Katamari Damacy Reroll is out now on Switch. But don’t get too excited if, unlike me, you’ve already played the charming series to death. Reroll is a slightly buffed and polished remake of the original game. It’s still fantastic, though! And, if you are like me, it’s an equally great lesson about just how much shit you don’t know.
See, I never played Katamari Damacy. Nor did I play its sequel (We Love Katamari) or any other spin-off the bizarre classic received over the years. Katamari is almost a complete gaming blind spot for me. Hell, I played more Noby Noby Boy, director Keita Takahashi’s even weirder PlayStation 3 game, than this cult hit.
I finally dipped into Reroll over the holiday break, though — partly because I wanted to close that gap in my cultural competence, and partly because of another game: Donut County.
The latter game draws direct inspiration from Katamari and absolutely wowed me earlier this year (though it just barely missed my top 10 games of 2018 cut). But Donut County‘s music and charm left me hungry for more. It’s awfully short, after all. And Katamari Damacy was right there, with a load of past levels, waiting for me to finally try it.
If you’re completely unfamiliar with Katamari, or Donut County for that matter, it’s pretty simple. You roll a ball over everyday objects. The ball gets bigger as it absorbs more junk (as balls do). That lets you roll up more and bigger shit until your avatar’s deadbeat space dad ignites it into a star with the cosmic fires of creation. Standard stuff!
But really, that strange premise is most of what makes the game so memorable. Sure, I never played Katamari Damacy before, but even I recognize the King of All Cosmos (the aforementioned space dad). He’s a fun-loving guy who spurs you on your journey to recreate the galaxy. I knew him as well as if I had played the games, just through cultural osmosis. At least… I thought I did.
The King of All Cosmos is an asshole. He constantly berates the Prince (your little dude) about the size and quality of katamari (sticky balls) you collect. Even when you do roll a ball up big enough for his standards, the King is perpetually disgusted by the Prince’s small stature. Then he imposes fairly strict time restrictions on each mission based on his level of “belief” in his own son at that moment.
Listen. I’m not completely out of the loop. I always knew the King of All Cosmos deleted the constellations while drunk at the start of the game. We all make mistakes — which is exactly what I assumed happened in the intro. But no, the King’s cosmic annihilation is clearly part of a larger pattern of bad behavior. Somehow I completely juked this information for nearly 15 years.
Now I just feel… lied to? Betrayed? I’m not even sure by whom. Certainly my friends who played the series over all these years never intentionally kept it from me. Not to mention that, at any point, I could have picked up Katamari Damacy and its sister games to share in everyone’s joy. This is entirely my fault; I just don’t want it to be.
But what really rubs me the wrong way about the King of All Cosmos is how his whims affect gameplay. (Yes, I know he is a fictional character and that his dialogue is just in-game justification for decisions made by real developers — I’m doing a thing here.)
His arbitrary time limits and requests for certain items are a real pain. In one mission, for instance, I needed to collect swan eggs. Except the level is littered with seemingly identical non-swan eggs. So far, I’ve been unable to find the right number of whoopers before time runs out.
Even when the King tries to be kind, he royally screws things up. Most Katamari Damacy Reroll stages have “presents” from his highness for you to collect. But, during his pre-mission negging, the King of All Cosmos reveals he lost them in the various locales he forces you to labor through — to correct his mistake, I might add. I’ve only found one presents so far — a nice scarf that I do really like on the Prince — but hunting for more against the clock seems tricky.
This isn’t an indictment of Katamari Damacy itself, mind you. The game itself is charming as all hell. I even like the King’s voice (a constant stream of record scratches) when he’s berating me. The music is incredible and makes me glad Donut County nailed that part of its homage, too. The controls are… a little more unwieldy than I expected, but I think that’s partly intentional. Bouncing off cats, thumbtacks, cars, and skyscrapers is a light, silly “consequence” for playing poorly.
But the King of All Cosmos is still an asshole. More than that, he’s forced me to consider what other things I only think I know about popular media. Cultural osmosis is no substitute for the real thing, apparently.