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Touted as a gaming revolution I find myself deeply unimpressed with Beautiful Katamari. After ploughing many hours into this game I can't help but feel the rest of world has had the wool pulled over their eyes. With its one-dimensional gameplay model repeated ad-nauseam, this is a game that adds practically nothing to the previous release of Katamari Damacy.
Don't get me wrong, I am a lover of unusual games, quirky visuals and imaginative play mechanics. This isn't the rantings of a hardcore gamer insisting that if you can't kill things it just isn't fun. Rather, I would consider myself one of the casual gamers at whom the game aims it rhetoric. I have ploughed more than my fare share of time into a variety of genre-busting games with great delight.
However, Beautiful Katamari left me cold. Yes, I get the snowball-down-the-mountainside novelty of collecting items by sticking them to a big ball. I appreciate the third person perspective and left arm/right arm simplicity of controls. I even get the knowing winks of a thousand items aping the culture from which they were drawn. I get all this, but I am left wondering what I’m missing that makes this game so great? Even after playing many hours I scurried off to Wikipedia to make sure I wasn't missing something vital. But I finally had to admit defeat and realised these few well executed tricks are it.
Katamari seems to be a victim of its own success. Taken on its own simplistic terms, it certainly delivers a novel and largely enjoyable experience. But don't expect a whole lot more than this. Like your Katamari at the end of a level, it is pretty much the same all the way through - a multi layered mass of distracting trinkets. If, like me, you are not overly taken by the basic ball rolling idea then there really isn't much else for you here. It's a game that endearingly wears its heart on its sleeve but forces you to either love or hate it.
If, like me, you are not overly taken by the basic ball rolling idea then there really isn't much else for you here
Apart from its one-dimensional play mechanic, the game also has a value problem. With such limited online features I find it difficult to justify its shelf price. If ever a game was better served as an Xbox Live download then this is it.
Further play thankfully did throw up a few features. The main game now includes more analysis of your resulting Katamari, enabling it to task you with collecting a certain type of item. Some levels require a liquid oriented Katamari, whilst others ask for only playful items. Whilst this adds another much needed level of complexity to the game, the limited ability of collecting only those items you want often lead to frustration - regardless of the amount of care you have put into your rolling.
It also introduces interesting diversions online. The novelty of the massive Katamari that represents all the items collected by Xbox Live players, is matched by the variety of other online challenges. These modes each have the added human ingredient for that much needed tactical dimension. Not only are you collecting items competitively you can also lock on and bash into other player's Katamari. Combine this with online leader boards and you have a solid online experience. The local multi player also benefits the game from some tactical play resulting from a human competitor.
But even here I can't help feel that the game is woefully shallow. With user generated content being king, the game starts to feel a little unimaginative next to other physics based games like Little Big Planet.
Although not instantly impressive, Beautiful Katamari's production values have had some attention from the bigger budget. This is a game that naturally suits a high definition rendering, as the tiny items can now be seen in minute detail. Here too though, it feels like the same old tricks are being rolled out again (as the box says - for another generation). I can't help feeling a fresh art style or more user content would have really freshened up what are now tired visuals.
This is a game that does what it says on the tin. If you aren't expecting this to be the revelatory play experience many are touting it to be then there is plenty to enjoy. But there is nothing here that will surprise or delight. If it may sounds like I am damning with feint praise, that's because I am. Let's call a spade a spade, particularly when there is so much else to play that is genuinely original and new.
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