We Love Katamari REROLL + Royal Reverie

If you know me, you know I love Katamari Damacy. So it's no surprise that I bought the remake of the sequel, We Love Katamari, the day it came out. I did this knowing full well that I like it significantly less than the original because second best is still pretty good. 

But this time around, I've been trying to decide exactly why I like this game less than its predecessor. I haven't played this game in nearly twenty years (!) so while my opinion is strong, it's not specific. I was surprised to find that it hadn't really changed all that much in the intervening years though.

So why do I like this game less? I think there are a number of very specific things, which I'm going to frame as things I like better about the original. There are three major things that I like better in Katamari Damacy:

1. The original is extremely focused on a single idea

That idea is that getting exponentially bigger is awesome. Katamari Damacy is almost entirely focused on increasing one's size by rolling around and picking stuff up. In a series of 10 escalating levels, you go from golf-ball-sized to godzilla-sized over the course of about 3 hours of concerted play. And each level gets more ridiculous in comparison to the last, and more exponential, which is important.

We Love Katamari, on the other hand, is not nearly as focused on this one idea. In fact, most of the levels have some sort of odd theme, like collecting fireflies, managing a flaming Katamari, picking up exactly 100 items, building a snowman, etc. Each of these ideas is a variation of the original, but it's not so incredibly focused, and it often downplays the size element significantly. 

This is ignoring the fact that the original actually has several themed levels that aren't always just about getting bigger! But these are mostly optional, and I generally choose to ignore them whenever I replay the game. Clearly, I am biased towards levels that are focused on exponential growth.

2. Katamari Damacy's levels are very obviously "designed"

By this, I mean that one can follow the hand of the designer and be very successful. I did a small write-up of Katamari's level design a few years ago, but suffice to say that it uses repeated patterns of object distribution to emphasize the differences in scale while still providing structure to the play. 

Basically, the game guides your hand if you pay attention. It's not super concrete and it's way easy to go off the beaten path, but if you follow along closely you'll see real genius at work. My favorite thing is that the game tends to lead you in circles back to where you started, but now you're just big enough to pick up a bunch of new items. This can happen 2 or 3 times in a single level, and it really emphasizes the feeling of growth and scale for me.

We Love Katamari is different in one, very key way: there are multiple starting points for most levels, and you randomly get one each time you start the level. I think this informs the level design, or the lack of level design found in this game. We Love Katamari feels less like repeated patterns and more just like piles of stuff randomly strewn about the level.

This randomness follows from the randomness of the starting location. How do you design a coherent level when you don't know where the player is starting?

Also, this game came out just over a year after the first, so I would guess there simply was not time to design levels so carefully as in the first. But it's hard to say without insider knowledge.

There's joy in the randomness to be sure! But it's not as much to my taste as the strong but subtle level design of the first. 

3. Katamari Damacy is packed with visual gags

My favorite visual gag in the first game is a level where you start very small in a little park, surrounded by people walking around you. Every person is a big obstacle and you can really only see their feet and legs. 

And as you grow, you start seeing more of them - here's a crotch, now a torso, a hint of chin. Then when you're finally big enough, you get to see the top of everyone's heads (and probably roll them right up).

Except! There's one person who has someone on their shoulders - okay, not too weird. But as you get bigger and bigger, you'll see that there is another person on that person's shoulders, and another, and another, until you finally get big enough to see that it's like, seven dudes all stacked together. 

What a great gag!

These are all over the place if you pay close attention. I can't even begin to describe how packed the game is with little, stupid jokes like that. 

We Love Katamari has its share of visual gags, but like the previous note on level design, it feels like it's a lot more random and not as thoughtful. It's just kind of...piles of random stuff? The difference is not specific or clear, but it is real as far as I am concerned. 

I do think the writing in We Love Katamari is sharper though! The King of All Cosmos is written terrifically well - he's a narcissistic blowhard with a soft spot and a mean streak. The fans are all terriblymean as well, except when they're very nice. The whiplash is tremendous and I adore it.

I just miss the visual gags.

So what do I like about We Love Katamari?

Well, other than being one of the only two Katamari games developed with Keita Takahashi as director, it's a really charming game. And if I change my mindset just a little, I can see its real value. 

Specifically, We Love Katamari is much closer to a playground then a designed experience. It's just...a bunch of random stuff piled up! I mean this with endearment this time - there's nothing more childlike than piling up all your weird toys and playing a game nobody else understands with them. 

So if I go in with this mindset, then I'm much happier! I don't always need a designed experience - I'm happy to play around in whatever bizarre scenarios someone came up with. If I let go of the need for exponential growth at all times, then I can see the charm of just...building a snowman. Or rolling up exactly one bear. Or rolling up fireflies so someone can study in the dark.

Also, the race track level is just amazing. I think it's better than anything in the original game - last time I played it I literally cried with joy. And that happened to me when I played the original too! I have no idea why it has that effect on me, but it's worth everything to experience it. 

In any case, it's weird to have such an old opinion confirmed - I often find that I've changed drastically since forming such opinions, and may have a totally different experience. But in this case, teen me was correct: the first game is my favorite. I'm just glad I was able to understand better why that is this time around. 

Anyway, I would still recommend this to anyone on the planet, but play the original first if you haven't already.

Also, the port is a little wacky, but not enough to throw me off. I just recommend changing the graphics to "Original" and...ignoring the new levels. They're pretty bad...