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SummaryBy far the most subversive and sinister game to recently take on the status quo
The GoodNot often does a game come out that shocks people with its creativity and ingenuity. Game development has long since become an exercise in excess and predictability, appealing to an audience who just wants more of the same thing but in a prettier package. As stifling as this “more and same” mentality is to the creativity of new video games, sometimes something happens to sneak by the watchful eye of the status quo.
Katamari Damacy does just that because it is a game that really never should been made, let alone be marketed to a western audience. Players who review this game have mostly talked about its fun, simple addictive game play; however, Katamari Damacy succeeds in every part of its design in the most creative way to truly create a memorable game that is much more than the sum of its parts. The reason for this isn’t because of luck, a huge budget or a tyrant like David Jaffe giving the lash (“My coder has just expired. Give me fresh nerds!”): no, it’s because everyone involved with creating this game understood the sinister subtext of Katamari Damacy, compelling them to create the most subversive commercial game available in recent memory.
The game play appeals to players and non-players of all types because it is so easy and so much fun. Basically it involves rolling your “wad” around (okay, a “clump”, or a “katamari”), collecting objects to increase the size of your “wad” so you can advance to the next level. I’ve heard it compared in some review somewhere to “cleaning”, which is indeed an apt comparison. Also noteworthy are the simple controls. While you have other options like first-person perspective, the controls basically consist of moving both analogy sticks akin to the controls of the treads of a tank. This immediate accessibility is refreshing compared to the half hour tutorials and long learning curves that seem mandatory today.
That the story is crazy and nonsensical just adds to the fun. We are treated two separate storylines that don’t crossover, with the Prince and the King of all Cosmos being the one with more sense. The bright graphics and color palate of the game world adds to this as well. It’s very rare that people don’t forgive a game for its bad graphics but instead love it for having so. It would definitely ruin the effect if the game world was rendered with amazing bump mapping and had “rocks that look like rocks!” (some geek uttered those words in a Quake forum and ever since one more wrong cliché is burning against my good taste). The other story is about a family and their astronaut dad; that their heads look like the square watermelons that will being shipping to your supermarket soon add to this good fun.
Katamari Damacy boasts some of the best music to grace consoles in years. True to its arcade flavor, the game has many catchy pops songs to add to its addictive nature. Once again, this is a refreshing approach to music considering most games today only feature a score to play along with the game play. Folks, a song is different. A song has a beginning, middle and end. A song has a melody, something lacking in modern music. “WHUMP WHUMP WHUMP WHUMP” is not a song; netiher are those vocals sung once and duplicated ad nausea via Protools a melody. Since John Cage turned on the vaccum cleaner way back when to ask “What is music?”, we’ve been left to mop up after him. While the legacy he left has us accepting that everything is music, no one now asks the important question “What is good music?” or even “What is a song?”
Japanese audiences, the most prolific consumer of instrumental music in the world, don’t have these issues. J-Pop has been pumping out inventive song after song for decades, and each of the songs on Katamari Damacy is a good example of this, besides being just a good catchy song of its own. Basically, J-Pop differs from Western music in being more tightly arranged. In Western music you may have a verse section and a chorus section (you know, “Sweet Home Alabama!”). In J-Pop most songs have about four. In Katamari Damacy’s hit song “Lonely Rolling Star” (you’ll be speaking “Ronely Lolling Star” in no time flat though) you have an intro, verse, pre-chorus, extended half-time bridge and an outro. (screw you CCR!) Infectious. Puffy Ami Yumi will conquer America in no time flat. I mean, the Pussycat Dolls did, why can’t someone who isn’t a corporate entity who cross-markets crassly (“Pussycat Doll Clothes for your Cat! Now with 33% more cleavage!) do it？
While fun on it’s own, all these disparate elements combine together to create that feeling every single gamer has been trying to recapture ever since he blew up his first asteroid or jumped his first barrel: joy. Nothing can ever match that sense of wonderment as when we first allowed ourselves to live another life in a fantasy world where we could do and be so much more than what we actually are. This is a similar reason that musicians have for playing music, both professional and amateur: even though we continually grow and learn for the rest of our lives, that very first feeling of discovery is profound.
Katamari Damacy reminds you of your first kiss, the first time you held hands, the first time you actually saw a nipple. It gives you a child’s sense of wonderment that other companies like Disney try to ape; however, when your first responsibility is to your shareholders and the profit they seek, your motives cause your results to be contrived. That’s one reason of the universal appeal of Katamari Damacy: the game enables the player this immediate feeling of joy and doesn’t let go.
However, there are two parts to this immediate appeal, and the other part is the universal message that everyone on planet Earth will understand. This story specifically takes place on Earth for a reason. The Prince comes to Earth to make the new stars because Earth has so much stuff. In every single level, from the tiniest ant to the last level when you are rolling up oil tankers, there is stuff everywhere. This clutter isn’t a problem because people are inherent slobs who are messy, it’s because there’s too much stuff.
There are two reasons to all this excess: because now there are too many people in the world buying too many things. That’s right, overpopulation and capitalism. While the former is definitely a problem (but don’t worry: your grandkids will only be allowed to have one gene-scattered kid each) the latter isn’t necessarily seen as one, especially when it’s the dominant way of life throughout the world (Commu-what? Karl who?). But like any great piece of art, Katamari Damacy makes you think: Does the world need all this stuff? Do I need all this stuff? Why do we need stuff? Perhaps your house doesn’t have a row of handcuffs pointing up from the ground littering your driveway, but you do have drawers and shelves filled with junk you don’t use, a strange fact when coupled with the fact that you will continue to buy new stuff that you simply don’t need.
This game is opposite to every game made to the idea of materialism. In an adventure game you pick up every single object you can find to complete your quest; in an RPG you spend half your play time managing your vast inventory, always looking for the best Vorpal sword to equip thyself; in an FPS you control a one man army who is armed like one, usually equipped with 10 giant guns and a vast supply of ammunition. More is better. However, in Katamari Damacy the game play and story is made possible by the materialistic tendencies of others, not you. You don’t want to become rich and wealthy, you just want to clear the stage. As said before, it is like cleaning… cleaning the world of all this junk we don’t need.
To touch upon another theme, I find it inexplicable games like the Grand Theft Auto series and Manhunt are criticized for being violent but not Katamari Damacy. In San Andreas and the latter you wipe out rival gangs in self-defense who are looking to murder you; a flimsy excuse for a criminal defense but a reason nonetheless. In Katamari Damacy you perform genocide: a whole populated island of thousands of people wiped out (including the island itself), and for what reason? Because they’ve seen too many blue lights at Kmart? The light, cartoonish way the game deal with the method of balling up people doesn’t’ detract from the fact that these people are never going to come back to Earth—they’re going to die. There’s no other fate for them. Further evidence to the barbarism of Katamari Damacy is the game credits, where our cute little Prince uses the Moon to pick up the countries off the face of the Earth, one by one. He’s killing the Earth, man! I’m not saying it, but it appears genocide has never been so much fun. (“Take that, Trinidad and Tobago! Make it into the World Cup, will you?”) And it’s unmistakable: just under the cool pop songs and “blips” and “bloops” you will hear the screaming of people. In fear. In pain. They don’t want to be picked up. They don’t want to be part of the katamari. However, they have no choice: their fate will become sealed when they fly off to become a star in outer space.
Perhaps it’s all in the presentation. If in GTA IV (or just “IV” if you believe their self-importance) that Russian guy was a dancing bear with a red pillbox hat, then he could carjack and beat up as many hookers as he wanted to (well, if the hookers looked like Minnie Mouse). It sounds ridiculous but it seems people only object to video games that “appear” realistic, when in fact this choice of presentation is just a cosmetic one made to determine what demographic to market the game for. If when your opponent doesn’t squirt out blood when you kill him, will that make the player a better person? So poisoning and strangling is the polite way of fragging someone?
A game this subversive never should have seen daylight for the crazy question is poses to the world. However, that’s exactly why this game needed to be made: because no one anywhere is asking these types of questions (except Adbusters… when again is National Buy Nothing Day?). The fact that this game is so successful in conveying this message is made even more sinister by the fact that it hides in the form of a children’s game. No, it isn’t on Nintendo for this reason.
If you don’t agree with me up to this point (and as it’s a long article you must have some reason for reading all the way up to now), then ask yourself: how did they come up with the game’s concept? Did they just stumble upon this or did they specifically ask these questions? Why not have a game set on another planet where you roll up aliens? Or since the game is basically a wad junking up stuff, why not be a brightly colored ball picking up brightly colored squares? Why does it need to be on Earth, set in the modern era?
It would be a completely different game otherwise. The reason why the katamari can grow to infinite size is because materialism can grow to infinite size. There’s no end to greed. That’s also why the Prince is so small; because he is the opposite to greed, he is humble, and in no time flat he will be dwarfed by the katamari. It doesn’t make sense to make him human size, how else could he roll up coins and paper clips?
So the next time you fire up “ NA, NA-NA-NA NA NA NA NA…” just think about how you’re making George Bush cry. Why can’t you be like everyone else and just be happy and go buy something? You should be ashamed of yourself, you Commie.
The BadA game with an anti-materialistic message will undo itself with a sequel, which it does with the latter release, We Love Katamari. However, the game creators still manage to be subversive by choosing this title and infer that is isn’t a sequel, it’s a clone. Katamari Damacy II would be a sequel where the game has RPG elements and online team deathmatch with chatting enabled as you roll around a sandbox world taking missions from various NPC’s as you unravel an epic story of love and betrayal. That’s right, just like Tokyo Bus Driver Sim II.
No, We Love Katamari (admittedly, a game I haven’t played) is more of the same, something that also addresses the shortness of the first. It isn’t expanding on the first one. It’s like saying to your wife, “Hey, I don’t want to go bowling with the guys, I want to spend more time with you! Waking up next to you every single day hasn’t gotten boring at all!) That’s what a clone is: something/someone that is the very same.
Katamari Damacy, is short, but it’s designed to be that way. It’s an arcade game. If it leaves you wanting more, then it has succeeded. This game will not be made better by adding on 80 hours of dungeon crawling in an immersive world where NPC’s have jobs in the day and go home at night. If this game was any more complex it would lose its appeal.
Also, some of the story themes aren’t suitable for a kid’s game. One night, the King of All Cosmos went and busted up all the stars in the sky. Why? Because he got hammered and then did something about it. No doubt this will confuse the young tykes; this is something they’ll always remember as something they don’t understand but know has a bad reason. As well, in the tutorial when you’re first learning to ball your wad around, if you use first person view and look up at the ceiling you’ll see the King peeping in through the skylight. What, no privacy? What if I was naked in here balling my wad around? Obviously a pervert.
I should add that genocide and the extermination of the human race aren’t appropriate themes for those under twelve. Until then you should tell them that all native people of North America were wrong to have had the nerve to live here before the “real” people showed up; how can beads and some trinkets ever buy me a PS3?
The Bottom LineOne day, people may wake up and realize what this game is about and even perhaps be affected by it, something that one hundred Tim Robbins/Susan Sarandon movies can’t do. There is no better masquerade in games nowadays, save for “GTA is an action game” or that “id makes good games”.
Everyone can make up your own mind as to how you feel about the games message; if you can’t, then you should ask me and be my wife.