounds and collaborate with his wife, a pianist and composer. The bright and fuzzy charm that captivated people fourteen years ago still feels fresh and original. The game may not have much replayability after it ends, apart from replaying levels to make bigger stars maris, but it’s worth keeping around whenever there’s need for a moment of two of calm and mindless fun.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.