on February 7, 2006
Katamari Damacy's appeal is hard to explain to people who haven't played it already.
"What do you DO in this game??" asked my father-in-law, another dedicated gamer, when he heard rumors that I was glued to the PS2.
"Um, you roll this ball around and get stuff stuck to it. You just keep rolling and getting the ball as big as you can within a certain time limit," I replied, a little lamely.
His eyes glazed over. "And that's fun?" he snorted.
"Yes. It's fun. Really fun. It cheers me up. There isn't anything to think about; you just roll," I attempted.
"And there's no monsters?" he asked. (I'm usually an RPG-er.)
"Well, there's a Thunder God, but you just roll him up too," I replied. "But you can only roll him up when your ball of stuff is so big that you're rolling up skyscrapers and clouds and islands too."
There was a silence.
"Well, you just enjoy yourself," he said.
"Oh, I DO!!" I tried again, a little desperately, "It might sound dumb, and it IS ... but it's so much fun!"
You are the tiny, green-clothed Prince, the son of the omnipotent King of All Cosmos, and it is your job to rebuild the night sky after the King, in a kind of meditative daze, smashed it to smithereens. The King is a towering figure in a rainbow-colored headpiece and purple Elizabethan-ruffed wrestling leotard who loves to use the royal "we" and insult your puny efforts. You are sent to three different areas (the house, the town, and the world) and given various missions to complete within a certain time frame. For example, one of your first missions is to roll a 10cm "katamari" (which translates to "clump of stuff" from Japanese) in 3 minutes, I think, or was it 2?? Either way, you are plonked down in the world with your katamari (which starts out looking rather like a bumpy dog-toy), and you start to roll up stuff. The king pops in every now and again (as a disembodied head!) to make comments (usually insulting) or guide you to another area during your mission. It is almost as simple as it sounds, but each item in the game requires your katamari to have attained a certain size before you can pick it up. Thus, you have to get significantly bigger from when you could roll up a ham sandwich to when you can roll up a person or an elephant.
I was addicted within a few minutes. It was the moment I rolled up my first person, and she shrieked "AAAAAIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!" and kicked and waved her arms around. "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKKKKKK" went the guy in the business suit. "**!!!!!!!!TRUMPET!!!!!!!!!!!**" went the elephant and "**HHHHHOOOOOOONNNNNKKKK**" went the bus. And I just kept going. I rolled until I beat the game two weeks later (I'm an after-work gamer), and then I ran out and bought the sequel, "We Love Katamari".
Why? Well, the music is so cheerful, for starters; it gets in your head. When I'm stuck in an especially boring meeting, I think "Na naaa na na na na na na na na naaaa na na na naaaaa" (you'll know what I mean) and feel instantly better.
The graphics are rainbow-colored, bright, and cute. There's a sort of "order from chaos" appeal as you pick things up, and there really are a lot of things to pick up in the game. Because this game is Japanese, a lot of the stuff is not what you would normally find lying around your (un-Japanese) house. Why would this be interesting? Well, my mother is Japanese, and she loves to go to American supermarkets "just to look at all the stuff." (Yes, there's sushi lying around in Katamari Damacy. However, there are also robotic action figures from around 1977 that my brother used to fanatically collect. Definitely different.)
It is stress-busting in the extreme when you are flying through the city, rolling up skyscrapers, trees, vending machines, cows, and traffic - (especially taxis!) after you spent a frustrating hour or two stuck in real-life traffic, getting buzzed by taxis, if not cows. Often, after a bad commute, I rolled until there was nothing left in the world but the katamari and me. It was funny, and it made me see the lighter side of it. (Don't ask me what "it" is - you either get it or you don't.)
Katamari Damacy's appeal can be summed up like this: this game treats the grind of everyday life like a gigantic, cosmic joke. I hope you get it and laugh as hard as the rest of us.