Retro Review: We Love Katamari (PS2)

Katamari Damacy definitely was and still is one of the most unique gems on the PS2. The game proved to be a surprise hit, praised for its originality and charm. A lot of the most quirky aspects, such as the core gameplay mechanic and the visual style, were born from the mind of game designer Keita Takahashi. After the success of the first game, Namco started work on a sequel with help from the series creator himself. While this sadly is the last game in the series with any involvement from Takahashi, he definitely left the series on a high note.

The second game, titled We Love Katamari, was released on the PS2 in 2005. It is an interesting kind of sequel that does not try to continue the plot of the original or reinvent the wheel when it comes to mechanics. Instead, it is almost like a celebration of the first game, fueled by the same kind of creativity which made it such a joy to play.

The story takes a bit of a meta approach to narrative. It once again follows the King of All Cosmos and the Prince who, after the first game’s surprising success, have acquired a fanbase on Earth. The King is very much taken aback by this, and he decides to have the Prince help out his fans with any of their problems. So this time the player will not be going around repopulating the cosmos with stars but rather trying to solve very earthly issues with the use of the Katamari. There are also cutscenes between every mission revealing the King’s backstory.

The gameplay remains largely unchanged. The player controls the Prince, who rolls around the Katamari – a giant magical ball that grabs anything smaller than itself. Everything that the first game did very well in the gameplay aspect is handled excellently in the sequel– controlling the Katamari is as simple as it was in the original, the joy of exploration is still strong and the sense of scale is fantastically realized once again, with the Katamari starting off as small as a golf ball but soon growing to the size of a city.

What We Love Katamari does exceedingly well, even better than the original, is in the implementation of creative levels. They manage to demonstrate a very charming playfulness in the environment design, as well as the level’s objectives and setups. The first game had the player rolling the Katamari around in one of three environments in order to recreate one of the celestial bodies that the King of All Cosmos had accidentally destroyed. Some missions had the player rolling up very specific items depending on the planet or star that had to be replaced, such as rolling up birds of various shapes and sizes to recreate Cygnus.

This kind of humorous creativity is present in almost every level of the sequel, showcasing an even greater variety due to not having to be based off constellations and other celestial bodies. For example, one of the earlier requests the Prince has to take comes from a teacher who wants her students to go home as the schoolday is over. The King then sends the Prince to a schoolhouse where the player must roll up all the students present into a massive Katamari. Another request has a sumo wrestler asking the King for help in battling his next opponent who is a much larger wrestler. In this mission, the Prince does not roll a Katamari but rather the sumo wrestler himself. The objects that the player must roll the man over are all various foods that help fatten him up for the big match. If these sound absurdly hilarious, then trust me, they are even more of a joy and spectacle to watch and play.

As mentioned, almost every level demonstrates this kind of creative thinking. It is extremely impressive to see how Takahashi was able to get so much from such a simple idea as “rolling a ball until it becomes a bigger ball”. While that idea is always in the center of every mission, what you roll up, where you do it and how you do it varies from level to level. As this was the series creator’s last game in the series, it almost feels like he laid all his cards on the table when it comes to ideas for levels.

On top of that, the amount of game environments has increased exponentially. While some areas do get reused and remixed like they did in the first game, it is nowhere near as frequent, and the makeovers they receive make them near unrecognizable at first glance. The environments themselves are once again home to several kinds of collectibles, such as cosmetics, that take the form of presents and whole new characters.

Much like Katamari Damacy, the second game is very much centered around high scores, with the player receiving a ranking at the end of each mission. This is expanded in the sequel, with nearly every level having two modes of play – the classic mode, which has you making the Katamari as large as possible within a limited timeframe, and a time trial mode, which tasks you with growing the Katamari to a certain size as fast as possible. Multiplayer has also been enhanced, now featuring not only the versus mode from the first game but also a cooperative mode of play, allowing you to complete the campaign with a friend by your side. The versus mode also forgoes having a dedicated arena map, like in the first game, boasting a much larger selection of maps and varied objectives. All of these add replay value to a sequel that was already almost twice as long as the original.

All of this is capped off with We Love Katamari’s phenomenal presentation that somehow tops the original on all fronts. The visuals, while featuring the same style, look a lot sharper with lots of new depth of field effects enhancing it. The more varied levels also show off new sides to the unique visual presentation. Much like the first game, the sequel runs very smoothly, which is extremely impressive for the PS2 given the amount of objects and actions on-screen. The soundtrack also manages to be somehow even better than the first game’s fantastic musical composition, featuring songs from a wide range of genres, be it electronic, rock, disco, swing and even bossa nova, of all things. It is extremely upbeat and ludicrously catchy, making the gameplay somehow even more fun and relaxing. The sequel also allows you to select the song you want to hear in the beginning of each level, which is a nice touch.

We Love Katamari is one of those sequels that just gets everything right. It showcases the best parts of the first game while providing new experiences on that very same wavelength. It does everything its predecessor did and more, perfecting the Katamari rolling formula. We Love Katamari is a love letter to Katamari Damacy while also managing to be one to its players.