Roll Play

Last year's Katamari Damacy was so quirky, it should have been subtitled "Marketed to Stoners."

Its star, a little green prince, was forced to roll a giant gravity ball to atone for the sins of his father, the King of the Cosmos, who had gotten drunk one day and knocked all the stars out of the sky.

Insane storyline aside, Katamari was the easiest game to pick up and play since Pac-Man: Just press the joysticks in the direction you want to go. The sphere (or "Katamari") operated like a snowball, picking up everything from thumbtacks to aircraft carriers. Think Godzilla with an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In the videogame industry, "It's very Japanese" has become shorthand for "It's too strange for Westerners." But part of Damacy's delight was that it reveled in precisely that notion. Whimsy infused the game's sensibility, right down to the cinema scenes between levels, which featured two Japanese children coming to grips with the end of the world as their mom remained domestically oblivious.

Now comes the sequel, We Love Katamari, which takes the absurd notions of its predecessor even further down the rabbit hole.

In a post-modern, self-referential turn, the new storyline revolves around how much everyone loves Katamari Damacy. Thanks to the success of the first game, the prince is now a bona fide celebrity. Bystanders wave for his attention and shout, "Hey! Your Majesty! Over here!" They want the honor of being rolled up into his ball. And, being the sweet elf that he is, the prince obliges, barreling right over their cat, bicycle, four-door sedan, or apartment complex.

The sequel expands on Katamari's wildly original premise by adding new gimmicks. You'll find yourself tackling such off-the-wall objectives as creating a giant fireball and -- in the weirdest stage -- rolling a skinny man in sushi until he becomes a zeppelin-sized sumo wrestler. In a nod to Katamari's low-tech roots, the new edition includes a "build-a-giant-snowman" level. It's a cathartic joy for everyone who's ever tried to roll a snowball bigger than their house.

If you can drive a riding lawn mower, you can play We Love Katamari. The controls are as intuitive as those of the first game. Still, for newbies, there's a tutorial stage that'll get you rolling in under five minutes.

Game-play aside, the kooky Katamari experience remains totally blissed-out. The acid-trip landscape and its menagerie of asexual, anthropomorphic creatures are nuttier than your worst H.R. Pufnstuf flashback. And the soundtrack is just as bizarre: a stew of scat and lounge, sung in a Japanese accent. There's something wonderfully perverse about rolling over a screaming, flailing human as a joyful Japanese man sings a nonsensical lullaby.

We Love Katamari only becomes "We Hate Katamari" when you attempt the new two-player cooperative mode. You and a friend must simultaneously push one Katamari by moving your joysticks in the same direction at the same time. Ever had an argument over which exit to take in a car going 65 miles per hour? Now imagine that with two steering wheels.

The only other complaint is that this is more of the same. But when "more of the same" involves rolling up cows and bears to assist a "cow-and-bear farmer," it feels silly to gripe about a lack of creativity. At $29.99, Katamari is priced as an impulse buy . Give into it. You have nothing to lose but your sanity.

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Chris Ward
Contact: Chris Ward