The Long Game
Progress reports on the games we just can’t quit, featuring the still-perfect Katamari Damacy
We are happy to confirm that Katamari Damacy is still essentially perfect. Oh, don’t get us wrong: it’s a right old mess a lot of the time, the current-gen tart-up of Reroll simply updating the graphics and leaving everything else as is, warts and all. The controls are still idiosyncratic in the extreme, with certain moves, particularly the dash, only being performed when the engine feels like it, as if the mechanisms beneath the game’s madcap surface are being handled by The King Of All Cosmos himself. The physics can still be a bit strange, bouncing you harshly off things you look like you should be able to roll up no problem, or trapping you in passageways that look plenty big enough. And it’s showing its age, sure – we can’t remember the last game we played that had no autosave whatsoever. But absolutely none of that matters today, just as none of it mattered in 2004 when the game first landed on shelves.
Playing Katamari Damacy with the benefit of 15 years of hindsight shows just how influential it has been on the wave of independent games that have followed in its wake. While developed and published by Namco, Keita Takahashi’s breakout game is shot through with what we think of these days as the indie spirit: it is playful and tremendously funny, deeply weird and a game with real heart. It is about the environment, about tidying up a messy world. Yet it is also about a gigantic father’s withering disappointment in his miniature son, and about the noises cats make when you forcibly attach them to a sticky ball made of drawing pins, chairs, mousetraps and instant noodles.
That wry, quirky, whimsical sense of humour that felt so novel at the time is, in 2019, just one of many games to plough the same furrow. The riot of colour and noise that so stuck out in 2004 is now a calling card for the entire independent movement. Even creator Keita Takahashi, still toiling away on Wattam at San Francisco studio Funomena, is these days merely part of the scene that this game did so much to help inspire. And the music? Well, that’s the exception that proves the rule. It’s never been matched.
That Katamari Damacy has lost a little of its impact is no surprise, and no great loss either; in its place it has taken on a certain weight, the gravitas of an old trailblazer reborn. It has lost none of its magic in 15 years, but has gained status instead, the quintessential indie game that arrived before indie games even really existed. As a great man once said: dazzling. We feel a swoon coming on.