Katamari Damacy Reroll
Developed by: Monkeycraft Co. Ltd.
Published by: Bandai Namco
Available on: Nintendo Switch, PC
Ever since the study of consumer culture began, attention has been paid to the anxiety people feel toward their possessions. The downside to living in a society that values accumulation is that many of us feel uneasy about the amount of stuff that surrounds us. (Clutter, some psychologists tell us, can create a stressful environment.) Of the innumerable artistic responses to this phenomenon, Keita Takahashi”s classic game “Katamari Damacy’ is one of the more sanguine. Takahashi’s game about a little fellow tasked with rolling up the world’s things into a massive ball was a surprise hit when it landed in 2004. Since I never owned a PlayStation 2 I missed it, but I’ve long carried it on a mental shortlist of older titles that I’d like to try. So, I was eager to play “Katamari Damacy Reroll,” a remaster that burnishes the original with HD graphics. The game was funnier — and harder — than I expected. Its sunny nihilism brightened my winter nights.
Thematically speaking, “Katamari Damacy” veers back and forth between destruction and restoration. At its start, the King of All the Cosmos goes on a bender and knocks the stars out of the sky. “Did you see?” he asks his son, the Prince. “We smiled a genuine smile. Did you see? The stars splintering in perfect beauty. Not that We can remember very clearly, but We were in all Nature’s embrace.” Feeling a little guilty, but not that remorseful, the King directs the Prince to use his katamari, his magic ball, to roll up the earth’s objects so that they can be shot into space and used to replace the missing stars. Each of the stages sees the King assign the Prince a goal. Most often he asks the Prince to roll up enough objects to expand the katamari to a certain size to create a star, or to accumulate enough of a specific type of object to create a constellation (cancer requires crabs, Gemini requires twins, Pisces requires fish, etc.) Some constellation-creation missions ask you to find the largest specimen of a particular object in the world while avoiding its many smaller forms. Is it a bit tedious? You bet. Adding a bit of parental pressure, the King imposes a time limit on these activities saying that he can believe in the Prince for a specific amount of time. Conditional love is his forte.
Early stages have modest goals and generous time limits. The King tells the Prince to build himself up by using his katamari on tiny objects, such as thumbtacks and dice, so that he can work himself up to bigger challenges. Seeing such junk littered around makes the act of rolling things up feel purifying. In an interview with Polygon, during which Takahashi acknowledged that “Katamari Damacy’ is a take on mass consumption, he posed a rhetorical observation, ‘“So many things we have — do we need that? Do you need that?”
As the Prince and his katamari develop, the King’s requests become more demanding. To meet the tighter time constraints of the later levels, I found myself thinking like a racecar driver. That meant memorizing routes that would take me quickly between groups of similar-sized objects so that I could scale up the Prince’s katamari in the most efficient way. (At length, I found myself rolling up baseball teams, boats and other grand things.) I found it ironic that a game that invites you to look contemptuously upon a world awash in objects which jumble up public and domestic spaces nudges you to adapt a mind-set of a rapacious greed. Growth, at all costs, is what “Katamari Damacy” is all about.
Although the King tends to see things as a zero-sum game, failing to meet his demands yields its own perverse rewards. Before the Prince can retry a stage, he must endure a tongue lashing from his father that causes him to grovel on the ground. Watching the King speculate on his son’s taste for minimalism and the like led me to LOL on a few occasions.
I played “Katamari Damacy Reroll” on the Nintendo Switch. The game’s snug levels and straightforward gameplay lend themselves nicely to gaming-on the go. I did, however, notice a number of visual hiccups from pop-in graphics to collision detection bugs. These issues didn’t especially detract from my overall experience, but they’re hard to miss. In any case, I imagine that “Katamari Damacy Reroll” will charm today’s players with its strangeness just as much as the original did in the past.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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