Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Bit of Katamari

I've been playing We Love Katamari recently. I don't own a PS2, so it's not something that's usually easy for me to do.

While playing it, I've been thinking. I've looked into the "ludic" side of the equation here before. The art of size differential and bumpy spheres - it's fun and nicely subtle. But I've never written about the "narrative" side of the equation.

By this, I don't mean the overall story arc. I mean the fact that you're running around rolling up people, and buildings, and cats. Watching them get rolled up is fun. Especially when you're a sumo wrestler "eating" little children and cats. Durrr, right?

What made me actually take notice of this as something unusual was the fireball level. The fireball level, for you unaware, is a level where you are rolling a steadily growing sticky ball of flame. The thing is, it's just not as much fun for me. Why?

Well, you can't roll living things up. They get scorched and run away. You can't roll any children's toys up, because there aren't any. You can't roll any buildings up - just a few tents. In fact, the majority of the things you roll up are mushrooms, woodpiles, and bushes.

And it's just not as much fun.

I studied it in more detail. The level design is also pretty poor in comparison to some of the others, but the big downer is the lack of fun things to roll up.

All the things you roll up in the other level have "jots" - my term for emotional investment. Rolling up cats? Legos? Rhinos? France? You have a long-term relationship with those things. They are amusing to roll up. But woodpiles? Mushrooms? Bushes? There's just nothing interesting about them or about rolling them up.

I looked at my other preferences and found this was reflected in all of them. I don't like the paper crane level, because repeatedly rolling up the same thing just isn't fun. I don't like the cloud level - partly because it controls badly, partly because clouds aren't really all that interesting to me. I don't like the "biggest with fewest" level, because I like rolling things up, not not rolling things up.

Give me things I know. Make me laugh as I roll them into a giant ball. Whether it's Ultraman or a rabbit with a sword, give me things that are interesting. Whether it's that irritating kid I knew or the whole of San Fransisco, give me things I know. Let me roll them up!

This, I think, is where Katamari normally really shines. Reframing things we normally think about in such a radically oddball way lets us see them all in a new light. Few games do that. More than the rolling, I think that's what makes the Damacy in Katamari Damacy.

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