When does new become old? And has any series ever turned its creative capital into nothing faster than Katamari Damacy?
The original Katamari and its sequel, We (Heart) Katamari, were inventive affairs. The original—a Japanese oddity that played like a cross between an old school tank game, a murder simulator, and an acid trip—never quite paved the way for other curiosities, but it charmed and hooked from the King of All Cosmos’ first dulcet squawks. We (Heart) Katamari gave us more of the same, but it felt fresh, with new songs and enough new gimmicks to feel like a different game, polishing the previous title’s level design to a glossy sheen.
I could play We (Heart) Katamari for hours. I have, in fact.
The series most recent console release, Katamari Forever, feels like an off-brand dressing up as the real thing. Its predecessor, Beautiful Katamari, of which Katamari Forever is some sort of bizarro Earth remake, didn’t move the dial because it tried exactly nothing new. It gave us more Katamari levels. It didn’t do anything exciting with them, and it didn’t feature a lot of great music, so it was forgotten.
Beautiful Katamari, meanwhile, takes the old and actively tries to douse it in gasoline. Its new mechanic—jumping—fits in so poorly with the game that it might as well be someone pouring hot soup in the series’ eyes. Its gimmick—its levels consisting of half Beautiful Katamari remixes and half old levels run through nightmarish photoshop filters—is, if possible, even worse. Not only does Katamari Forever cherry-pick the worst levels in the series history, the cow/bear level, the “pick up a hundred things” level, the “get to a certain temperature” level, it utterly ignores what’s fun about the game: getting as big as possible, then going back and getting even bigger.
The game plateaus in the middle of its runtime, letting you get to thousands of kilometers, before dialing it back, right after, with a twelve meter level cribbed from the original game. Rather than keep us interested through traditional methods (being an actually exciting progression of levels) Katamari Forever oscillates like a drunk seaman between a sickeningly distorted sense of nostalgia and novel levels that feel limp in comparison.
Katamari Forever’s kind of like getting a mix tape from your significant other in the early 2000s only to find remixes of classic Rolling Stones songs and Strokes B-Sides. They beg you to play it, but secretly you long to light it on fire and listen to Exile on Main Street and Is This It and find someone better to spend your idle hours with.