The Long Game

EDGE - - SECTIONS - De­vel­oper Namco Pub­lisher Bandai Namco Games For­mat PC, Switch Re­lease 2004

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.

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