Here's the important thing about Katamari Damacy (ka-ta-mah-ree dah-mah-SHE): it's girl bait.
I thought I'd show it to a couple of friends just for grins. It probably would've been simpler to just introduce them to heroin; soon afterwards, both of them were coming over at irregular intervals looking for their fix.
The simple gameplay, bright colors, and effortless megalomania had drawn them in. If the game wasn't so short and multiplayer mode wasn't so limited, they'd probably still be here, drinking vodka, chasing down humans like dogs in the street, and snarling at me whenever I made a move towards the controller.
Katamari Damacy is simple, addictive, colorful, and cheap; twenty dollars gets you about ten hours of entertainment, and more if you're a completionist. It's also difficult to describe in any way that makes any sort of sense, since it's one of those uniquely Japanese games that seems to have been conceptualized in the depths of a fever dream. It spent a few months as a successful import title, but I'm still amazed that it's been localized.
Your character, the Prince of the Cosmos, has been sent to Earth to borrow a few things. Your father, the King of All Cosmos, got drunk and smashed all the stars, and he's got you running around gathering up stuff to replace them with.
You gather the stuff by running it over with a katamari (translated roughly: "clump"), which you push ahead of you with both analogue sticks. Anything you hit that's smaller than the katamari will stick to it and increase its diameter; anything larger than it that hits you, such as angry animals or stray cars, will knock stuff off the katamari.
The more you grab the larger the katamari gets, and the larger the katamari gets, the larger items you can grab. Over the course of a given level, if you have enough time, you can get your katamari to the point where there's literally nothing it can't pick up. In the final stage, you begin with a katamari about a meter tall, and before you're done, it'll be a three-hundred-meter abomination capable of uprooting islands and ripping up skyscrapers.
In a way, this is like playing a monster movie from the monster's perspective. Something about that katamari changes a man, or a woman; it turns perfectly innocent pacifists into bloodthirsty demons who crave only destruction. The moment the game told her that it was possible to pick up people, a good friend of mine began to hone her skills like a knife, plotting and preparing for the day when she could rampage through the streets and scoop up children. When she finally did, she let out a lunatic's mad laugh that chilled my bones.
It's fun, though. You have to give it that. Maybe I just need to stop hanging out with borderline psychotics.
Katamari Damacy's pretty good for parties. Not only does it present you with the option of becoming the rolling terror of a cubist cartoon Japan, which is a recipe for high comedy any day of the week, but there's a multiplayer mode that's worth a few hours. You and a friend face off against each other in an arena full of stuff, and three minutes later, whoever has the larger katamari wins. You can even grab each other, although the victim can wiggle the sticks to get free.
That wears thin pretty fast, though, since there's no way to mess with the arena or the time limit. It'd be cool to see a co-op mode or a way to compete in one of the city levels, where your katamari rolls by between the feet of unsuspecting humans, but no such option exists.
Instead, most of the time our play sessions devolved into taking turns at singleplayer, which is almost as much fun to watch as it is to play. Some of the later levels are genuinely challenging, such as one where you have to scoop up as many swans as possible to help recreate the Cygnus constellation, so it's good for the "okay, now you try" approach.
Unfortunately, singleplayer doesn't take a long time to clear. If you want to scoop up all the extra clothes for the Prince and multiplayer characters that're hidden within each level, it may take you eight to twelve hours. It took me three, but then again, I do this for a living.
Still, it's hard to hold a really short play time against a game that's simultaneously so cheap and so much fun. Katamari Damacy is a niche game, but it's a niche game that everyone should have in their PS2 collection. There's a sequel being made as I write this, and if a lack of sales support prevents it from being released in North America, I will track all of you down and systematically remove your legs.