Image: Katamari
Namco  /  Namco
The object of 'Beautiful Katamari' is the same as its predecessors: Roll up stuff into a ball and present it to the King of All Cosmos, a wisecracking father figure.
By contributor
updated 10/24/2007 12:35:31 AM ET 2007-10-24T04:35:31

Few modern games bristled with the unbridled whimsy of the original "Katamari Damacy," 2004's cult hit for the PlayStation 2. Players around the world discovered and fell in love with Namco's quirky little game with the way-out game play and goofball soundtrack.

While other PlayStation games were busy aping the "Grand Theft Auto" formula, the goal in "Katamari" was to roll up larger and larger objects into a ball and present it to the King of All Cosmos, a wisecracking father figure.

It was addictive and great fun, the kind of game you couldn't wait to tell a friend about.

This third sequel maintains the first game's breezy spirit, but admittedly lacks freshness. There is a definite formula to the "Katamari" games — simple graphics, ridiculous settings and crazy soundtrack — and "Beautiful Katamari" for the Xbox 360 does not stray. However, that doesn't harm this first excursion for the series on the console, which rings up at $40, cheaper than most Xbox 360 games. For one thing, this is new stuff for the "Halo" crowd. And second, if it ain't broke...

The rated-E "Beautiful Katamari" also fills a woefully neglected niche on the Xbox 360: Families. Sure, there are a few family-friendly games on the Xbox 360, such as "Viva Pinata," but the system is largely dominated by hardcore racing games or violent shooters. Anybody can pick up this game and "get it" within seconds. Using just the two control sticks, players roll the balls (called "katamari") like a tank. Pressing both sticks forward rolls the ball straight ahead. To turn the katamari left, press the left stick forward while pulling the right stick back. Casual gamers and young children can immediately have a good time.

The game starts out small, with the hero of the story — the King of the Cosmos' child prince — rolling up sweets inside a candy store. Eventually, the prince rolls up large enough balls to go outside the shop and run around an entire city, collecting pets, cars, and trees. The scope of the game spirals out of control, with the katamari eventually large enough to Hoover up entire skyscrapers. The game culminates in a globe-trotting mission that is equal parts surreal and giddy.

While playing, "Beautiful Katamari" fills the room with a delicious soundtrack — a trademark of the series. Since this is a sequel, the songs don't seem as bracingly goofy but these are still hum-worthy tunes that most gamers will want on their iPods.

It doesn't take long to reach the final level, but "Beautiful Katamari" adds longevity by hiding hundreds of gifts and 50 of the prince's cousins around the stages for players to discover. Complete the stage by meeting the king's requirements and you can either play with a cousin or dress up the prince with playful threads.

In addition to the main game, two players can play against each other on the same Xbox 360 in a katamari-rolling competition to satisfy the king's whims. There is a cooperative mode, where each player controls one of the prince's hands with an individual stick, requiring solid communication to make turns. This can get frustrating quickly, making the competitive game far more enjoyable.

"Beautiful Katamari" is also ready to go with Xbox Live so players can roll up busses and ships with gamers around the world. Namco is also promising extra downloadable content for the game in the future, such as adding new objects to roll up and costumes to wear.

The only real knock against "Beautiful Katamari" is that it really doesn't take advantage of the Xbox 360's horsepower. Even though it runs in high definition, the game looks remarkably close to the original PS2 version. It would have been fun if Namco had perhaps replaced the cartoon visuals with photorealistic graphics, creating an all-new look for the game. Still, this is more wishful thinking for somebody that's been with "Katamari" since the beginning. A newcomer will immediately enjoy the game's bright, colorful look.

Gamers wanting an anti-"Halo" for their Xbox 360 — either for a younger player in the house or just for a change of pace — will find several hours of undeniable silliness in "Beautiful Katamari." The game's nutball aesthetic, casual-friendly game play, and sense of humor are worth rolling up this holiday season. And chances are, unless you can imagine yourself tiring of collecting cattle, kitties, and the Eiffel Tower in the same game, you'll be playing this well into the new year.

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