Games these days have a lot going on. Maybe a little too much. There’s systems to subsystems of main systems that need to be attended to. There’s also brilliant AI systems being developed to ensure a real, breathing world that players can engage with. There’s upgrades, skill trees, loot, and crafting to help pad out games to make them seemingly endless. We’re living in a time when developers trust their consumers by rewarding them by not hand-holding us the entire time. It’s wonderful.
Wonderful, but it’s also terrible. There’s only so much we can do with our time and when games have so many concepts baked in, they can really consume a lot of time. Which is why it’s always nice to unwind with simple concepts and straightforward mechanics; scaling it back to a point where simplicity is the star. It’s a main factor as to why games like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro are being remastered since there’s a real urge to play something that’s not only nostalgic, but also basic in structure and yet still engaging and fun.
Katamari Damacy REROLL is the latest remaster (“reroll?”) in this growing – and not unpleasant trend. It’s also simplicity at its finest. The series has always been a pure distillation of what makes video games fun. You’re given a simple task, a time limit, minimal instructions and it’s off to the races. Or, in this case, the collecting. Once you’re done, that’s it. You’ve either completed the level or have to start again. Luckily, each run never feels the same so even if you don’t complete your task, it never feels like a chore to try your luck again.
You play the diminutive Prince, whose father The King of All Cosmos binge-drank himself – and the universe – into a heap of trouble. Your job is to roll over and collect as many objects found on Earth as possible in a designated amount of time. Why do this? Because you’ve only got the entire galaxy and cosmos to recreate, that’s why. And when you’re the scion of one of the best and most condescending characters in gaming history, always remember to drink responsibly. And barring that, simply destroy everything and start all over again.
Katamari Reroll is a nearly perfect translation of the original PlayStation 2 game, upgraded with enhanced visuals that make it feel fresh while still maintaining that blocky charm of the original 2004 release. It has a steady frame rate, sharp visuals, and the same infectious music as before. While the game is available on nearly everything, it somehow feels best and more natural on the Switch, perhaps owing to its mobile-friendly nature. Bite-sized gameplay snippets make this a fantastic commute game for those who rely on public transportation.
From the dialogue to the cutscenes to the nonsensical placement of items strewn across each stage the tone of the game is distinctively its own, a little bit Japanese and a whole lotta crazy in its mission to thoroughly entertain you. It’s simple, tongue-in-cheek gameplay hearkens back to a much simpler time when games were more straightforward, augmented with a fantastic sense of charm highlighted by that irresistibly catchy soundtrack. Seriously, if you’ve somehow managed to never play a Katamari game before, just listen to that theme and you’ll know what I mean.
The mechanics are simple, even if the controls aren’t. You move your ball, or Katamari, around the various stages as you attempt to collect any and everything in sight. You’ll start off tiny and eventually grow as you collect more items, eventually becoming a gigantic ball of items that’s at once bizarre yet oddly addictive. The levels vary in both size and setting, but almost always give you reasons to revisit them as many feature subsequent challenges that stray just a little bit past the standard collecting; heading back to an earlier level, for example, has you collecting as many crabs (!) as possible to create the Cancer constellation.
Controlling your ball can feel a touch wonky at times, especially when you consider the game’s vintage. Nearly tank-like in execution, zipping through levels takes some getting used to, even if you consider yourself a Katamari champ. Also, the Switch version includes motion-controls to help guide your Katamari through levels, with predictable results. Motion-controls are, after all, still motion-controls, which means you’ll sacrifice pinpoint precision for the allure of smoother navigation that better connects you with the Katamari ball. That’s the idea, anyway. I can’t say I preferred them over the default controls, but your mileage will vary.
Another mechanic that hasn’t aged well – the save system. The game specifically warns you to be wary of the lack of auto-saving, meaning if you’re close to finishing the game and forget to save…too bad! There goes your progress. Completing a level returns you to the game’s hub-like world, allowing you to save your precious progress throughout the adventure manually. I found this micro-managing detracted from the game’s otherwise sublime vibe as you’ll be eager to hop right into the next level straight away. I’m sure even the most devout nostalgia gamers wouldn’t mind an auto-save upgrade to their constellation collecting, right?
It’s mathematically proven that if you’ve experienced Katamari in the past you’ll be primed and ready to seek out this improved update of the game. Katamari Damacy REROLL might be just the thing you’ll need in your life to forget the complexities and straightforward seriousness of modern gaming, which we could all use now and then. Katamari always manages to feel fresh, always adding newer and wackier things to collect as you aim for higher and higher scores and reaching for the stars. Come to think of it, few games are so perfect a metaphor for their own gameplay as Katamari. To those who think they dislike Katamari, might I suggest you try again? I promise you’ll like it this time.