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  • Cindi Knapton

Katamari Damacy: Silly, Silly Physics!

The king plays guitar with the tiny prince on his knee

Psychedelic and absurdist, Katamari Damacy taught me that playing is way more fun than winning. Who cares if you can actually roll cows, cars, vending machines, and buildings into a 12-meter ball? It doesn’t matter. It’s a whole lotta fun trying.

The game is simple – pure physics. Roll a sticky ball until it collects enough items to enlarge its size to that level’s requirement. The first level is easy. You start with a 5cm sticky ball, and you need to roll up enough stuff to make it into a 10cm ball.

Look! I rolled up dice, tacks, legos, and caramel candy!

And the stuff you get to roll up is everyday items found in Japan. On that first level it’s mostly stationery items: dice, tacks, legos, and caramel candy. Picking up items from another country is so much more interesting than the stuff I should be cleaning up around my own house.

The challenge is that you can’t pick up anything that’s bigger than the size of your ball. As the bigger your ball grows, the bigger stuff you can pick up. You must strategically pick up small items to grow your ball to a size large enough to take on bigger items.

Picking up items from another culture is so much more interesting than the stuff I should be cleaning up around my own house.

The level challenges increase from tabletop items to food, furniture, construction equipment, and eventually entire cities. There’s nothing that you can’t pick up with your sticky ball!

I can roll up the world!

Throughout each level, animals such as mice, snails, cats, and dogs, roam the landscape bumping into you and your ball.

I caught some mice with my erasers and fireworks!

On contact, these animals squeal, and…. unless your ball is bigger than that animal and they stick to you, the impact knocks items off your ball. It’s bumper cars with animals!

It’s bumper cars with animals!

Analyzing the game frame by frame did make me aware of a questionable narrative element that I had previously ignored as a minor irritation. Here's the story: as the player avatar the prince, our father, the king, accidentally wiped all the stars from the sky.

The king demands that it’s your job to fix his problem and replace the stars. You do that by visiting Earth, rolling up enough items on your ball, and turning those items into stars.

I did good. Dad is happy with me! Yeah!

While you try to fix his problem, he's berating you -- your size, your skill at rolling the ball, and even the color of your body. When you achieve each level goal with the size of your katamari, the king transmutes your ball into a replacement star or even an entire constellation. If you don’t achieve the level goal, the king creates a thunderstorm and verbally abuses you.

I failed. Dad is disappointed in me!

As a seasoned player, you know that you can click/skip through the king's negging and get back to your own planet.

From your planet, you can choose to go back to Earth and try again to make a star, or you can visit your cousins on Space Mushroom--which seems to be just a trippy hang-out space.

And now a word about the absurdist rewards for achieving your level goals….

When you make a new star, you earn a cinematic about a family. This family is drawn in an entirely different block-y style and appears to be living in an alternate universe from the prince and the king. I love this family! I love getting short films of their daily life.

Mom and kids watch robots on TV.

The mom and kids eventually drive to visit the dad’s workplace at the space launch facility. So, both family drama storylines share a strange relationship with the father figure and space.

When you make a new constellation, you earn an animation creating the constellation in the sky. Curious and quirky, and I love it!

So yummy... What the heck is she talking about?

These rewards are fun, but uniquely for me, the rewards in Katamari Damacy don’t drive my game play. I’ve previously mentioned that in most games, I am all about the badges and trophies. But with this game, I don’t care about winning. I enjoy watching these scenes when then happen. They are a silly surprise. But they aren’t the motivation.

With Katamari Damacy, the play is enough. It’s silly enough that I am a free-roaming child running around a crazy playground filled with playthings to rollover, I don’t need any rewards.

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