Home Tech The surreal, colourful Katamari Damacy is 20 – and still the weirdest game I have ever loved

The surreal, colourful Katamari Damacy is 20 – and still the weirdest game I have ever loved

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The surreal, colourful Katamari Damacy is 20 – and still the weirdest game I have ever loved

Mr.My parents were somewhat skeptical of video games when I was growing up. I had an SNES and then an N64 when I was a kid, but I was only allowed to play it on the weekends, so on Fridays I’d come home from school and binge Mario 64 with a huge pack by Haribo Tangfastics. My gaming horizons only broadened when I was a teenager, when I started earning enough money to buy a PlayStation 2 and started hanging out on forums with other nerds whose game worlds were significantly larger than mine.

And the PlayStation 2 had it weird Games. The N64 did this to an extent – ​​I maintain an enduring fondness for Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon – but not like Sony’s console. There was Dark Cloud and Monster Hunter, Yakuza and Mojib-Ribbon, God Hand and Ōkami and Ribbit King, which is still, to my knowledge, the only game about frolf (frog golf).

Then there was Katamari Damacy, the epitome of all that was weird and wonderful about the PlayStation 2 library, a joyous game that celebrates its 20th anniversary this week.

The premise is this: the eccentric king of the universe, who wears a pair of purple tights with Shakespearean tackiness, has destroyed the cosmos after one too many beers, and you, his little green prince, must bring a sticky ball to Earth and roll it around and collect bigger and bigger objects until your object cluster is big enough to replace the moon and planets. It has a strong contender for the best theme song in any video game in history, as well as one of the best intro sequences. See.

The fact is that you are only 5 cm tall. “This body, this physique. Could you really be our son? exclaims the king. So you have to start small – really small, by rolling up thumbtacks, dice and empty soy sauce packets. Animals chase you trying to deflect your katamari ball, and if you hit objects too huge to roll up, you’ll scatter your precious trash. Katamari Damacy is surreal and hilarious and very, very fun, as you progress to rolling cows and cars and people and, ultimately, buildings and islands and clouds. It only lasts about four hours and leaves a permanent impression on anyone who plays it, if only because you just can’t get the music out of your head. Twenty years later and it still sometimes crosses my mind while waiting for the kettle to boil.

Katamari Damacy. Photography: Bandai Namco

Katamari Damacy is emblematic of this era of Japanese game development: PS2 technology was just good enough for game designers’ most ambitious ideas to begin to flourish, and budgets were not yet so prohibitive as to require sales of several million. The result was a bunch of short, surreal, often rather broken games that only existed because someone I really wanted it; you can so clearly see the minds of their designers reflected in them. Many of these games never made it to the rest of the world. Katamari Damacy itself was never officially released in Europe – but fortunately for curious teenagers of the 2000s, importing games was relatively easy if you were internet savvy, and the PS2’s region lock was thankfully simple to get around . In 2004, getting a copy and running it was like unearthing an artistic treasure.

Katamari designer Keita Takahashi built it in less than a year on a budget of £650,000, using students from publisher Namco’s design school and programmers from its division arcade. Takahashi studied sculpture at art school and went on to create several other interesting games, although it’s fair to say none were as fun. Namco continued do the series without him for years after leaving the company in 2009, but it was never quite the same: the most recent Katamari games felt like self-parodies. Katamari Damacy is so beloved precisely because no one had really seen anything like it before.

No doubt it’s mainly because I’m not a teenager anymore, but I so rarely get that feeling now – like I’m playing something I’ve never really seen before. If you’re lucky enough not for having already experienced it, there is a good remaster of Katamari Damacy called Katamari Damacy Reroll on Steam and all consoles. Happy 20th birthday, you weirdo.

What to play

Dragon’s Dogma 2. Photography: Capcom

Dragon’s Dogma 2 comes out on Friday and I had an unforgettable time with it. I’ve been waiting 12 years for a sequel to the weirdest medieval RPG I’ve ever played and this doesn’t disappoint – it’s like Elden Ring meets The Witcher, but heartwarmingly ridiculous, in the sense that you can picking up people and transporting them for no reason, or finding yourself fighting an ogre in the middle of a populated city without anyone batting an eye.

It’s the opposite of the tightly scripted RPGs that now dominate the genre, instead bringing together a bunch of fun systems and letting you experiment with how they collide, so unexpected things happen all the time. As I write this, I’m in the middle of a haunted castle adventure with a mage who looks like David Bowie from his Aladdin Sane days and a sword-wielding warrior servant straight out of Dark Souls.

Available on: PS5, Xbox Series X, PC
Estimated reading time: 50+ hours

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A Sony PlayStation VR headset. Photo: Aflo/Rex/Shutterstock
  • Bloomberg claims Sony is suspending production of the PSVR2 virtual reality headset, because several thousand units remain unsold. Sony has never felt fully behind this expensive indulgence of an accessory – it’s only released a few games since its launch last year – and it seems the consumer demand just isn’t there either. I hate to say I told you so.

  • Mutsumi Inomatathe character designer and artist whose work defined the look and feel of Namco Bandai’s Tales role-playing game series, is deadaged 63.

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Block of questions

Pokémon Sword and Shield. Photography: Nintendo

A question this week from reader Danny:

“Which Pokémon game for Nintendo Switch would you recommend to showcase my new and six-year-old girls in the series?

Lucky for you, Danny, I just introduced my kids, who are the same age, to Pokémon this year and they are now completely obsessed. They get so much joy from these games, it really delights me. You have two good options here. The first is Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu And Eevee!, a remake of the OG Pokémon Red/Blue games, which mixes Pokémon Go-style catching with old-school battling and collecting – making it easier for kids to catch creatures by simulating throwing a Pokéball at the ‘screen. (Plus, if you play the originals, your kids will think you’re omniscient.)

The other option is Pokémon Sword And Shield, which I just finished with my children. It’s easy, cartoonishly beautiful, easy to read, and comes with all the game’s drawbacks that the original generation of Pokémon trainers had to do without (like telling you which moves are and won’t be effective on your opponent, right there on the battle screen).

If you have a question for the question block – or something else to say about the newsletter – click Reply or email us at pushbuttons@theguardian.com.

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