Let's Analyze: Katamari Damacy (PS2)

The U.S. package artwork of Namco's "Katamari Damacy" for the PlayStation 2, featuring cows, a city, Mt. Fuji, a rainbow, and a giant "katamari" in the background.

Katamari Damacy
PlayStation 2 (2004)
Game Assessment

Written by DJ Hadoken Exlamparaaghis


The graphics for Katamari Damacy were very blocky and low poly. Considering the vast amount of objects that the player could pick up, and then roll around with, a higher poly game may not have been possible and would have probably hindered the frame-rate due to the limitations of the console.

There was not any noticeable slowdown, except when the katamari would get stuck on occasion, where it would slightly jump around.

The environment consists primarily of one island in which the player can roll around in. As a small katamari, the player can roll around inside different houses. As they grow, the player can eventually pick up the people within the house and, eventually, the house entirely.

The environments fit well with the theme of the game because every character and object looked like it belonged to the same universe. Some levels had specific themes, and the objects and the appearance of the katamari in the level were tailored to fit this theme. There was a level where the player must roll up a single cow, and the level consisted primarily of cows, dairy products, and signs about cows. The katamari itself was also decorated like a cow.

The 2D artwork contrasted sharply with the 3D models in the game. Where the 3D models were low poly and blocky, the 2D artwork was very high quality. Despite this, both the 2D and 3D artwork shared the same themes and color schemes, which successfully established them as part of the same universe.

The character design was fairly original. The horizontal, cylindrical heads of the characters were definitely very interesting to look at.

I also noticed that the game included many references in its artwork to mushrooms, rainbows and clouds, which I did not quite understand, but fit well with the other aspects of the game nonetheless.


Given the bizarre nature of the game, the audio suited it well. The sound effects made it more fun to pick up different objects, as there would be popping sounds as well as different sound effects for certain objects like people, cars, and monsters.

There were no noticeable sound effects for rolling across different terrain such as water and grass, and I think the game suffered a little from this.

The music score consisted of about 5 or 6 songs which looped continuously during a level. Each song corresponded with the theme of Katamari Damacy, where the lyrics usually involved references to rolling and creating stars.

The main Katamari Damacy theme song (“Katamari on the Rocks”) was also very energetic and catchy. It distinguished itself from the other songs.

A few more (and less repetitive) catchy songs like the main theme song would have definitely made the game more enjoyable.


Most of the people and animals just walked around the same path continuously until I rolled them up. People and animals, depending on the player’s size, would either ignore the player, attack the player, or run away from the player. The larger objects, like cars, acted like giant obstacles and would throw me off course if I was not large enough to roll them up.

These obstacles acted more as annoyances and less as challenges because there would be times where my katamari was not large enough to pick up these obstacles, but too large to move around certain areas, so I would be stuck rolling around aimlessly for about a minute until I could finally find an object that I could pick up.

One of the only reasons I tolerated this was for the satisfaction of finally being able to roll up those pesky monster trucks and giant ships. But overall, the A.I. was not a very compelling aspect of the game.

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A game’s A.I. should act more as a challenge for a player and less as an annoyance like what the A.I. in Katamari Damacy seems to be. The A.I. should do more to get in the player’s way, or perhaps be better at running away from the player or hitting the player so hard that it makes their katamari drastically fall apart.


The controls were easy to learn, however, even after practice, I still had problems performing the special techniques. One technique required the player to push down on both analog sticks, which did not always properly execute when I wanted it to.

Another technique required the player to move the analog sticks in opposite directions, which was nearly impossible for me to ever pull off successfully. There were two actions, one on the L1 button which I never used, and another on the R1 button which I rarely used.

During levels I would often find myself having to constantly move backwards to pick up objects, because it was so difficult to turn around.

I could not control the camera at all, which hindered me at certain points because the camera would sometimes be covered by trees or end up at odd angles, making it difficult and frustrating to see what I was doing.


I think the most innovative feature of the game was the gameplay itself. Though the player is essentially just a snowball rolling down a hill, I have not seen this concept explored very often in games.

The loading screen between levels was also fairly innovative. The King of All Cosmos talks to the player, saying random things, which kind of acted as a distraction at first. It took me awhile to figure out that that was the actual loading screen.

Menus / Interface

The front-end was relatively easy to navigate and fit well with the theme of the game. The in-game interface however, was not as successful.

Whenever The King of All Cosmos would speak, his speech box would appear right in the center of the screen, which made it very difficult to see what I was doing. However, considering the nature of the game, this may have been intentional in order to emphasize that The King of All Cosmos is a very large being that cannot be ignored.

The Prince in the bottom right corner of the screen would run in place and act as a visual representation of the different actions the player is performing. It was interesting to look at, but for the most part, I ignored it because there did not seem to be any practical use for it.

The save function was also rather simple, although, the first time I went to load the game, I had to reset twice because I could not figure out how to select my saved game and kept accidentally rolling the katamari straight ahead of me, instead of toward the left to choose my saved file.

There was a huge icon for the vibration function on the main “Home Planet” menu which was unnecessary. The vibration function is normal for any game now, and the player should simply be able to enable it in a basic options menu. I do not believe it needs its own large icon next to the main game modes.

Fun Factor

The premise of the story in the single-player mode is pretty interesting in itself, but after a few stages the story becomes repetitive and does not develop.

However, I did like that each stage began with greetings from different languages. The cut-scenes between stages told a story of a family going to visit their father at a launchpad; these scenes did have a bit of character development and were entertaining, and in a way, slightly memorable.

The two main game modes were single-player and multiplayer. The single-player mode was much more enjoyable than the multiplayer mode. In multiplayer, the player can compete against a friend and try to roll the largest katamari. The most interesting aspect of this is that the player can roll their opponent into their katamari. Aside from that, there was nothing else very innovative in multiplayer.

The player can collect presents in the game, but the presents do not really do anything to the character other than make them look different. I did not really collect many presents, because I did not have much motivation to. The only presents I collected were ones I found accidentally. In my opinion, if the presents actually affected the gameplay somehow, then there would be more of a motivation for players to try to collect them all.

Overall, the game was a mixture between fun and frustrating for me. There would be certain points where the katamari would simply get stuck or be unable to climb a step and the time limit would ultimately run out as I tried to free myself.

On one occasion, I had to quit a level entirely because my katamari was stuck between a car and a wall. In addition to that, the katamari would move very slowly at times; other times I would be frequently moving backwards just to pick things up.

The game was very short, and not very difficult. I think the most fun part of Katamari Damacy was the satisfaction I received from rolling up extremely large objects. I think the frustrating controls greatly took away from my enjoyment of the game.

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The most successful technology that the game utilizes is its graphics engine. Though it is low poly, it is able to handle an extremely large amount of objects simultaneously on the screen and still maintain a constant and smooth frame-rate.

The physics of the game could have been better. I think it would have been interesting to see the katamari create massive tidal waves and crack parts of the land if it fell from a certain height. The katamari did have the ability to bounce, however, which was successful in that it looked believable, if not realistic.

Game History

I have seen quite a few other games like Katamari Damacy in the past, many of which have remained relatively unknown, so I was surprised to see that one of these types of games actually became popular. The bizarre dialogue, artwork, and the soundtrack were not as original and innovative as the other games I have seen.

The bizarre, random dialogue instantly reminded me of Bangai-O by Treasure for the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast. Other games like Cubivore by Atlus for the GameCube and Rent-A-Hero No.1 by Sega for the Dreamcast also came to my mind when I first played the game.

All these games contain rather offbeat stories and odd gameplay which are successful as mediums to look towards for innovative ideas regarding gameplay.

Design Suggestions

In terms of game quality, I believe that Katamari Damacy is inferior to a game like Bangai-O. Bangai-O is similar to Katamari Damacy in that it contains bizarre dialogue and artwork, and a strange story. The difference is that Bangai-O is much more challenging and difficult, contains more levels and secrets, a more diverse soundtrack, a wider-range of sound effects, more intelligent A.I., and a higher replay value than Katamari Damacy.

The replay value for Katamari Damacy is very low, as I was able to complete the entire game in less than 10 hours and have not really had much motivation to return to it. Adding some incentive for the player to play beyond 10 hours is necessary.

The game needs challenging, larger and more dynamic levels. A more compelling way to collect presents would also help the replay value.

The ability of the katamari to bounce when it falls from a great distance is an aspect that seems to have been ignored in the game design. A few levels where bouncing the katamari is essential may have made the game a bit more fun to play. A slightly less frustrating control scheme is also necessary.

A more developed story would have also helped this game. Bangai-O’s strange story succeeds over Katamari Damacy’s story because (even though it was very “random”) it showed clear character development and a dynamic plot. Katamari Damacy’s characters are, for the most part, very static. They succeed at grasping the player’s attention for only a short amount of time, but then become repetitive and boring, and are eventually phased out.


The only difference between Katamari Damacy and other games like it is that Katamari Damacy succeeded at becoming a “mainstream” game. However, I do not believe that this success is due to good game design- I believe it is more of a marketing issue, and that more effort was probably put into advertising for Katamari Damacy in the United States than was put into games like Cubivore and Bangai-O.

The fact that Katamari Damacy was released on the PlayStation 2, which has a much larger user base than the GameCube and Dreamcast, is probably another reason why it became successful.

There is a sequel (We Love Katamari) being released very soon, and a port of both the original and the sequel being released for the GameCube.

Considering the rising popularity of the first game in the United States, the sequel has potential to sell very well. And because of the game’s “E” rating, I believe it will also sell well on the GameCube, as this game is relatively easy to learn and can be enjoyed by the younger GameCube audience.

An image of the main character of Katamari Damacy.


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