I’m not sure if maybe it’s because the game was ahead of its time, or that it’s inspired the current development scene, but playing the original Katamari Damacy on the Nintendo Switch in 2018 feels a lot like playing a modern indie game. I initially worried that re-releasing the very first game in a series that’s since iterated and expanded with sequels would feel like a step back as a fan. Katamari Damacy REROLL proves those fears wrong though, instantly capturing my attention all over again and doing so with nothing more than a nice, new HD coat of paint.
If you’ve not played Katamari Damacy before, let me attempt to explain; The King of all Cosmos, a planet-sized and strikingly handsome galactic being, has been playing silly buggers and accidentally knocked all of the stars out of the sky. As his far smaller and decidedly less fuckable son the Prince, it’s up to you to replace the missing celestial bodies with gigantic balls of random junk from Earth. If that plot doesn’t sell you instantly, then this game might not be for you and you can probably stop reading here. If it does, well done on being correct, and please read on.
In order to rebuild the stars, the Prince must use his trusty ‘katamari’ to roll shit up into as big a ball as possible. Starting on a small scale and rolling up things like paperclips and erasers, he’ll move on to collecting bigger and bigger objects, and even people and animals, and by the end of the game even entire cities. Doing so makes novel use of the controller’s dual analogue sticks, with a control scheme that’s both delighted and infuriated players since the series’ beginning. Pushing both sticks in the same direction rolls the katamari forward, back, left or right, while moving the sticks independently of each other helps the Prince to turn. It takes some getting used to and makes up for a good portion of the game’s challenge, but it’s also a big part of its identity and what fans love about it.
While there have been plenty of sequels released on platforms spanning console generations, it’s the original Katamari Damacy for PS2 that features in REROLL, with very few changes made in the transition. On the Switch in particular (it’s also available for PC), the only major difference in gameplay is the addition of two optional control schemes, a ‘simple’ version and one that utilises the Joy-Cons for motion controls. The simple control scheme essentially just maps all of the movement to the left stick while giving the right stick camera duties, and it works well enough as an alternative, but I was most interested to see if the motion controls would become a compelling new way to play the game. Turns out, not so much. The developers have done a decent enough job of mapping the inputs to motion gestures, but there’s just something in the conversation between the hands, the Joy-Con, the console and the on-screen action that doesn’t quite gel, resulting in a lot of needless mistakes and frustration.
…to this in about fifteen minutes
The other big change in Katamari Damacy REROLL fares a little better, and that’s the transition to HD platforms. While the game in its original PS2 format comprised of simple object geometry and textures out of necessity, it also became a part of its visual identity. Thankfully, the move to Switch and PC doesn’t mess with that identity, and instead just cleans up the overall image with HD resolutions and improved framerates. Impressively, the game’s 2D animated cutscenes seem to have been redone from scratch in high res and widescreen, along with the original Japanese audio, which is a really nice touch in an age where so many ‘remasters’ of games just chuck in barely-touched-up versions of their old 4:3 video files. The Switch also has a natural advantage in being a portable machine, and Katamari Damacy makes for a great short-play portable game.
While the fan in me cries out for a brand new Katamari game, it’s nice to be able to revisit the original on a new platform and in glorious high def. The lack of meaningful extras and the wasted potential in the motion control setup means that all you’re really getting for your $30AUD is a straight port of the game, but that’s okay. Katamari Damacy is still a weird, wonderful thing and REROLL is a great way to experience it again, or for the first time.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch | Review code supplied by publisher