To say that 2004's Katamari Damacy took the world by storm is probably an exaggeration. It sold brand-new for $20, had a minuscule marketing budget (although friends saw ads for it, I never did), and its release didn't inspire the lines and the TV cameras that Halo 2's did. Nevertheless, the little game about a big, sticky ball snuck into more "Game of the Year" lists—official and otherwise—than I can count, and still comes up in discussions about innovation in games. Katamari Damacy is the niche title everyone has played.
It's no surprise, then, that the strangest game in years is now a franchise. The Katamari craze now cuts across multiple platforms, and its PlayStation 2 sequel has a heftier price tag than the first one did. Does We Love Katamari recreate everything we loved about the original? Yes—and no.
Thanks to his tiny son's planet-making prowess in the previous game, the King of All Cosmos is now more famous than Tom Cruise. Fans from all over the world clamor for katamaris; the King, always the megalomaniac, demands that the Prince grant their every whim. Campers without campfires, moms whose kids won't clean their rooms and panda advocates all want the Prince's help. Can a giant ball that rolls up Japanese schoolgirls save the world? You bet.
Anyone who's played the original Katamari Damacy knows how this game works: using just the analog sticks on the PlayStation 2 controller, players roll a huge ball (katamari) around the gameworld, and it picks stuff up. The more stuff the katamari picks up, the bigger it gets—and the bigger it gets, the more stuff it picks up. Players start with candies and mah-jong tiles on a table; later on, they can roll up skyscrapers and clouds. The process is intuitive (almost as if the controller is an extension of one's body), and the game makes it even easier to learn by including an untimed tutorial level. It's accessible to series veterans and new players alike.
Although most levels in We Love Katamari are timed—the Prince has anywhere from three to 17 minutes to grow his katamari to a certain size—the game isn't a heart-attack-on-a-disc, by any means. The time limits ensure that the levels don't stretch on forever; the player has no natural enemies (no boss's fight-patterns to learn!) and the series's oft-praised music makes stages an auditory joy to play. All "background music" has lyrics, which, fortunately, have not been translated from the Japanese. I liked the music so much that I played through the katamari-on-a-racetrack level again and again, just to hear "Everlasting Love."
In We Love Katamari, playing through levels again and again is definitely a good thing. When the Prince successfully completes a stage, he can go back through it again "As Fast as Possible," to see if he can shave seconds off his time. (If his katamari grows to its specified size fast enough, he makes a meteor). Players can also comb the land for presents (Prince-sized accessories like crowns, headphones or even a camera that takes a snapshot of the katamari), or royal "cousins"—playable characters of all different colors, shapes and sizes. The Prince's cousins spice up the single-player game a bit, not least of all because of the King's comments about them ("Oh! You just rolled up something weird and naked!"), but they're especially useful for playing with friends.
Family reunions and gifts from fans are nice, but there's only one real reason to replay We Love Katamari: a katamari can always be bigger. The King of All Cosmos is more like Homer Simpson than Ward Cleaver, and never misses an opportunity to berate his little green son. "This katamari is so small," he says, even when it's as big as he wanted. "You can make it much bigger." Even the fans are ungrateful jerks, offering katamaris to the king because they aren't as spectacular as they wanted. But I don't mind all this whining; it's always fun to see how big I can make my katamaris. (Unfortunately, We Love Katamari lacks the original's "Eternal Mode," which allowed players to make katamaris as large as they wanted without time constraints).
We Love Katamari is a loving, faithful rendition of Katamari Damacy—right down to its camera, which still wedges itself in places and sputters like an old lawnmower. The art style is just as cute and paper-like, and the music is as hummable as ever. Yet, it is not Katamari Damacy. That game was so engrossing because we'd never seen anything like it before. And a sequel, no matter how carefully it re-constructs everything fans loved about its predecessor, is still a sequel. We Love Katamari highlights both the problem with sequels and the reason we can't wean themselves off of them. It loses something by coming second; and, yet, we play it because we want more of what we liked in the original game. We Love Katamari will probably be more fun for gamers new to the series, but Katamari fans will buy it—and like it—anyway.