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A Letter to the Big “N"
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Katamari Damacy Preview

Ben_Silverman By:
GENRE Arcade / Action / Puzzle 
E Contains Mild Fantasy Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Roll on, you crazy diamond.

If it cost money to have your mind blown, I would owe the country of Japan my entire life savings. Chu Chu Rocket, Ichi the Killer, dancing robots, Pocari Sweat, Yatta - the future people overseas keep giving me exactly what I need, even though I never knew I needed anything in the first place.

For example, they just gave me a giant ball of trash - which, it turns out, is precisely what was missing from my life. And soon, you can play with your very own wad of Japanese garbage when the brilliant, quirky gem Katamari Damacy rolls across the sea to overtake North America.

Some will say that Katamari Damacy has no discernable plot, and those prone to sobriety might well agree. I, however, do not. In the bizarre world of underground Japanese game design, the universe is governed by a gigantic, sassy man named the King of All Cosmos, who looks like the offspring of a three-way between Freddie Mercury, Ron Jeremy, and a doodle from Monty Python's Flying Circus. One day, the King freaks out and careens across the heavens, effectively destroying the starry night sky. Overcome with guilt, he asks his child, the Prince of All Cosmos (you) to fix what daddy broke by rolling a 'katamari' (translation: large mass) all over the Earth in order to collect items and thereby harvest new stars to replace the old ones.

Did I mention how much I love Japan?

The plot might be insane, but the gameplay makes perfect sense. As the pint-sized Prince, you roll your katamari around enormous Earth environments with one purpose: to collect stuff by rolling it up. The particular stuff isn't of great consequence. Rather, Katamari Damacy is all about size.

Objects stick to your katamari based on their relative size, so as you collect stuff, your ball slowly gets bigger and eventually lets you pick up even bigger things. It's a gradual process; for instance, if a pencil is too large to snatch up, you can roll up some smaller bits and come back to it later when you're larger. As your katamari grows and thus gains new edges, it rolls in odd ways. What was once a ball might suddenly behave like a square, or a triangle, or most likely just a monstrous polygon of doom.

What really makes it all work is the astonishing level design. If it's in the game, it can be part of your katamari. Everything you see is a fully rendered 3D object, and as you grow, you will suddenly be able to pick up things that previously looked like environmental fixtures. You'll start off as a 5cm midget on a desk rolling up tacks, pushpins and erasers, only to get bigger and eventually roll up the desk altogether. Keep rolling and you'll pick up all sort of stuff - toys, televisions, cats, dogs, bushes, shovels, fences, signs, children, businessmen - until you start reaching truly terrifying proportions. Grab the house! Grab the trees! Onward to the bridges, towers, sailboats! Your once adorable ball of tchotchkes becomes Godzilla, an unstoppable eating machine, a force of nature. A star!

Even if you have never suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, there is a unique, indefinable pleasure found through rolling up absolutely everything in sight. It's a simple concept that turns out to be a wildly addictive yet quite relaxing experience. Despite its peculiar premise and mescaline-fueled story, Katamari Damacy seems geared towards casual gamers just as much as hardcore ones, from its streamlined analog stick control to its playful attitude. It might be weird, but it's also simple enough that your mom and girlfriend will be as excited to play as you are.

The only real pressure found in Katamari Damacy is in the time limits your crazy dad imposes on you each time you're sent to Earth to collect stuff. No worries, though “ if you don't make a big enough ball by the time he comes back to check up on you, you can just try it again. Just roll your stress out the door!

And while you're at it, crank up the stereo, because Katamari Damacy's soundtrack is awesome - provided you share my taste for Japanese oddity. I woke up every day this week humming ridiculous J-pop lounge tunes. Good times.

Japan has given us a lot of things, but this is the first time it's given us a way to pick 'em all up and roll 'em around. As a new fan of this sort of thing, I advise keeping an eye peeled for a giant ball rolling up the horizon; whether or not Katamari Damacy will bowl you over also won't be clear until it storms our shores this Fall.

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