It’s easy to file a lot of games under certain genres. You’ve got RPGs, racing games, shooters and more, but sometimes games blend genres or mix gameplay ideas in a way that makes it hard to fit them a particular category. It’s hard to say where a game falls in the field of genres when they break the mould like that. Of all the genre-defying games I’ve played, Katamari Damacy absolutely takes the cake. It’s a weird, vibrant, silly game unlike any other, and 15 years after gracing the PS2 it’s gotten a second time to shine with a port to the Nintendo Switch and PC.
If you’ve never played or heard of Katamari Damacy, I won’t beat around the bush; it is weird as hell, and that’s what makes it so amazing. It oozes artsy absurdity and Japanese poppiness from every pore, and there’s no better example of that than in the game’s story. Your father, the King of the Cosmos, has accidentally destroyed all the stars in the sky. Now, in his boisterous ineptitude, he is tasking you with cleaning up his mess and filling the sky with new stars. To do this you’ll be dropping into various locales on Earth with your trusty Katamari ball, rolling it around to pick up items with it until the Katamari has gotten big enough to be deemed star-worthy.
If you’ve played a video game with a similar story, you are a space alien and I am reporting you to NASA.
As the small and adorable Prince of the Cosmos, you’ve got a few different ways to maneuver your Katamari ball around the various environments you’ll be visiting. The standard Katamari Damacy controls see you moving with both sticks as if you were on slippery tank treads, while the “simple controls” let you move with the left stick and turn your ball with the right stick. You’ve also got advanced tricks you can bust out like quick turns and charge rolls if you’re a professional Prince. Both control schemes are a little weird and unwieldy, so whichever one you choose will take a little while to get used to. Unfortunately, the game only lets you look at the control layouts outside of missions, which makes it really hard to actually learn them once you’re in-game and rolling around.
Katamari Damacy Reroll doesn’t add much new content, but something that is unique to this port is a third control scheme: motion controls! Using both Joy-Con, you can guide the Prince and his big ol’ ball around by moving your controllers in the same directions you’d normally move the sticks. Again, it can take a bit to figure out how to use these controls, but the inputs and motions you need to make aren’t very extreme or precise, so you won’t be busting a sweat or cramping your arms in this mode. It’s a casual, low-effort way to play the game, and it’s a welcome addition to the package.
No matter how you decide to move around in the game, you’ll still be treated to a series of gorgeous and lovingly crafted environments and missions. Each level sees you dropping into an enclosed map, with a task and a time limit. Most of the times the task is to get your Katamari to a certain size, ranging from a measly 10 centimetres at the start to a whopping 300 metres by the end. You usually start small, barely the size of an eraser, but grow bigger as you collect more items, allowing you to snowball in size and collect bigger and bigger items until the stage is over.
Whether you’re in a small Japanese home or a big public park, there will be a hefty assortment of items, people, and animals scattered all over the level. One of my favorite parts of Katamari Damacy is seeing all of the absurd and silly ways these objects are arranged in the world, from a pair of crabs holding water-pistols at each other in a standoff to witnessing a giant panda surrounded by pumpkins and squash. Everything is rendered in a cute and simple aesthetic, which plays perfectly into an HD port. All of the visuals in Reroll are crisp and clear, and while it’s easy to tell that the art in this game was made 15 years ago, it ends up helping the charm of the game more than it hurts it.
Even more wonderful than the absurd gameplay and adorable visuals is the absolutely groundbreaking and unrivalled soundtrack. The music in this game is one part funky, one part pop, another part jazz, another part electronic, and all parts catchy as hell. You’re treated to a different earworm in each level, and it’s hard not to smile as you hear them. A lot of the music falls into the Japanese 90’s pop sub-genre of Shibuya-kei, and it’s a style of music that, much like the rest of Katamari Damacy, I have yet to see represented in any other video game.
Whenever there’s a conversation about video games and if they can be considered art, Katamari Damacy needs to be involved. 15 years ago, it arrived on PlayStation 2 touting an absolutely unheard of style of gameplay, art and music. 15 years later on the Nintendo Switch, and it remains one of a kind. Katamari Damacy is a wholly unique video game, and it is an unabashed love letter to the copy-and-paste pop aesthetic of Japanese 1990s pop culture. It’s bright, weird, silly and cute, and is a must play for anyone, anywhere.
Version tested: Nintendo Switch – Also available for PC