Checking the Score: We Love Katamari’s Rerolled Sound

While many point to how lifelike the next blockbuster action title is or how gorgeous an artistic indie darling is when it comes to evaluating a game, these visuals would lose their impact without a stirring soundtrack to score them. From the chip-tunes of Super Mario Bros to the Gregorian chants of Halo, video game music brings players closer to immersion and fantasy. Much like how a movie’s soundtrack sets the tone for dramatic scenes, game music also helps players connect emotionally with the story.

Checking the Score is a monthly feature devoted to these crucial compositions which are literally the soundtrack to our gaming lives. Delving into what makes them impactful, the process of composing them and the intricacies of each score, our aim is to put a spotlight on the aural backbone of gaming.

The recent release of We Love Katamari Reroll + Royale Reverie to current-gen consoles makes for the perfect opportunity to revisit an underground classic game and all of the absurd, vibrant aesthetics that accompany it. Katamari Damacy is Bandai Namco’s ridiculous roll-up franchise where players must create stars in the universe by accumulating…everything into a sphere known as a katamari. As katamaris grow, they have the potential to grow as large as continents. It’s quite the feat to go from only being able to roll up paper clips to being able to roll up entire islands. It’s colorful, slightly polygonal and dryly humorous to make an addicting experience. While visuals make up an important part of Katamari’s identity, what sticks with players the most is the title’s unique soundtrack full of various genres of music that verge on experimental. Bringing up the title to any fan of the franchise will elicit a musical reflex – as suddenly the iconic main theme bubbles to the surface from the deep subconscious. I, myself, have had the theme stuck in my head for actual days. Send help. From wacky, fun melodies to more tranquil themes, We Love Katamari Reroll offers all kinds of tracks to complete the experience – including a newly-added playlist mode for more personalized sound. Let’s dive into some of the tracks that make We Love Katamari a musical joy.

Just as its predecessor, We Love Katamari leans heavily on specific melodies and beats. The most iconic melody of the franchise being the very opening “nah nah” vocals that echo through the main menu. This “Katamari Nah-Nah” track would set the tone for the entire franchise moving forward. In We Love Katamari, we see a revisit of the main theme “Katamari on the Rocks.” This version of “On the Rocks” rolls up an irreverent amount of notes into its absurd acapella. From beatboxing notes, to experimental vocal stylings, it all comes together to create a memorable experience. Gameplay itself can get so ridiculous that we can also feel this in the soundtrack. It has quality vocal stylings, but they seem less concerned with technique and more concerned with absurd stylings. We Love Katamari allows for players to select tracks to go along with their levels, so it provides ample opportunity to become one with the music. After rolling around over and over after some failed attempts, you start to forget what actual music sounds like. Not that this isn’t music, but instead it’s more a deep conditioning of the mind to roll faster — especially in the last couple minutes of the timer when the tempo speeds up ridiculously. Take a listen to “Katamari On the Rocks” below: rolled, not stirred.

“Katamari On the Rocks” is a remade homage of the same track from the first title, but the newly-composed “Katamari on the Swing” is a definite tone shift from irreverent composition to more mature sound. It’s a track that gives us a fantastic bandstand feel with big brassy notes and upbeat percussion. The main theme melody is seamlessly woven into the track for a high energy medley of sound. The jazzy style works well because of its off-beat mixture of sound. At one point we hear a stylistic freestyle of tap dancing alongside the track’s crescendo. This track mixes beautifully with gameplay as it also represents all the peaks and valleys that go into creating a katamari. We may start slow and pick up the pace as we gather more up into a ball — suddenly hitting breakneck speeds as our giant sphere assimilates all life on Earth. Sometimes it does feel like we’re cutting a rug having to dodge in and out of obstacles to keep rolling, and “Katamari on the Swing” provides the perfect themes for this. This track also exemplifies how the rest of the soundtrack is built with gameplay themes in mind, as many other sounds give off transformative vibes to signify grandiose themes.

It isn’t always the goal of We Love Katamari to require the biggest katamari to be made, but this is a major theme of the franchise. A track that feels larger than life, and thus provides an amazing aesthetic for gameplay is “The Royal Academy of Katamari.” Taking some composition influences from major thematic tracks, we can hear references to the iconic Richard Strauss piece that is often used in media to convey our small place in a grand universe: “Also sprach Zarathustra.” Some of these themes, mixed with royal fanfare, allow us to feel just how huge the scale of katamari can be. It melds perfectly with gameplay by providing bounding percussion and proud brass along with the gentle woodwinds carrying us along in our rolling. It’s a track that also tells the story of how a katamari is made: it starts as a morning sunrise with tranquil notes until it ramps up in crescendo. Just how we start with the smallest katamari that can only roll up paper clips and thumb tacks, it gets louder with brass queues to represent the growing size of our little star. The whimsical melody compliments gameplay as our katamari grows to ridiculous sizes — meanwhile denizens of the world run for their lives to avoid being consumed. It almost gives us John Williams vibes as we remove our sunglasses to stare at the beauty of our continental-sized orb.

But We Love Katamari isn’t just a soundtrack full of grand themes and high energy tracks. The romantic, and French-inspired, “Angel’s Rain” makes for a relaxing theme. Sometimes softer music to compliment the less frantic levels may be desired — like the eternal levels where we can take our sweet time. Breathy vocals open alongside a sweeping accordion, “every day with rain, with you/every day with rain, together.” The lyrics are complemented beautifully by gentle percussion that’s composed to sound like rain. This track is a fantastic example of just how diverse the entire soundtrack is with its various genres. This particular theme can even surprise, as it has an up-tempo experimental sequence that combines the main accordion with electronic beats — once again showing that even the gentlest of tracks keep the ups and downs of gameplay in mind. This particular track also hints at sound director Yuu Miyake’s overall desire to create a more mature sound. Ultimately this didn’t carry through the entire soundtrack due to a lack of resources, but there are stand-outs that do elevate the title to be more than just an unhinged mass of absurdity (I say this in the most positive way possible).

We Love Katamari Reroll + Royal Reverie brings back an iconic sleeper hit while also reminding us of the franchise’s penchant for musical composition. With the first title’s soundtrack winning numerous “Soundtrack of the Year” awards, and this sequel following up with awards of its own, Katamari music has become its own entity. Purposeful composition upholds the gameplay’s absurdity while also creating opportunity for maturity. Katamari is an ever changing landscape of colors, textures and sounds. Its gameplay has dynamic peaks and valleys that also needs versatile musical tracks to compliment it. The entire soundtrack is composed of a myriad of genres, from kooky sounds to experimental themes and even orchestral components. We Love Katamari’s soundtrack is an ionic component the franchise is known for. In fact, the franchise music is so iconic that the sold-out vinyl for Katamari Damacy will run a collector a few hundred dollars by this point, and the CD for its sequel is around $30 now too. Yes, it’s a ridiculous premise with absurd humor and themes, but Katamari wouldn’t be the same without its music. The reroll version of We Love Katamari not only gives us another chance to appreciate the title, but also a chance to appreciate revamped audio with crisper sound. When it comes to iconic gaming themes, Katamari is truly a cultural artifact. Now excuse me as I attempt to roll the main theme out of my head.

Leave a Reply