Turning Japanese. I think I'm turning Japanese.
What game out there today can make you want to take up a strange language, delve into a new culture, and reach across unknown territory? There is only one, and its name is Beatiful Katamari. I submit that if there were an Iraqi version of this game complete with falafels and prayer mats, and if President Bush played it today, we could have world peace by next Wednesday. Thursday morning for you conservatives out there.
[image1]OK, let's get down to brass tacks (which, btw, you can roll up in at least three of the levels). The King of All Cosmos is back and his superior strength has thrown the universe into peril once again. A power stroke during a tennis match has torn a rift in the sky. Playing as the prince or one of the cousins, you are charged with the responsibility of rolling up objects on earth to replace all the planets and stellar stuff that the black hole has sucked up.
Ultimately, the single player mode goal is to plug up the abyss so it will no longer threaten the cosmic order. No cut scenes this time, but the theme of the story is reinforced with nods to Star Trek characters and a healthy dose of random, ever-stranger references that the demented King somehow believes are tied to the task at hand. I kept waiting for the King to tell me I can has cheeseburger?
Beautiful Katamari finds the King of All Cosmos even more vicious and insulting than in earlier titles. Remember that scene in Purple Rain where The Kid gets bitch-slapped by his dad? I think this is how our little prince must feel. The creators of Katamari either clearly have daddy issues that go unresolved to this day, or this game is one big allegory-slash-homage to the other Prince – the human one with no (katamari) ball(s). It's a toss up. Just like the one with a single name, all the little heir to the cosmos wants is to do good and please his father, who is both too bold and never satisfied. Ah, so this is what it sounds like when doves cry? Dream if you can a courtyard, then find some doves, roll them up and see what it sounds like when they cry... But I digress.
[image2]Story aside, the game is basically the same. Single player and VS. modes are fun. Co-op still sucks unless you have a telepathic link with your partner. For those of us drawn to bright shiny colorful and cute, you will not be disappointed. Plenty of new stuff and no blatant misuse of strawberries as katamari fodder. Sound effects are great too. The loading times for each level are a little long, but understandable given the sheer variety of things you will see and hear. Consider the wait time a gift for your throbbing thumbs.
Speaking of throbbing thumbs, let's talk about control. It's fine, pretty much what the PS2 gave you, but I would like to have seen the trigger buttons used for katamari control like they were in the PSP version. This is a game you will want to play and replay in one sitting, but thumb fatigue sets in and you'll have to rest or your performance will suffer.
Unfortunately, from the King's opening stroke to your final triumph, the entire single player mode will only give you about twelve hours of playing time. You can go back and play time attack mode or search for all the presents and cousins you missed the first time out, but I still feel a little cheated.
The new addition for the Xbox is online play. You can check leaderboards to see how your times and sizes rank among the entire world population of Katamarians. It will make you want to do better, if the King's taunts haven't already shamed you into doing so. You can find players to go head-to-head against on specific objectives the King sets forth, such as rolling up the most baseball bats or chess pieces. To win online, you have to be willing to charge your opponents and knock off the objects they've collected. The battles can get a little mean-spirited, so supervise when the younger players venture out into the big wide world. I went up against a guy named 'deadgirlsdont sayno' and I truly felt violated everytime he rammed me. Some people can turn anything beautiful into something ugly and twisted. I bet that guy has daddy issues too.
[image3]Currently, there aren't a lot of players online yet, and if forced to play with people from the other side of the world, lag times can be long and frustrating to the point of unplayability. This should fix itself as more players get in the game. The online levels are much smaller and more confined, and play could get stagnant pretty quickly. In the Xbox live marketplace you can find picture packs and other useless goodies – hopefully they will add new levels to acquire as well. They've already done this in Asia, so let's keep our katamaris crossed stateside.
Katamari is also known for its wacky wonderful music and there are more new tracks for your listening pleasure. Just as infectious as before, you'll be humming the songs hours later. Get far enough in the game and you'll be rewarded with a little dancehall where all nearby cousins congregate and perform a line dance for you. It's so super cute my cheeks were hurting and my voice box ruptured from imploring everyone in the room to look at the screen in such an unnaturally high register.
Once you've rolled up the entire world, where else is there to go? Sure, Beautiful Katamari is a little short on new ideas and online play has yet to prove itself. But the game is still blindingly bright, and a bargain at $40. Where this game shines is where it always has – presentation, music, and the elation you'll feel when you accomplish the ultimate task. Domo arigato.