Beautiful Katamari

Beautiful Katamari is the latest iteration from Namco Bandai in a series that began with the surprising, addicting and charming Katamari Damacy. Unfortunately none of those pleasant adjectives do a good job describing the next-gen treatment of the series. Pardon me while I take a phrase out of the Big Reviewers Guide for Describing Mediocre Games, but it's not that Beautfiul Katamari is a bad game; it's just that it's not a very good game.

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The fundamental gameplay will be instantly familiar to fans of the series, but a lot of the charm of previous versions just feels absent. In the original Katamari Damacy somehow the very basic and repetitive act of rolling up increasingly large items into a big ball was infused with enough character and variety that it rarely became tedious. This newest version of the game has moments that approach the sublime fun of earlier Katamari games, but it is inconsistent and marred by the absence of genuine variety, some technical issues and a sense that this game is so busy trying to be a Katamari game that it never actually is one.

It might seem logical to conclude that the Xbox 360's ability to offer gamers a world with substantially more items to roll into our sticky spheroid would by nature produce a better game, and indeed Beautiful Katamari's levels often seem packed to capacity with random detritus strewn haphazardly in every conceivable nook and cranny. Unfortunately the landfill nature of the environments through which you roll actually makes the game more difficult, as it feels like you're constantly slamming into some random, often unseen object which is too big to pick up and halts any sense of progress. The dash, which is already hard enough to pull off with the 360 controller, seems irrelevant with what seems a random and illogical layout of unevenly sized objects. Further, the new game is far less forgiving about allowing players to simply roll over large objects, and even seasoned Katamari players will be forgiven for swearing at the television when precious seconds are wasted trying to get unstuck.

Further, the game lacks much of the variety which marked We Heart Katamari, with what seems to be a series of virtually identical levels and objectives. It is a huge leap in the wrong direction for a series which had previously offered a wide variety of environments and subtle changes to the standard roll up everything in sight for three-to-ten minutes model. Where We Heart Katamari had memorable locations such as schools, the bottom of a lake, a zoo, a campfire ground and a ski village where players did everything from roll a fireball over combustible items, to collect fireflies, to build a snowman, Beautiful Katamari offers the same level and same objective over and over again in a handful of levels that describe a thoroughly boring and woefully short story mode. When the level selection screen is far more compelling and varied than the levels themselves, something is seriously wrong.

But wait, there's more!

Missing also is the almost hallucinatory vignettes telling the backstory of the game, instead replaced by a brief intro and exit. The only thing that really seems to have been added is more inane commentary from the King of the Cosmos when you're trying to actually play the game, who pops up to chatter nonsense with frustrating frequency made all the worse because his comments further clutter an already confusing screen. In one level in particular his comments are so frequent and so long winded that I eventually exited the level unwilling to repeatedly press the A button any more to page through his seemingly endless text.

The game's not all bad. The visuals are crisp in HD when the framerate isn't suffering its occasional stutter. The music is appropriately weird and catchy. The co-op and competitive modes do make a comeback and there is an online battle mode available through Xbox Live. And, when it comes right down to it, the basic gameplay is a nice distraction even if it isn't as addicting as in the past, and yet I can summon very little enthusiasm in discussing what's good in the game because the whole package lacks any consistency.

Beautiful Katamari is a pale example of better games that came before. It is not bereft of fun, but the glimpses of the game I had come to love were so often sharply counter-pointed by the game's frequent and frustrating mediocrity that it made it that much less fun to play. It is adequate at its best and annoying at its worst, filled with clutter in place of meaningful variety, and is a perfect example of how employing the power of next-gen consoles without the design sophistication of the better last-gen games does not a good game make.

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Comments

Sadly, this is spot on.

Damn. I had high hopes for this one since I've never played through a Katamari game. Guess I'll have to wait until I finally pick up a PS2. Thanks for the heads up. Saved me $40 at least.

Good thing I rented it. As a side note, four DLC items are already up for 200 MSP each.

You've pretty much confirmed the fears I had after playing the demo, and then some. Bummer. Given the strength of the franchise, and the creativity and variety that the original design would seem to offer, this is a big disappointment. Yet another beloved IP used and abused by its license holder.

Hey, at least it still has its dicount pricce tag!

Stan Score: 7 out of 10.

I dont know...I've never played the other games, but I was in love with it since the first time I played the demo. I bought it tuesday when it came out and my kids and I cant get enough of it.
Now, the key words here are "I've never played the other games", so I guess no previous history with the game could change the view.

That is so freaking sad! What a waste of great potential. Also, with the simplicity of the graphics, it's pretty inexcusable for the frame-rate to get choppy.

I predict this series being over now. After all, it was never supposed to be a "series" at all.

Spot on.

Except my wife and I tried co-op and vs last night, and it's worse than the rest of the game combined.

shidarin wrote:

Except my wife and I tried co-op and vs last night, and it's worse than the rest of the game combined.

Is co-op mode at all playable? From what I know it could either be great fun or lead to fisticuffs.

I'd be interested to hear thoughts from others who haven't played any previous iterations of the series. The bizarre charms of Katamari are new to me, having never owned a PS2. In my state of blissful ignorance, will I enjoy the game if I liked the demo?

This article makes me sad. But makes my wallet happy. Balance is restored. Yay!

So if I've never played any of the previous titles, might I still like this?

Pupi wrote:

I dont know...I've never played the other games, but I was in love with it since the first time I played the demo. I bought it tuesday when it came out and my kids and I cant get enough of it.
Now, the key words here are "I've never played the other games", so I guess no previous history with the game could change the view.

Anyone else able to confirm?

wordsmythe wrote:

So if I've never played any of the previous titles, might I still like this?

Why settle for the worst of the bunch?

Edwin wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

So if I've never played any of the previous titles, might I still like this?

Why settle for the worst of the bunch?

I don't have a PS2.

Well, pupi gives a pretty good indication of how a 'newbie' Katamari player might interpret this game, so that's one example. In a way, it's a good place for any newcomer to start, since if they pick up either previous iterations of the game, they'll be pleasently surprised.

I like it, although I'll agree with Elysium that there's a certain something lacking compared to the 2 first games. Some of the Katamari 'spirit', if you will.

Personally, I liked the King in his previous iterations. His comments and musings were totally from left field most of the time, and even when he chided you for not making a big enough Katamari, it was done through the lens of his ego, always saying how he could have done it so much better. The 360 version of the King can be downright mean in his comments by comparison and some of the humour feels forced. I think we can see some of the original creator's influence lacking here.

Also, I find it quite a bit harder than the other 2. After some practise, I strongly believe I'll learn the level layouts a bit better and be able to zip through them that much quicker, but as it stands right now I'm just barely hitting the minimum requirement for completion. And trust me, I've played a lot of Katamari since my 4 year old son absolutely loves the game and it felt just a bit disconcerting at first. Again, Elysium explained it really well as to how sometimes the levels seem 'off'. In previous Katamaris, levels were just built around the joy of rolling your big ball of crap around. In this one, it feels much more like a competition. That's the impression I get.

The online modes aren't bad though, even though the menus are kind of annoying. I played a few matches yesterday and enjoyed them: it's relatively simple in terms of multiplayer, but it's goofy fun. For some reason, it reminds me a bit of Mario Kart, since even though someone might be pounding into you with their Katamari, it's hard NOT to have fun and enjoy it.

Yeah I kinda got that feeling of emptiness from the demo, whereas I love the other two. I was hoping also the power of the 360 and such would make for a better experience, but throwing some new technology at a game isn't the only solution.

Maybe the Wii version that they're allegedly working on will be better.

After playing this, I regret renting it. My thoughts include

  • the control (turning speed is too slow)
  • Huge GUI which obscures everything I want to do
  • The FOV is too damn small.
  • Camera is zoomed in too much.
  • The king's text bubbles are obnoxious and very annoying especially since they are smack dab in the middle where I can't even see much already.
  • The princedom (overworld map) is too big and spread apart with no directions on where to go. The snapped to system of the first game was much better of getting into the action quicker.
  • The prince moves too slowly in the Princedom.
  • the music is lacking compared to the first one.
  • No auto saving. Seriously? It's 2007. Get with the times.
  • I miss the cut scenes from the first one.
  • The text the king of the cosmos spews from his mouth while loading is unreadable.
  • No excuse for slowdown
  • No excuse for the level to not be one solid piece without load sections.

Next sequel: Maybe We Don't Love Katamari After All

I have been itching to play this game. Now that I've read this review and the comments posted by fellow gamers, my excitement to play this has dulled a bit. I will still rent it and see if my expectations were too high.

Was looking forward to this game, rented it. Sent it back to Gamefly after an hour of play. I was on the second stage and I was already just pissed off cause I couldn't seem to do anything right. I don't understand how they thought this was ready for release. Edwin pointed out the same problems I have with it.

Ditto what Elliotx, Elysium and Edwin said. It's the worst Katamari game in the series. It has half the levels of Katamari Damacy (just writing that makes me want to cry as I spent 30 hours replaying the lovely levels in the original). How a game on the 360 can have half the content is beyond me. It has MUCH less content than We Love Katamari. No snowman level, no origami level, no orb level (I loved that one). I also spent 30+ hours on that game. And I imported the soundtracks to the first two games as well.

In short I heart Katamari in a big way. And this game stinks. None of the charm of the first two. The annoying popup of the King during the levels ruins the game. The princedom is devoid of anything interesting (unlike the previous games), yet REALLY huge to navigate. So huge that it's got a mass-transit system (I wish I were joking).

It's a mess. I don't know how you can screw up Katamari. They could have simply HD-ified We Love Katamari and I would have forked over $60 so I could have truly had a copy of a beautiful Katamari on my HDTV.

I need to change my XBox Live icon soon. Knowing that it's been the prince for so long and now this colossal letdown....

Sahara Chill wrote:

I have been itching to play this game. Now that I've read this review and the comments posted by fellow gamers, my excitement to play this has dulled a bit. I will still rent it and see if my expectations were too high.

I'll say this. My expectations were that it at least be as good as the original. It can't even do that. It's worse than the original. Even worse than Me and My Katamari. And what makes it bad isn't that it's a bad game as much as it's a bad Katamari game. A hollow shell. A cash in.

No level variety, annoyances like the King popping up all the time. And worst of all is that it misses out BIG TIME on the fundamental game conceit that made the first two so cool.

In the first two, you had many levels that were similar. Like you'd roll indoors, eventually make your way outside and then see a small portion of a place you'd end up rolling later when you were bigger. I never got tired of this. It would always be an "aha" moment when you'd smile and realize that the zoo you'd rolled in earlier was a small portion of the city you were now steamrolling.

In Beautiful Katamari they seem to think that making the most gigantic Katamari ever makes for a great game. So on the last level you leap from picking up candy to rolling up space in less time than it took to do the final level of Katamari Damacy. And remember, that game ended with you only rolling on a planetary level during the credits. So it leaps in scale so quickly that you never get to appreciate that cool transition as you climb up in size. It's a big disappointment and shows that the developers of this game didn't fundamentally understand what made this game good.

Just thinking about the princedom makes me really sad. I have great fondness for the song they play ("The Moon and the Prince"?) as you walk around the planet on Katamari Damacy. It felt kind of lonely, fun, but melancholy. All of that emotion and fun has been virtually drained from this game. In place you have the King yelling "Khaaaannnn" over and over again. Once again, I wish I was making that up.