Sunday, March 13, 2011

Xbox 360 review: Beautiful Katamari

Katamari Damacy was released for the Playstation 2 as a strange yet creative title that didn't exactly fit into any single category or genre. While it wasn't the most commercially successful game during its initial release, Katamari Damacy saw many favorable reviews and a buzz started about this game that would fuel a more successful release for the second title, We Love Katamari. Skip ahead a few years, and Namco releases Beautiful Katamari for the Xbox 360, a title with plenty of familiar aspects and some new inclusions sprinkled throughout that make for an enjoyable - if not a tad predictable - next gen release.

The levels that are included on the disc follow a similar format to those included on the original PS2 Katamari Damacy - each level is an expansion of the previous and will allow players to gradually explore more and more of the world around them. While the world of the original game proved to quite large, the world players are allowed to roll around in Beautiful Katamari is massive. Part of this extension is due to how much more developed each level feels. The chance of players getting stuck in tight areas is dramatically lower than with its predecessors, and overall the levels feel much more open and inviting to the whole concept of rolling wherever you want to. Another major improvement is the increased amount of smaller objects spread throughout the game, meaning players don't have to waste precious time desperately searching for that one item they need to increase their Katamari to the next size.

While the constellation missions of the original Katamari Damacy had players searching for specific objects to roll up, the majority of the first game's missions simply asked for Katamaris of varying sizes and was not overly concerned with what materials went into each. In Beautiful Katamari, the King of All Cosmos specifies what objects fit the primary theme at the start of each mission. This could have been made a bit more challenging, but the majority of the items in a level will generally correlate to said theme. However, just because a player is able to roll up a Katamari to the specified size with the correct items doesn't mean that he/she will receive a high score - the King of All Cosmos also takes into account what percentage of the items therein fit the theme, adding an extra challenge to those more competitive.

The homeworld of the Prince acts as the main menu, allowing players access to split-screen multiplayer, online multiplayer, the Xbox Live marketplace, a photo album, the memorial (host to the game's various cutscenes and soundtrack pieces), a complete item collection list, the various presents that can be found and subsequently used to decorate the Prince and his cousins, sound options, and the ability to save/load the game. It is here that players can also look back on the planets and stars they've made and the scores the King of All Cosmos has assigned to each, and even check out the high scores set by the Katamari community. The outlying planets and space stations are host to the actual levels, and can be increased in number if players choose to purchase new levels from the Xbox Live marketplace, adding more replay value to the game for a very reasonable sum of 60 points per level.

Split-screen multiplayer hasn't changed much since the PS2 titles. Versus mode will have players competing to pick up the most of a specific item in a relatively small area. Cooperative mode, while more akin to the core gameplay of the single-player mode, takes some time to get used to and feels a bit clunky with two players trying to roll the same Katamari. Online is where the multiplayer experience is best, as players will compete against both the clock and each other to gather the most of a specific item. The winner is awarded cookies in lieu of actual points, and players can monitor their rankings within the community on the Katamari leaderboards.

The soundtrack of Beautiful Katamari is host to many themes that will undoubtedly be familiar to veteran fans. With most of the pieces, if they aren't directly taken from the previous games, they are a variation. A few new tunes manage to sneak in and flow very well with the upbeat catchiness of the soundtrack. The art style is exactly the same, though it is now presented in HD - which isn't a particularly noticeable leap, considering the blocky nature of characters and items in the Katamari universe.

Beautiful Katamari isn't as wildly inventive as the first in the series, but it certainly feels like Namco gave this title plenty of attention and delivered a more rounded-out gaming experience (no pun intended). If you're new to the franchise, Beautiful Katamari is a great representation of what Katamari is all about. If you've played through other Katamari titles, this is a nice addition to the series, but don't expect any inclusions to be major game-changers.

My rating: 8.0 (out of 10)

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