Beautiful Katamari

boyward - Staff Reviewer

Content at a glance:

GAME TECH INFO

Computer Platform: Xbox 360 (Microsoft)
Produced by: Namco Bandai
Price Range: $11-20
Learning curve time: 1-30 min.
Age level: All Ages
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

Reviewed By: Phil Rownd (boyward)
STAFF REVIEWER

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆
Genre: Action
Christian Rating: 5 of 5 (excellent)
Gameplay: 4 of 5 (good)
Violence: 4 of 5 (barely present)
Adult Content: 5 of 5 (none)

 

Beautiful Katamari.  Illustration copyrighted.


Beautiful Katamari makes me smile. What if your dad was the King of All Cosmos and he gave you a tiny ball so that you could roll it around until it got so big he could throw it into the sky and make a star with it? What if the game based on that concept was fun and simple and happy all at the same time? Well, it is. Beautiful Katamari is the fourth game in a series, following Katamari Damacy, We Love Katamari, and My Katamari & Me. Fans of the first three Katamari games will find this one is a little short on new ideas, and if you didn’t like previous Katamari games you won’t like this either. But if you’re new to the series and you’re looking for some good clean fun on your Xbox 360 you’ll want to check this out.

The King of All Cosmos and his family were enjoying a game of tennis while vacationing on one of their favorite planets. All was right with the galaxy until a powerful serve from the King sent the ball flying into the sky where it poked a hole in outer space. From that little puncture a black hole was formed, and everything but planet Earth was sucked into it. There’s only one thing for the King to do: put the Prince to work! The King commands the tiny Prince to roll up Katamaris big enough to plug the black hole and restore the galaxy.

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A “katamari” is a small ball that collects objects smaller than itself. Like rolling a snowball, the Prince steers the katamari over things and growing it bigger and bigger until you are no longer collecting tiny thumb tacks and paper clips, but small animals and toys. Eventually, the fences that once prevented you from leaving an area are rolled into the ever-growing katamari, and you can move out of the house to roll schoolkids and bicycles, trees and boats, elephants, houses, skyscrapers, and mountains into your ball. When your time is up, or when you have reached your goal of building a big katamari, the level ends and the King throws it into the sky, creating a new planet in the cosmos. Sometimes the King will suggest a different kind of goal, such as rolling up only hot objects while avoiding cold ones to make a red-hot katamari. This 10,000 degree Celsius katamari becomes the planet Mars. And so the galaxy is restored.

On a system that’s overloaded with violent shooters, Beautiful Katamari is a refreshing change of pace for families who simply want to have some good, clean fun. It’s easy to learn how to roll the ball, the game can be played in short spurts, and there is a co-op mode that can be enjoyed by two players. If you have an Xbox Live Gold account you can play VS Battle mode against friends across the world. Now that the game is only $20 (US) the fact that the game is short (about 4-5 hours) has become less of an issue. I suggest you download the demo to see you’re grabbed by its charm. Once you commit to the full game, you’ll discover “The Princedom”, a little menu world where you can fly around and store the cousins and presents you collect during the game. You can also take photos of the Princedom and compare your high scores to the leaderboards on Xbox Live. As you achieve perfect scores on each of the levels you unlock Eternal Mode, where you can roll without any time limits. So while Beautiful Katamari isn’t the longest game in the world there is enough here to justify the $20.

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The Katamari series began on the Playstation 2 where its bizarre art style ran against the flow of “realistic” games. Katamari Damacy didn’t even try to look real. Beautiful Katamari continues that tradition of zaniness, and if you were expecting a major upgrade in the move to the Xbox 360, such as richer textures or more fluid animation, you won’t find it. The game now runs in high definition, but that’s the only “improvement”. Actually, that’s not a complaint. Beautiful Katamari’s simplicity is what makes it so charming. However, the fact that there are significant load times on the 360 version of this simple game is downright confusing. Certainly there’s not much to load here. The camera can also be problematic as the view of the katamari is occasionally blocked by shelves or walls. I would have expected such simple problems to be fixed in the fourth incarnation of Katamari, especially on the powerful 360 hardware. Still, I’m being picky, and I doubt casual gamers will find much to gripe about.

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Katamari soundtracks are a collection of strange and wonderful vocal tracks sung in Japanese. The catchy Katamari theme song makes a glorious comeback, and the new songs are just as giddy as everything you’ve heard before on the PS2 Katamari’s. I love this style of music, but my wife rolls her eyes and says, “Oh, you’re playing THAT game again” because the sounds of Katamari are unmistakeable. If you’ve never heard a Katamari soundtrack, love it or hate it, you’re certainly going to notice the bizarre party sound. There’s nothing else like it in gaming. This is another good reason to download the demo because Katamari’s music might be TOO weird for you.

So is Beautiful Katamari a good choice for families and Christian gamers? I think so. Here’s what you can expect:

VIOLENCE
The ESRB accurately describes it as “Mild Fantasy Violence.” Living creatures– birds, fish, animals, kids, adults– are rolled up into the katamari. They briefly yelp when they are rolled up and wiggle their arms and legs. This sounds more disturbing than it really is, and it’s easily gotten over within the fantasy context of the game. Occasionally the Prince meets resistance from gun-firing police officers and cannons. But once rolled into the katamari they too are forgotten.

SPIRITUAL CONTENT
Obviously, the Katamari games require that you suspend reality and go with the absurd fantasy premise that the galaxy is run not by God, but by a King of All Cosmos in stretchy pants.

OTHER NEGATIVE ELEMENTS
The Prince’s father has a very low view of his son. He constantly insults and criticizes the Prince for his performance, all while bragging about himself. When the Prince fails, the King rolls balls at him until he gets flattened. The ESRB has cited Beautiful Katamari for it’s “Alcohol Reference”, and that’s because among the thousands of other objects you can also roll Japanese alcoholic beverages.

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There is no profanity or sexual content. Any serious moral criticisms directed at Beautiful Katamari’s violence and spiritual content can’t be taken seriously. It’s so wacky and surreal that the accusations bounce right off. To me, the most offensive part of the game is the King’s insulting treatment of his son. And while the game may be short and repetitive, it’s still worth a look for families and gamers who need an alternative to all the killing on Xbox 360. Download the demo, and if you like this brand of Japanese zaniness you’ll find more of the same on the $20 disc.

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Year of Release — 2007

[tags] 4 stars, Action, Xbox 360 (Microsoft), E (Everyone), Namco Bandai [/tags]




Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.

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