Katamari Damacy Gathered Fans Up In Its Quirky Charm
Sometimes a weird idea is just what the world needs to have some fun. It doesn’t have to be gross or vulgar, but if it’s amusing and catchy, that can be the difference between an obscure oddity and a treasure. Such is easily the case of Namco’s Katamari series. With it’s colorful levels, catchy tunes and masterful action-puzzle rhetoric, it rolled into our lives and started a beloved franchise fun, funny, easily-accessible and enjoyable games that have spanned over ten entries. It was on this day in 2004 that North America got its first taste of the constellation rolling craziness that was the first of the series, Katamari Damacy.
Katamari Damacy had the most humble of beginnings. The game was actually conceptualized by Keita Takahashi as a school project at the Namco Digital Hollywood Game Laboratory --- a Namco-sponsored educational institute specializing in game design and development. It was Takahashi’s final thesis project alongside a team of ten others. Moreover, it was created at a budget of only $1 million, far meager compared to most of Namco’s titles at the time.
From the beginning, the core design principle of Katamari Damacy was novelty, accessibility and enjoyment. Takahashi wanted it to be an innovative style of game, but also one that anyone could pick up, play and enjoy. Namco head of research and development Toru Iwatani would compare the game to his own Pac-Man, pointing out how both embraced a simplistic style in their execution and put enjoyment central above most other aspects. The simplistic control, game goal and later the bizarre humor were shaped by these key principles to allow the game to reach out to a wide audience of both casual and hardcore gamers.
Speaking of bizarre humor, Katamari Damacy’s story is one of the most out of the ordinary out there. After going on an alcoholic binge, the planet-sized King of All Cosmos goes crashing through the galaxy and destroys most of the stars and planet in the night sky. As a result, he turns to his diminutive son, the 5 centimeter tall Prince, and somewhat forces him into fixing the mess. The Prince is sent to the Earth with a Katamari, a ball that anything smaller than it will stick to, and he’s set on a path of gathering numerous objects for the King to recreate astral bodies in the sky. The materials and amount required depends on the type of astral body, making for multiple types of levels for players to traverse.
The game begins simple enough. Players control the prince as he rolls through environments, starting very small. As he collects little bits, the Katamari will grow, and once enough is collected, it will warp and be able to pick up much larger objects. It’s not out of the ordinary that you go from picking up pencil erasers at the beginning to picking up buildings at the end of any given level. Some levels require specific things. For instance, the Ursa Major level is dependent upon you picking up a bear. You can collect a bunch of things, but the level ends when you get a bear, requiring you to try to grab the largest bear possible and try to avoid all the tiny bears and bear-related objects that will foul you up and leave you with a measily score. In this way, Katamari Damacy challenged players to both score as high as possible and see what unique ways they could complete the levels.
Katamari Damacy accomplished something few games do for a fraction of the cost. Even as a sleeper hit, it more than made up for the budget it was given and established something Namco could return to with ease. Years later, the franchise still sees regular releases across multiple platforms --- a testament to its adaptability. Much like the Katamari you roll in the game, Katamari Damacy started as something modest and meager and has since snowballed into something enormous and recognized the world around.