I take back everything good I said about Manny’s fielding. Anyways:

Today’s game is Katamari Damashii. (Or Katamari Damacy, as the US version is spelled, though they pronounce it the same way.) It has one, very simple, idea: you roll a ball around, and items that are small enough stick to the ball. As more and more items stick to the ball, it gets bigger, enabling you to pick up more items.

It’s impressive how much mileage it gets out of this idea. Early levels are pretty straightforward: you start as a 5cm ball, say, that can pick up thumbtacks but still gets chased by mice; over the course of the few minutes that the level gives you, you get to where you can pick up those mice and other larger items (books, fruit). And the level is divided up into areas, some of which have no barrier between them, but some of which have a sign that you can only pick up if you’re as large as the height marked on the sign, so the level effectively expands as you get larger and larger.

In later levels, you’re given more time and usually start somewhat larger; instead of picking up thumbtacks and worrying about mice, you start, say, by picking up bananas and worrying about people. And then picking up people, and eventually picking up trees, cars, … By the end, the scope of the game is truly remarkable: the last level starts you off at one meter, and when I finished I was more than half a kilometer in size. You interact with a portion of a level in a completely different way when you’re 1 meter tall versus 3 meters tall (hmm, can I pick up cars now?) versus 10 meters tall (hey, those elephants look promising, and I can get small buildings now) versus 30 meters tall (skyscrapters, giant squid) versus 100 meters tall (oh, they hid some even more giant squid over here; and I can pick up small islands now) versus 300 meters tall (clouds beware). I’m curious how they implemented this, actually – I tend to assume that, when you’re 300 meters tall, they no longer bother modeling bananas, while when you’re 1 meter tall, they don’t bother modeling far-off areas that you won’t be able to get to until you’re lots larger. But such transitions, if they’re there, are completely seamless.

The music is fabulous, too. For a while, I wondered “do I just like any sort of pop music as long as it’s in Japanese?”, but the truth is that the music is great, and I loved the song in English as much as the ones in Japanese. The control scheme works pretty well – they used a two-joystick scheme instead of a single joystick + buttons scheme, and while either way would probably be equally expressive, it is nice to see a game that uses dual joysticks effectively.

It is, of course, a short game – even the best one-trick ponies can only be dragged out so long, after all. (Though I am actually planning to go back and replay some of the stages; they’re fun, and a look at gamefaqs.com suggests that eventually I’ll be able to unlock time-limit-free versions of stages.) But it is priced accordingly: it’s the best 20 bucks I’ve spent on a video game in quite some time.

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