Being an absolute newcomer to the series, if I were to describe Beautiful Katamari to a fellow Katamari virgin, I’d say it was strangely compelling. Created by the team behind the Katamari Damacy series, mostly unreleased on European shores, it maintains the undemanding premise of rolling a Katamari and collecting that which stands in its way.
It’s a basic foundation; one that draws fun from the fact that at the beginning of each of the thirteen levels your Katamari is tiny. As you begin to accumulate the hugely varied, and equally strange, items littering each level the Katamari expands and that which was previously unattainable can be caught in the ever-expanding destructive ball. Whilst you may begin on the floor of a café, frequently being kicked by oblivious humans and collecting plates and pizzas, you’ll end up consuming the entire earth, and eventually the majority of the solar system.
With this in mind Beautiful Katamari begins as it means to continue. Having punched a hole in the cosmos, causing a black hole to vacuum all of the solar system save earth (luckily), The King employs you, The Prince, to roll up Katamari’s, which he then reverts back into the planets. During the first mission you’ll roll your Katamari whilst The King tutors you on the easy to grasp, challenging to master control system (everything is controlled through the analogue sticks), and once you’re done you’ll have a new moon.
The King himself is a returning character, and one revered by the same crowd who hold the Katamari series close to heart. However here he’s less king, more joker. Bad joker. There is no spoken dialogue in Beautiful Katamari, instead like in the many Nintendo games aimed at a family audience, the dialogue is entirely written. In itself this would be fine if the conversation was restricted to just prior to the levels, but routinely The King will interrupt your rolling to issue forth some futile guidance. With both hands constantly required to work in cooperation, it’s difficult to press the ‘A’ button the dozen or so times it’s required to rid the screen of his presence. Whilst you are freeing your screen, the clock (found in every level) continues to swim down river toward failure.
The King isn’t the only thing bent on your failure. Whilst your Katamari is still in it’s youth, the camera often becomes caught behind an object. Sometimes it corrects itself by creating a whole to see through, other times it won’t, leaving you to circle the sticks until whatever Katamari is stuck on, is behind you. Then during the latter levels the frame rate regularly drops, usually when you’re swallowing entire countries and giant whirlpools. For a game so simple in it’s design both graphically and conceptually, these are issues that should have been fixed before the release.
Among its multiplayer features are leaderboards for comparing the numerous Princes and Presents discoverable through the single player, a co-operative mode, and an “Everyone’s Katamari” feature, which measures the combined Katamari size of those connected to Xbox Live.
None of which particularly adds to the short length offered through the thirteen levels. Rarely does a level last more than twenty minutes, more frequently less than ten. Whilst the premise would undoubtedly grow stale, and in the developers praise they move through the Katamari sizes at a good pace, it still offers a considerable lack of value for money at retail price. The levels in Beautiful Katamari rarely stray from its simple logic and when they do, they begin to crumble. To create Mars the Katamari has to be heated to 10,000°C. It’s another simple idea, by collecting warm items on the map the Katamari heats up, whilst running into cold objects cools it down. However it doesn’t improve the gameplay, rather makes it a pedantic and frustrating quest to control the Katamari whilst avoiding specific parts of the level, including a river. It’s clear the developer worried about the concept faltering in the fun division, but its attempts to keep the flame alight fall short long before the simple collecting notion does.
Beautiful Katamari isn’t free of flaw by any means, but what it lacks in finesse it compensates for in flare and originality. The Xbox 360 is fairly vacant of family friendly games, and Beautiful Katamari is exactly the type of game that can fill that void. A unique, enjoyable, and short lived game about rolling a Katamari and collecting anything small enough and unlucky enough to get in it’s way. Which is everything but the sun and a black hole.