IGN Review of Beautiful Katamari
Loveable and original, the quirky Katamari games first appeared on the PlayStation 2. The strap line for that review said it all: Happiness in a box. There was something so infectious about the music, the visuals, and the simple gameplay mechanics that it felt as if pure pleasure was hidden in the game's code. After a sequel Katamari has found a new home on Xbox 360 where the experience is still ridiculously enjoyable even if the novelty is starting to wear off.
The King of the Cosmos has screwed up and ruined the galaxy during a game of tennis. An evil black hole is sucking up all matter. The only solution is for the little prince to roll his Katamari over rice bowls and tree trunks until he collects enough matter to repopulate the galaxy. Are you confused? Good! Don't try to comprehend the premise; just enjoy the ride.
For some titles, describing gameplay can be a difficult task, but in this case there's hardly a thing to write. Players roll a sticky ball through the world picking up things as they go. You start small, gathering items of minuscule scale and weight, and as the item count increases so does the ability to roll up larger objects. The Prince starts with thumb tacks and sets his sights on the stars. And that's it! Buttons aren't even required, because besides scrolling through dialogue the ball is completely controlled with analog sticks.
Our previous complaints with the series were mainly that the experience was too short. Gamers are greedy; we want a too much of a good thing and we want it to last for days. The single player experience is still far too short (I beat it in a day and a half) but a bevy of bells and whistles have been added to keep the party going. The menu screen is called the "princedom," a little play space where you can wander from planet to planet and have small, extraneous interactions with objects and other people. As players collect more of their cousins and presents this area comes to life. This is where players can attempt a high score in each area or hop into time attack mode after playing an area to completion. There's a photo mode, item collection stats, and more extras that even make the menu fun.
Also available in the princedom are a few different ways to roll with your friends. There is local co-op, which is a bit strange. Instead of two separate Katamaris, players both roll the same ball with each person using one analog stick. Even the most cooperative gamers will find this difficult and more importantly it isn't very fun. The better option is battle mode, which has players compete to pick up specific objects while bashing into each other to shake stuff loose from their opponent. Should you focus on the items or be a jerk and chase the other player? Battles aren't exactly engrossing, but like the rest of the game they're good for a few giggles.
And now through the magic of Xbox Live the versus battle mode is available for up to four players at a time online. The various lobbies or "planets" mirrors the princedom except players have goofy emoticons and actions to liven things up. There are plenty of sorting options for who you compete against, including region, type of battle, and signal strength, but the basic gameplay is the same. There were only a few stutters when we rolled with our friends and the only real annoyance is waiting for competitors to scroll through the menu text to advance matches and collect rewards.
The real hook is the leaderboards. For each match, players are awarded cookies for their collecting skills and aggressive rolling. The cookies don't really mean anything (then again, neither do achievement points) but you can compare your stats with the online community by floating into the leaderboard cosmos. Beautiful Katamari tracks everything from the cousins you've saved, presents you've found, and data on almost everything everyone has rolled up. These super detailed leaderboards end up being one of the best features of the game.
Beautiful Katamari takes pride in scattering knick knacks and baubles all over the screen. The visual possibilities would seem to be endless on 360; just look what the artists were able to accomplish in the massively detailed environments in Eternal Sonata. But alas, the graphics are remarkably similar to the PS2 games. The only differences being a higher resolution, more visible items, and a slight blur effect on the background. Sadly there was even a bit of slowdown on the later levels. The game doesn't require state of the art graphics; the block headed humans running in circles are funny as they are, but more is to be expected with the generational leap.
The sound meets and exceeds expectations. Right from the get-go giddy tunes flow from your speakers making the experience feel like a party. It's hard not to smile at the sound effects which, like the visuals, are weird beyond description but extremely satisfying.
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