Graveyard: We Love Katamari

Watch your step, for you’ve just entered the Graveyard. Inside, we’ll be digging up games that have long been without a pulse. You’ll see both good and bad souls unearthed every month as we search through the more… forgotten…parts of history.

The original Katamari Damacy was a game that captured a place and time perfectly. It was very much a title that would have felt right at home on the Dreamcast, where quirky Japanese games were far more common and mainstream. The twin-stick ball-rolling game was something that perfectly-used the then-new twin stick controller setup in ways that were top-tier for their time and have held up well. It was a big success given it being a budget release and the sequel is all about showing love to the fanbase in game form. Series creator Keita Takahashi was involved in both the original and this title before moving onto other projects and it retains the same feel as the original across the board and keeps the quirky sense of humor alive in ways that feel more natural than later games in the series.

There isn’t a large increase in scale or scope, but while later games went with a greater emphasis on gimmick-themed stages, We Love Katamari went with a more diverse mix of trying to get larger katamari sizes with more varied stage themes. LWK is more of the same of the first game, but with a wackier sense of humor because the whole premise is built around everyone loving the first game and the King of All Cosmos, and his large purple codpiece, taking all the credit for everything the Prince has done both before and in this adventure.

The tone is light and silly and it makes every stage fun to go through even if you don’t succeed at first. Failure is always a blast in this series due to how angry the King gets. Beyond blaming his son for not doing a good enough job fixing the problem that he created, the way he expresses anger is turning everything on the screen jet-black and firing lasers at him — so it’s completely absurd across the board and works perfectly at getting across the silly story of the adventure. Like the original PS2 game, it has English voiceover work that helps to add even more charm to the story, such as it is.

The core Katamari rolling action is the same as the first, but this being a sequel to a game with a simple premise led the dev team to being even more creative and/or insane depending on your viewpoint. Scenarios have shifted to being more of a blend of solving the story and making a large katamari and a massive selection of side missions that offer up things like making a snowman’s head or collecting kids within the katamari to take them to school. It’s odd, but being able to have more flexibility in objectives and having the side missions be more fun-focused and less “roll up a certain object type” helps keep things fresh and interesting with each successive mission.

The increase in variety also makes the stages more replayable. In the case of the snowman head stage, I found that it was fun to just redo it and explore the environment in different ways without the constraints of having to accomplish the mission. The standard story missions are also more fun than the original and the more self-referential humor throughout the dialogue keeps the between-mission banter between the King and the Prince funny from beginning to end. This being “more of the same” can be a bad thing to some, but winds up making for a more enjoyable experience with fewer missions that don’t click than the original and especially later entries.

There, the gimmick stages became too frequent and were just needlessly difficult due to how restrictive they were. One reason I opted to cover WLK instead of a later entry is due to that since this was the final game that was basically an unfiltered version of what the series could be and kept the creator’s influence fully intact. Later, the games would just be “wacky things for the sake of wacky things” and on a surface level, it fits visually, but the concepts rarely gelled well enough to form a game that was as addicting from beginning to end as the first two games.

The graphics of the first game have largely been kept intact with the sequel, with more polish and hurt in some ways by this not being ported anywhere — not even to the PS3 as a digital release. Still, it does have a more consistent framerate than the PS2 original game and the increase in on-screen activity doesn’t result in much slowdown, keeping the experience smooth from start to finish. The cinematics are even sillier now than they were in the first game and are aided by being non-stop insanity in basically high-res animated GIF format. This kind of absurdist humor helps the game still feel current in 2022 outside of things like CRT TVs and VCRs being objects to collect in the game.

We Love Katamari’s soundtrack remains one of the finest in the series. While nothing can top the original game’s due to it being the first and being such a time capsule of the early Adult Swim days bringing absurdist humor to a global scale. “Katamari on the Swing” is easily the best new song of the lot, but the whole soundtrack is a blast to listen to and the English voiceover helps add another layer of goofiness to the proceedings.

We Love Katamari manages to be a sequel that if it doesn’t top the original, is at least on its level with greater stage variety and small quality-of-life improvements to make it more fun. It’s a better-looking and better-playing experience thanks to improvements to the framerate, while the story partially revolving around how popular the first game was is something that was many years ahead of its time and helps this game feel even more timeless than the first, while still working as a time capsule due to the usage of older technology to roll up even then. It’s a shame We Love Katamari hasn’t been re-released yet, but with the first game seemingly doing well over the past few years due to its remaster, maybe we’ll see the sequel get the same kind of love.

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