Everybody has a bad day. Maybe work was stressful. Maybe you didn’t score well on a test. Maybe your didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Maybe you’re faced with too many problems and don’t know what to do. Whatever the case for your blues, I know there is always one thing that can pull me out of it: Katamari.
What is Katamari? That’s a difficult thing to put into words. The simple answer is that Katamari is a game. It’s a game where you have this ball called a Katamari. You roll the Katamari into other things and they stick to it. The more things you stick to your Katamari, the bigger it gets. The bigger it gets, the more things you can roll up. You just roll and pick up things to roll and pick up bigger things and then roll to pick up bigger things after that. You roll up coins, tacks, blocks, mushrooms, toys, food, cats, plants, dogs, people, vending machines, cows, cars, elephants, houses schools, buildings, towns, islands, rainbows, clouds, continents, comets, planets, hopes, and dreams.
Then the King of All Cosmos tuns them into stars.
But that isn’t the complete answer. Rolling isn’t the only thing that makes Katamari game Katamari-like. It’s not the only thing Katamari means. Just looking at a hamburger doesn’t describe the extent of it’s burgerness. Like a burger, Katamari demands you grab it by the buns and take in a mouthful for the whole experience.
Katamari is a game about making big things out of little things. You’re given a big problem. In order to tackle this big problem you start by rolling up smaller problems. After that you roll up a slightly bigger problem. You then continually roll up bigger problems until you are ready to roll the the big problem you were given at the beginning. By that point the big problem doesn’t seem that big anymore and you’re free to roll it up like the rest. Done. Rolling is amazingly cathartic.
The game nails that concept of big things being made of little things. Everything is just a piece of something bigger. From the problems you’re told to solve, to the intuitive act of rolling a Katamari, to the adorably minimalist/cubist art style. Everything is put out before you as bits and pieces just waiting to be rolled together.
Katamari is a game that is compellingly simple. You’re free to roll until the King of All Cosmos comes back to collect the Katamari. Aside from a few variations on the rules that’s pretty much it; roll to the goal size within time limit. Despite how simple it is, rolling a Katamari is persistent. Even after you’ve completed your goal you still want to keep rolling. “What else can I roll up?” “How much bigger can this Katamari be?” These questions push you to keep rolling and revisit levels. Again. And again. And again. Long after the problem is solved. Rolling is cathartic and addictive.
To put it another way, Katamari is a game that pushes you to relax. Each level has a goal and a failure state, but it never nags at you. All the goals seem kind of lofty at first, but once things get snowballing you’ll find your goal was a lot closer than you thought. Failure can even be seen as a treat. Each failure may mean that you must start over, but it also means you’re treated to a minigame during the King of All Cosmos’s lectures. Nothing is lost in failure, you just have to get up and roll on.
Eventually the problems the game gives you don’t really feel like problems at all. They feel like fun catalysts. Winning is fun. Losing is fun. Everything is fun. The game goes out of it’s way at every opportunity to make you have fun. Rolling is not only cathartic and addictive, it’s also extremely fun.
The music of Katamari is almost a contradiction as well. The music is sweet, sour, salty and spicy. It’s both heavy and light. Energetic but relaxing. It’s the type of music that gets you pumped to leisurely roll things up. Katamari sounds like it looks and plays. It’s quirky, silly, catchy, fun, and beautiful all rolled up into form your ears can enjoy.
Katamari is the antithesis of sadness. Sadness is just the longing feeling of something missing; a problem is just a something missing a solution. Katamari is the product of clumping together little bits of happiness until the end product is one big ball of pure joy. The satisfying feeling of rolling up an object that was just too big moments earlier, the nonsensical dioramas that you’re asked to roll around, the soothing sounds of the soundtrack mixed with the record-scratches of the King’s voice. It’s a game that’ll make you smile from ear to ear one tooth at a time.
This is the true burgerness of Katamari.
Katamari remains one of my favorite game series to this day for that reason. I can always pop in one of the games and expect to be better than I was before. Katamari lets me roll up my worries, fear, and depression into a neat little ball that I can shoot into the blackness of space. Afterwards I feel refreshed, as though there is a little star inside of me telling me I can roll up any problem or hardship in my way.
Zachary Long is a lonely rolling star who sometimes finds time to write about games and art. He also goes by “InvadingDuck” because of the internet. You can drop him a line on Twitter @invadingduck , or just sound off in the comments if you got a game that cures your blues.