Platform: PlayStation 2
Genre: Puzzle game?
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco
Release Date: September 21, 2004 (North American release)
ESRB Rating: E

Katamari Damacy is the title of an extremely strange, quirky game made exclusively for the PlayStation 2. It was released in Japan around March 2004, and from what I understand, sales of it actually increased from the release date onward (usually the reverse is true). Apparently the response was great enough that Namco decided to give the game a limited release in North America.

Let me start off by saying that this is, without a doubt, the most fun I've had with a game in years. That's not an exaggeration. Plenty of games I've enjoyed, but Katamari Damacy just seems to click on a visceral level that I can't recall feeling in a very long time.

The game begins with the King of The Cosmos accidentally destroying all the stars in the sky. Obviously this cannot stand. He orders you (his one-inch-tall son) to go to Earth and roll around katamaris (some weird rubber balls with adhesives) to amass enough objects to create new stars. Apparently the King failed high school astronomy. I mean the first star you make is ten centimeters in diameter. Not exactly scientifically accurate. But anywho...

So the object of each level is to roll the ball around, picking up enough objects to make the ball a certain diameter within the time limit. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well it is, in theory. But this isn't some austere environment you're working in here. This is Earth. You've got mice and toy cars and spiders and people and all manner of things running around. You've got pencils and street signs and toothbrushes and other objects that seriously hamper your katamari's ability to roll once they stick to it. You've got to keep from knocking into walls and things bigger than your katamari or it'll lose objects and you'll lose time. Somebody compared it to the old arcade hit Marble Madness, and it does bear a vague resemblance to it; but the frustration of traps and pits isn't there, and you have a lot more control over your katamari than you had over the marble. Not to mention the sheer wackiness factor in Katamari Damacy.

The game's graphics are done in an odd, blocky style. At first they seem like they were done for the original PlayStation or the Nintendo 64, but as the game progresses and you see more complex objects, it's pretty obvious that the look is purely intentional, and once you get used to it it doesn't at all detract from the game.

I only have a few complaints, and they're pretty minor. The first is the camera, but I seem to have trouble with the camera on pretty much every non-first-person 3D game, so I won't dwell on that. Second is that it could really use some voice acting for the king. That squeaking when he talks is kinda annoying. My third issue is a purely personal one - the soundtrack to the game seems to be a bunch of J-Pop which, at least to me, ranged from bearable to downright irritating. Mind you, this is completely a personal preference, but I didn't care for it at all. On the other hand, if they'd tried to give it an American soundtrack, it'd probably be all crappy alternarock and emo, so maybe it's for the best. At any rate, there's an option to turn the music off, so I'm not going to be too loud in my complaints.

Bottom line: This game is pure fun. Unfortunately, Namco doesn't seem to have published (or at least distributed) a hell of a lot of NTSC copies, or perhaps stores are simply reluctant to carry much of such a quirky title. While almost every store I called had the game, most only had two or three copies (and often one of those was reserved by an employee). The Best Buy I bought mine at received a whopping five copies. If you don't get it soon, it may well be that you won't get it at all (outside of eBay for a ludicrous amount of money, anyhow).

As a quick aside, GameSpot reported in June that Namco is planning a sequel to be released by the end of this year. Even if that's correct, of course, it may only be the Japanese release. Hopefully sales in the United States and Canada will be good enough to merit a North American version of the sequel. (The story is here:

Update, 03/24/05: Namco is also now working on a Katamari Damacy title for the Nintendo DS.



The name Katamari Damacy can be roughly translated as "soul of a clump", with "clump" referring to the ball of detritus that the game's main character rolls around with. The name's translation isn't clear at first, so for those of you interested I'll explain here.

Katamari, the first of the two kanji, means a "lump; mass; clod; cluster", in other words a pile of collected-up dirt or the like. This is pretty straightforward.

The second kanji, which is what usually confuses readers, is not damacy but tamashii - a word meaning "soul" or "spirit". Why the unusual pronunciation and spelling? There are two possible explanations for the pronunciation, either (or likely both) of which may be correct. One is that damashii is simply an accented way of saying the word tamashii with the "t" softened to a "d" due to it coming directly after another word - it's not entirely unlike an English speaker saying "dere" instead of "there". The other explanation is that it's a pun - "dama" is Japanese for "ball", referring to the katamari that the main character rolls around in the game. "Shii" can also mean "surroundings" or "circumference", but is written differently in kanji.

The spelling "damacy" rather than the more correct "damashii" is simply a different, hip way of spelling the word - think of how many times you've seen products labelled "Xtreme" or with a letter C replaced with a K (Kool Aid). The Japanese language doesn't differentiate much between "si" and "shii", so this spelling isn't technically wrong.


The katakana below the title, as written on the game's packaging, simply spell out the game's title, "Katamari Damashii". They do this for two reasons. One, without the katakana reading "damashii", one would read the two kanji and assume the game's title to be "Katamari Tamashii". Two, the game's fun and simple style means that the game appeals to young children and non-Japanese import buyers, who may not know enough kanji to read the title otherwise.

Finally, it should be noted that the kanji used are remarkably similar in appearance - perhaps this could be called a kind of visual alliteration. Some fans have suggested (partly joking) that the title was picked first by some clever-thinking game designer who, thinking of the similarity between the two kanji, saw imagined them placed next to each other, and, reading them as "katamari tamashii", began to imagine what kind of a videogame would arise from the concept of the player controlling a ball of dirt.

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