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Beautiful Katamari


Let me state for the record that I am a HUGE Katamari fan. I went out of my way to buy the first title when it was released and the sequel and PSP version were in my hands as quickly as the game store employee could open the UPS box.

I wouldn't say that I'm a rabid fan boy; rather I would like to state that I appreciate innovation, I love games with personality, and I have a place in my heart for goofy Japanese things. The Katamari franchise has run with those ideals from the moment the concept was created and they shine through gloriously in the final product. When I heard Beautiful Katamari was being released for the Xbox 360 I was naturally very excited. The PS2 handled the series well but with things shifting over to the 360 maybe things would be even better. Much to my disappointment the latest Katamari has turned out to be anything but Beautiful.

If you have played any of the previous games then you already know the drill when it comes to the story. However, if you happen to be new to the franchise let me fill you in. Basically you play a little green guy who is known as the Prince of the Cosmos. Your father, the King of All Cosmos, governs the universe majestically though in reality he's rather something of a klutz. In Beautiful Katamari the game begins with a black hole accidentally being created and it's up to Prince to restore order in the universe and recover the things that were lost by rolling junk up in his Katamari.

Gameplay


Since you're charged with the mission to plug the black hole you have to take your Katamari to Earth and begin wreaking havoc on the populous. You see, the Katamari is like a ball that things adhere to. As you collect more things the ball gets bigger and eventually you'll be rolling over buses, houses, and mountains. That's the game franchise in a nutshell. Sounds goofy? Yes, it does. But in reality the series' simplicity has been its biggest strength. Rolling a ball around and collecting garbage is surprisingly fun and relaxing. Thankfully Beautiful Katamari didn't really mess with this mechanic.

While I appreciate the fact that many things have stayed the same I must admit that too many things did. Beautiful Katamari is essentially the same game that we have been playing since the original Katamari Damacy was released back in 2004. Stage layouts and progression through the game are virtually identical and though some of the trappings have been altered the inherent spirit mirrors the rest of the series. Innovation doesn't have to come in waves; trickles would have been appreciated, but bringing absolutely nothing new to the table as far as the single player game is concerned is rather disappointing.

Playing through the solo game will take you only a few rounds of play and one could easily make it through in a weekend or less. The selection of stages is so scant that you'll often be playing through the same area again and again. Sometimes the only thing that will change is your goal. Maybe you'll have to collect hot things this time or possibly Japanese items. At other points the only differences you'll notice are your starting location and size. Let's just say that when it comes to Beautiful Katamari variety is not the spice of life.

Now, after you make your way through the single player you can go back to play the same stages again and again. There is a Time Attack mode in addition to the normal one and of course you'll want to please the King of All Cosmos. Ironically retrying stages doesn't really become monotonous and that says something about the quality of the franchise's core structure; it's simply a lot of fun. Complete a mission and fail miserably at creating the best Katamari you possibly could? Don't live with the shame! Going back to try again gives you a rewarding feeling, especially if you achieve the ultimate score of 100 and gain the ability to shut the clock off for that stage.

As with previous Katamari games Beautiful has a ton of stuff to collect and goof around with. For starters there is the absolutely staggering amount of crap littered throughout the world. One feather in the cap of the 360 version is the system's ability to populate the world with an abundance of stuff on screen at one time. Seriously, there are more things to see and collect in this version than in prior ones. There are also more presents to find (which alter Prince's appearance) and cousins to roll over (which allows you to swap the Prince for another character). Completists will be pleased by all of the junk to collect.

Along with the 360 comes the ability for online play. If you feel up to it you can search for some other players or create your own planet which is basically just a playing field to goof of in. On the planet you can draw a little bit in a pool, play some golf by pushing a ball into a hole, and attempt a game of soccer in much the same way. The meatiest thing to do is the versus battle which basically allows four people to compete for the most stuff and try to beat up on the other competitors. Like the previous installments the versus mode here is enjoyable but only in small doses. In the spirit of multiplayer there is also a co-op mode but do NOT even bother with it. You and your partner are each given control of one analog stick and you have to roll the Katamari in unison. Just wrap your head around that one.

The gameplay in Beautiful Katamari is much the same as it was before there are some problems afoot that still plague the franchise. Take turning for instance; it sucks. The Prince can't take turns to save his life so if you happen to stop and find yourself needing to change direction expect some time to be eating off the clock. The camera also impacts the gameplay grievously thanks to its tenacity for getting stuck on objects and not allowing you to see where you're going. Seriously, when a wall covers the Katamari and you see nothing but colored textures until you clear the object there's something wrong.

I must admit that Beautiful Katamari has its flaws. The lack of innovation hurts things a tad, the length just isn't there, and clunky gameplay elements do add some frustration. However, this game still embraces the Katamari spirit. You'll find yourself getting lost as you roll up people and giant elephants. The 360 version is an enjoyable, yet unbalanced entry into the franchise and I'm not entirely sure that fans need to bother. It's basically the same game as before and at $40 that seems kind of silly.

Achievements


The achievements in Beautiful Katamari are relatively straightforward and for the most part they are easy enough to obtain. Some come automatically as you play such as completing the King's requests and making a bigger Katamari. Harder ones force you to find cousins and presents, complete the item collection, and perform maneuvers while playing. There are a few points that will go unattained for a while though as Namco Bandai hasn't released the download content as of yet and some of the achievements require it.

Graphics


Blocky designs, colorful textures, quirky characters, and cracked out animation are the components that make Katamari beautiful. Thankfully, even though the franchise has made the jump to the next generation of consoles the core values of design have stayed the same. The world is still bizarre and fun to look at and the characters are as lively as ever. I do have to admit that with the advent of HD technology for the franchise the game loses something. Bland textures and an abundance of pixels, no matter how appealing they are from an artistic point of view, simply do not look good in HD. The game also suffers from some softness and the aforementioned camera issues add to some jerkiness. The series was never a technical marvel and with the new benchmark output it just doesn't shine as brilliantly as it once did.

Sound


Fortunately while the visuals in Beautiful Katamari may be worse for wear, the soundtrack isn't. These whacky Japanese tunes are every bit as addicting and memorable as ever and you'll be humming songs for the rest of the day. The music has easily been the highlight of the series though the sound effects are charming as well. Hearing cries of panic, joy, or indifference erupt from whatever you pick up adds to the thrill of rolling the Katamari around. Sure there is no voice work in the game but there doesn't have to be thanks to the simplistic mentality.

Conclusion


At the end of the day Beautiful Katamari isn't the release I, and probably many others, thought it would be. The game hasn't changed the formula which is probably a good thing but the length, camera, multiplayer, and HD visuals all lead to disappoint in some degree or another. With the franchise making the jump to the 360 the door was open for new things but so few and subtle were these improvements that they are swallowed up by the familiar. You also have to take the MSRP of the game into consideration. Since Beautiful Katamari is so much like the original why is the price twice as much?

Fans probably won't need to bother with anything beyond a rental though newcomers may find a little more mileage. I'm going to recommend it in the end but keep in mind that rating straddles the line with being a rental depending on how much rolling time you have under your belt.