How do you follow up on one of the most original and bizarre games of this console generation? That was the question posed to Namco following the incredible success of its out-of-left-field hit puzzler, Katamari Damacy. It was a delightfully simple and effective game that caught on big with a fanatical cult audience, thanks not just to its addictive gameplay, but also to its outlandishly weird dialogue and characters. So, how does Namco follow up on something so patently original? The answer comes in the form of We Love Katamari, a decidedly fan-service-oriented sequel that doesn't stray far from the roots the original game laid down. Rather, it offers a beefier package of the same basic concepts that fans fell in love with the first time around. While it may not deliver on the same level of originality that made Katamari Damacy stand out so clearly, We Love Katamari still has that unmistakable charm, and it's a whole lot of fun, to boot.
Fans rejoice, the King of All Cosmos is back, and yes, he still speaks Esperanto!
Katamari Damacy put you in the role of the pint-sized Prince of all Cosmos. Charged with the impossibly major task of replacing all the stars in the sky that were lost by your eccentric (and possibly drunk) father, the King of All Cosmos, you were given a katamari (essentially a big, sticky ball that attaches itself to anything it rolls over), as well as a size and a time limit, and you were sent into the world, free to roll up any strange object that crossed your path. Whereas the original Katamari Damacy at least made vague allusions to having a cohesive storyline, We Love Katamari unapologetically revels in its own extraneousness. The setup for this latest session of clump-rolling is that the people of Earth had become downright obsessed with the enigmatic King and his katamaris. Eagerly, they show their affection for King and katamari by making all sorts of requests for demonstrations of the katamari's power, and by generally feeding the King's ego with many, many compliments. The King, being ever the crowd-pleaser, is always happy to oblige the affectionate earthlings, and so he puts the Prince (and this time, his many, many cousins) to work, demanding even bigger and more exciting katamaris than ever before.
If you think about it, the plot is pretty hysterical, since it's clearly the developers of the game reacting to Katamari Damacy's sudden popularity. The King and Earth's denizens even openly refer to the previous adventure as "the Katamari Damacy game," so it's pretty clear that they aren't going for anything more than simply quenching the thirst of the fans of the original. It's like a big inside joke that really isn't all that inside, and it works just fine, really. You get all the same charming quirks of the original, with the crazy Lego-esque art style, the wacky soundtrack, and the King himself, who is now even more self-obsessed and utterly incomprehensible in his thought processes. He still takes your katamaris and flings them into the cosmos to make new celestial bodies. And it's not because he has to now, it's simply because it suits his fancy, as well as his adoring public. The game does also interject a bit of backstory into the whole endeavor through several cutscenes that appear in between some levels. They document the King's rise from what one could go so far as to call an abusive childhood, to finding the love of his life, and eventually bringing the beloved Prince into this world. Though none of it exactly ties into the rest of what's going on, these scenes are nothing short of hysterical, and they easily provide the best comedy the game has to offer--which is saying something, since the bulk of the game really is quite funny.
From a gameplay standpoint, anybody who played Katamari Damacy won't have a hint of trouble picking up the sequel. You know the part where you roll the ball around an environment to get it bigger and bigger until time's up? Well you still do that, and you do it pretty much exactly the same way. We Love Katamari employs the same tanklike controls of the original, which require you to move the two analog sticks forward, backward, and from side to side to get your roll on. All the same mechanics, like the speed burst and the Prince's (or whichever character you're controlling--we'll get to that in a second) ability to free look around his surroundings, are intact.
Your katamari is a sumo wrestler! Roll up food to make him fat! Wait, what?!?
Most of the core changes are at the stage objective level. There are still plenty of stages that simply plop you down in a world and require you to roll up as much of it as possible. But now there are also quite a few more themed stages--areas that ask for more specific work on your part. One, for instance, replaces your standard katamari with a sumo wrestler, and your goal is to roll up as much food for him as possible to make him larger, and thus more threatening to his next opponent (who you must roll up to complete the stage). Another puts you on a racetrack with a katamari, which never stops moving, along with a whole host of wacky racers (even though there's no actual race to be won--you just roll everything up a hell of a lot faster than usual). Another still requires you to roll up all the countries on the planet to make a katamari big enough to stop a giant asteroid that's headed on a collision course with Earth. So, in short, these stages are completely bonkers, but their addition adds a lot of variety to the tried-and-true Katamari Damacy formula, not to mention even more humor value.
Another boost to the breadth of the game involves the dual objectives for each stage. When you first play any basic, ungimmicky level, your objective will be to roll up the biggest katamari you can in a set amount of time. However, once you've completed this objective, a new version of the level will then open up, asking you to reach a certain size in the quickest amount of time possible. As with the last game, if you fail to impress the King by going above and beyond the call of duty, he'll deride you for your lackluster effort yet still accept your mediocre katamari. If you fail altogether, he'll fly off the handle with a lengthy tangent, all the while shooting beams at you from his laser eyes. Oh, did we forget to mention that the King of All Cosmos has laser eyes now? Anyway, such derisions and laser spankings are clear inspiration to go through and play levels multiple times in hopes of reaching higher marks and ultimately pleasing the King. Also, having multiple missions for many of the stages gives you quite a bit of replay value.
That's a good thing, because We Love Katamari is neither an especially challenging nor lengthy endeavor. Going through every available stage (including the ones with dual objectives) probably takes about an hour or two longer than the last game did. But again, the point isn't just to go through every level once, but rather to try to get the best scores possible, which will take plenty of tries. It just isn't especially hard to meet the relatively modest marks of completion the King sets for you before each stage. And the thing of it is, you'll want to go back and play the stages over and over again because they're just that much fun.