The Games That Made Us Gamers: Beautiful Katamari

“The Games That Made Us Gamers” is a series of special-edition retrospectives running throughout the week of this year’s Celebration of Games. The BnB team and fellow guest contributors are sharing their origin stories as they look back and remember the interactive experiences that turned them to the world of joysticks and keyboards.

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By Richard Horsefield

For the Love of the Game

I love Beautiful Katamari. I truly do.

Nom Nom Nom!

Bright colours, happy noises, crazy J-pop nuttiness and epic destruction all wrapped up in a package cuter than Cutesy McCute, winner of 1997’s Cute competition.

(See? Even thinking about it is enough to soothe the soul and melt the brain so you start typing bollocks like that.)

But the best bit is the dark, dark underbelly. Movies ‘for kids’ now are very good at putting in little asides for adults, but it’s just a continuation of a long-running cartoon tradition. Watch some old Tom and Jerry episodes for more violence, decapitations, and drug use than ‘kids’ should arguably be exposed to. Games like Animal Crossing have nailed a cutesy tone with a seething, dark undertone that adults/particulary warped individuals can pick up on that really changes the way the game is seen. It’s no longer about starting afresh somewhere new. It’s about Truman Show-esque invasions of privacy by a cast of psychopaths that all have dark secrets.

Creepy Innovation

Whether by design, dodgy translation, or simple paranoia on the player’s part, it adds a brilliant layer to the game.  But Beautiful Katamari takes it one step further, turning that creeping feeling into an outright nightmare.  A big ball chasing people round town, picking up everything in its path, growing until it becomes an all-consuming monster? Terrifying enough, but then you remember it’s being pushed around by a tiny cosmic being. That makes it an act of intergalactic terrorism liable to give Jedis everywhere a headache for years to come.

Beautiful Katamari is a weird mix to say the least.

Even then, the world you are so casually destroying is seen through acid-trip-tinted eyes with 2-frame movement, glary colours, dragons, blasting bubblegum tunes, screams, shouts, and death.

And God help you if you fail in your quest to steal as much of the world as you can for your own ends. When suddenly you end up on a pool table in the infinite empitness of deep space being yelled at by your ‘disappointed’ (read – sociopathic) King of all Cosmos father whilst being crushed mercilessly by a cue ball. And he has a go at screenwriters. I want to be a screenwriter. I took this rather personally, and vowed not to let it happen again. But of course it did, like some kind of hideous recurring nightmare.

In fact, when I was younger, I used to have a recurring nightmare where I was holding a small cushion in a vast, dark, empty space. I threw it away. It’d come back, slightly quicker, slightly larger, and slightly heavier. I threw it away again. And again. And again. Each time it returned, faster, larger and heavier until I was crushed under its mass and velocity. Then I’d wake up.

I think this is why the game essentially creeps me out so much. Because underneath all the colourful, sweet, playful exterior is that idea – that undertone – that so closely mirrors the subconscious manfestation of my fears/worries when I was younger that it’s genuinely unsettling.

It’ll never make me jump or shock me. But it haunts me, like all the best horror films should.

Even if the game doesn’t really play on any scary images from your past. Next time you’re playing through THAT mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 with a certain ‘event’ at an airport, or mowing down innocent people in Grand Theft Auto and you think you might feel bad, or that games are really pushing the envelope in terms of narrative or dealing with death in such a cavalier way, spare a thought for Beautiful Katamari: the only game where you can commit genocide to thumping J-pop tunes. Seriously, you can suck up people, but get big enough and entire nations fall to your mighty… sticky ball.

The End of the World is a Beautiful Thing

Histories, cultures, entire peoples erased in the blink of an eye, just so you don’t have to end up back on that pool table with your father yelling at you for your career choices and lack of ambition in trying to destroy more of the world.

He claims it’s to “save the cosmos”, but Earth’s still around. He blatantly just wants it out of the way so he can rule a vast nothing forever. And you must do his bidding.

Now it's just getting silly...

It’s nighmarish, but upbeat and sweet. Fun, but ultimately a little scary. It’s kind of like the world’s happiest goth, using humour and colour to mask its awareness of the dark and brutal nature of the universe.

I love Beautiful Katamari.  I truly do.

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Comments
2 Responses to “The Games That Made Us Gamers: Beautiful Katamari”
  1. lele says:

    i love this article, because i love katamari as well. in fact, i’ve played every single version of katamari games out there, and i can’t get enough! there’s always something new to roll up, a hidden present or cousin, and the screams of people sucked up is just…awesome. sick, i know.

    HAIL KATAMARI!

  2. I’ll never forget that feeling of rolling up loads of stuff, glancing down at the ‘stuff you just picked up’ part of the HUD and realising that you just picked up an entire crowd of people. The ball rolls round and you see all their wiggling legs. Classic.

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