Me and my Katamari beginning
It's interesting the way I ended up getting into Katamari Demacy-- the low-budget, almost indie-style title from Namco (now Bandai Namco Entertainment) about an itty bitty Prince and his gargantuan and clumsy father.
It all started when I was walking around inside a Best Buy in late 2004. There I was looking for a way to waste my measly earnings on entertainment (like any young adult), by digging through the countless rows of games I knew little about and really couldn't afford. I was eagerly searching for that one gem I could snag for around $20.
I remember hearing rumors about non-localized Japanese import titles releasing in select Best Buys throughout America, and the excitement that possibility entailed. To play a game typically restricted to one country or continent was tantalizing back then. Pacing back and forth down the gaming aisles, I came across a curious PlayStation 2 title oozing in color, with Japanese-centric art at the center: two cows grazing in the foreground, and a rainbow hanging over a distant city, with a ball of junk just lying there among the buildings? That was super weird for someone who's used to generic covers of a man holding a rifle, or the like. The title read Katamari Demacy, and in the center was what I could only assume Japanese text.
Being young, I assumed this was one of those rumored import titles and swept it up. Ignoring the fact that the spine and reverse side were in complete English, unlike most Japanese import titles. With the asking of $19.99 I rushed over to the cashier and checked out, almost as if I had found this title by accident and had to remain clandestine about purchasing it.
The opening is an amazingly fabulous, hallucinogenic, musical number of dancing pandas, singing geese, guitar playing gods, and rainbows raining down from everywhere.
When I got home, I turned on my PS2, popped the rainbow colored Katamari Demacy disc into the disc tray and loaded it right up. The foreign, yet intense music started, the colors splashed on screen, and instantly my body was on a whole other field of existence. What kind of game is this? I wondered. I didn't realize at the time that this would be my first memories of a game-turned-franchise that would stick with me forever.
The opening is an amazingly fabulous, hallucinogenic, musical number of dancing pandas, singing geese, guitar playing gods, and rainbows raining down from everywhere. I was then introduced to the King of All Cosmos -- a godly being, unafraid to break the forth wall over and over again, and his son the Prince-- a tiny, little fellow around 2 inches tall, and the protagonist of this adventure.
The story was punchy and saturated with wit, yet very minimal in design. The King of All Cosmos makes a horrible blunder and wiped out all the stars in the sky. He feels bad, sort of, and practically forces his son to help him recreate all the stars to make everyone happy once gain. How does one go about recreating stars? you might be asking. Easy, by rolling around a Katamari --or a sticky ball covered in bumps-- that collect items all over Earth. These items are then transferred the the king and then transformed back into stars or other cosmic entities. No, it doesn't make any sense, but it didn't have to. This was the early 2000s and low-budget titles could be eccentric without being quested.
The idea was small, but the excitement of collecting all this stuff amounts to major fun. I can say in all seriousness that the moment I started rolling the Katamari around in some stranger's house, gathering up their intriguing item like dice, and cheese, and pets, the game had my undivided loyalty. Its quirky and catchy music, combine with a fun overuse of bright and zany colors were like a drug; I was addicted and felt like the game had become part of my DNA. What's more? With each new item the Katamari gets larger and larger until it can collect bikes, cars, houses, and eventually whole cities. There's just something euphoric about going around as this insignificant speck of a Prince, rolling a ball that grows thousands of times larger than you, and watching the people of Earth run for their lives in terror.
The entire experience is covered in spot-on humor, and constantly kept a smile on my face.
Along with everyday items, the King also sends down a gift for the Prince to collect in each level, that amounts to a wearable item, and also interesting looking "cousins" of the Prince, who sadly aren't playable characters. There were even themed levels that were challenging and fun and sometimes frustrating. My favorite being the Ursa Major level. The challenge there is to gather the biggest bear you can find in order to recreate the Ursa Major constellation the King accidentally destroyed. In this level, bears are everywhere, and making one minor false move could cause your Katamari to pick up a bear much smaller than what you were aiming for. The King shows his horribly disappointment if you don't grab the largest possible bear, but he recreates the constellation anyway. The worst levels are those where you have to get the Katamari to a certain size or larger, then running out of time before you hit that mark. But losing never held me back, it only made me want to try harder next time.
It wasn't just the gameplay and the fun story that really got me attached (no pun intended) to the game. The entire experience is covered in spot-on humor, and constantly kept a smile on my face. "Sending things to earth," is one of the many things the King of All Cosmos says during the loading screens, "movies... programs... elephants..." These little inputs still makes me laugh. And the music was ahead of its time, and is still very interesting to this day. The numerous tracks really set the mood for each level.
The experience felt massive, even if it was a $20 budget title. I played for weeks and really got my money's worth. And when I finished it was over... And just about a year later the second one came out again for PS2, with We Love Katamari.
Though never truly reaching the level of "mainstream", Katamari Demacy did become a franchise that expanded out in a very odd.
We Love Katamari took the original game's formula and added a few improvements such as, playing as the cousins you collect, co-op mode and battle mode. Luckily, We Love Katamari didn't shy away from its predecessor's excellent humor, new music, and awesome metaphors. And the forth-wall breaking continued as the premise of that game was reactionary: the King of All Cosmos was thrilled about the first game's reception with fans; and now felt as though he should send the Prince off again, but this time to do fans around the world favors to help them out.
Though never truly reaching the level of "mainstream", Katamari Demacy did become a franchise that expanded out in a very odd. Each title thereafter would have a console to itself, rather than placing any single title among all major platforms. Me & My Katamari debuted just six months later on PlayStation Portable, Beautiful Katamari on Xbox 360 in 2007, Katamari Forever on PS3 in 2009, and lastly Touch My Katamari on PlayStation Vita in 2012. Sadly, it felt as though Touch My Katamari (named for the use of the Vita's touch screen) may be the last new title in the series, as we haven't heard anything beyond rumors of a new game since.
To my excitement, in 2018 Katamari Reroll emerged. However, this was only a remaster of the original and for Nintendo Switch-- the first for a Nintendo console in the US (later on it would release on PS4 and Xbox One). It had been so many years, the game felt fresh and immediately grasped me just like it had years back.
The series may have never gotten the appreciation it deserved, or the sales, but at least it isn't dead and gone to the gaming ether. I wished it had reached those milestones, but that excitement, that everlasting love, and enjoyment of waiting for the first game to reemerge once more on Switch, is Katamari Demacy's true testament of its success. People cared enough about it enough to have it re-release once more. Some games receive far greater esteem, better scores, and faster sales and yet only get one game -- maybe two. Whereas Namco believed in the pint-sized prince and his godawful father enough to try again and again; allowing this niche title I thought was nothing more than a Japanese escapee, washed upon American shores, and landed on the shelf of my local Best Buy, a place forever rolling around in my heart.