Franchise Festival #56: Katamari

Welcome back to Franchise Festival, where we explore and discuss noteworthy video game series from the last four decades. Older entries can be found here.

This week we will be rolling up the bits and pieces of Katamari‘s historyCover art, unless otherwise noted, is from MobyGames. Please consider supporting that website, as its volunteers tirelessly catalog key information and art assets for an often ephemeral medium.

Much of the Background and Katamari Damacy sections of this article owe a heavy debt to L.E. Hall’s unparalleled Boss Fight Books #17: Katamari Damacy (2018). I strongly recommend the book to anyone looking for deeper insight into the visionary Keita Takahashi; to be honest, it’s equally fascinating for its peek behind the curtain at Japanese game development trends at the turn of the millennium. Gamasutra‘s coverage of Keita Takahashi’s illuminating 2009 Game Developers Conference presentation is also recommended.

Where multiple years are identified, the first represents Japan and the latter represents North America unless otherwise indicated.


Namco was founded in 1955 as amusements manufacturer Nakamura Seisakusho and would go on to create many of the most popular video games of the late 1970s and early 1980s. By the middle of the 1980s, Namco had become the preeminent name in arcade entertainment through classic titles like Galaxian (1979), Pac-Man (1981), and Dig Dug (1982). More details on Namco’s early history are available in Franchise Festival #30: Ridge Racer.

The simple pleasures of Dig Dug. Source: Old Classic Retro Gaming

By the 1990s, the studio had followed market trends and moved away from simple arcade games in favor of more complex home console software; though they still tended to develop arcade releases first through the early 1990s, console ports often followed shortly thereafter and proved more commercially successful. Namco produced hit after hit, whether in the fighting genre (1994’s Tekken and 1998’s Soul Calibur), the racing genre (1993’s Ridge Racer), or the role-playing game genre (1995’s Tales of Phantasia). The growing complexity of these offerings would be something of a sore spot for art student Keita Takahashi, however.

Though perhaps simplistic from a modern perspective, games like 1994’s Tekken required a much greater command of virtual space and character inputs than any Namco classic of the 1980s. Source: TheInnocentSinful

Takahashi (b. 1975) had grown up playing Namco arcade games in Kitakyūshū, Japan during the 1980s. By the time he entered Musashino Art University in 1995 to pursue a career in sculpture, though, he had lost his interest in video games. Many enthusiasts had been overjoyed by the greater palette of  mechanics and visuals made possible by 32-bit and 64-bit consoles like the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, but Takahashi believed that this evolution compromised the simple joy and accessibility associated with the medium’s earliest decades.

It is interesting that Tales of Phantasia should come under particular criticism by Takahashi, since much of the JRPG template had been well-established in the early 1980s by Wizardry and Ultima. Only the battle sequence indicated in this picture constituted a major genre evolution. Source: MobyGames

Following graduation, Takahashi applied for a position at Namco. He had experienced success at sculpting humorous figures and believed that he had the talent necessary to put smiles on the faces of Namco’s extensive audience. Takahashi was surprisingly direct in his criticism of the studio’s recent output during the interview process, directing his ire especially towards Tales of Phantasia. The intervention of an HR manager with whom he was friends averted his untimely dismissal and led Namco to hire the young graduate in 1998.


Katamari Damacy (2004)


Keita Takahashi’s hiring coincided with a period of greater experimentation by Namco due to market forces challenging the ongoing momentum of video game corporations. Japan’s Lost Decade (1991-2000) saw various game studios opening training programs in an effort to identify and cultivate new developers with bold ideas, and Namco was no exception. The Namco Digital Hollywood Game Lab opened in 1999 and Takahashi joined the project shortly after being hired, seeing this as an opportunity to produce something genuinely new in the world of video games. 

Patent documents illustrating Namco’s ownership of the franchise’s basic game mechanics are both hilariously detailed and a corporate repudiation of Keita Takahashi’s collaborative design philosophy. Source: Yatta Tachi

The Prince and the King of All Cosmos, characters who went on to have core roles in Katamari Damacy, originated as figures in a 2000 demo called Action Drive. Namco’s prototype was effectively a riff on SEGA’s popular Crazy Taxi (1999), though its designer wanted to frame it as an espionage adventure. Artist Keiji Takahashi was brought on to render the characters and world. In his words, as recounted in Boss Fight Books #17: Katamari Damacy:

My idea was, the Queen of the Cosmos was kidnapped by some bad guys on Earth,” he said. “The King of the Cosmos wants to help her, but he’s lazy, so he lets his son go help her. The obvious problem is that the Prince is smaller than human beings. So he has to use his hammer-shaped head to hit the heads of people driving by, and then hack that human by sticking a small steering wheel on top of their heads while they are stunned. That’s one of the reasons why [the characters in Katamari] have such wide heads.

One of a few extant images of Densen, the experimental game demo that inspired Katamari Damacy. Source: Unseen64

Takahashi was told by the designer that his character concepts should be used elsewhere and Action Drive was subsequently canceled. In the period following his work on Action Drive, Takahashi was inspired by a fleeting vision of a spinning object as he walked to his nightly commuter train. Other influences like the activities of Japanese children during school sports day events and Densen, an experimental platforming video game demo shown off at a 1999 Sony Computer Entertainment press conference, also contributed to the slow formation of Katamari Damacy‘s gameplay and aesthetic.

In spite of the intended simplicity of controls, a tutorial was needed to explain how players might manipulate the peculiar object in front of them. Source: LongplayArchive


The player would take on the role of a spinning ball used to travel around 3D spaces while rolling up assorted objects. Takahashi focused on keeping controls as simple as possible because of his concerns over the accessibility of modern titles. The assembled team of students at Namco Digital Hollywood Game Lab was soon set to work rendering the multitude of objects found throughout the game world, making the experimental project more economically viable.

An opening movie, seemingly inspired at least partially by the art of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, sets the tone. Source: LongplayArchive

The result was Katamari Damacy, an expression unlike anything else in the medium. Released on the PlayStation 2 in 2004 despite originally being programmed for the GameCube, Katamari Damacy was  intended to remain exclusive to the Japanese market. Its appearance in demo form at the Tokyo Game Show in 2003 and at a 2004 Experimental Games Workshop session led by Keita Takahashi himself were met with such a rapturous response among the Western press, though, that Namco unexpectedly reversed course. A fully localized version would arrive on North American store shelves only six months later.

Even the file selection screen is amusing. The file selection screen! There really isn’t anything like Katamari. Source: LongplayArchive

Players take on the role of the Prince, a diminutive cosmic humanoid who takes orders from his imposing father, the King of All Cosmos. Keita Takahashi’s whimsical vision is on display from the game’s opening moments, as the player guides the Prince in rolling up part of Namco’s logo to load save data or initiate a new game. From here, the player is introduced to the King of All Cosmos and their central goal: rolling up objects on Earth to launch into space as a replacement for stars obliterated by the King during his drunken revelry.

The Katamari starts small, but it will grow surprisingly large by the end of the first stage. Source: LongplayArchive

Gameplay is relatively straightforward, as the Prince is dropped into a setting on Earth and must increase his spherical Katamari’s size by rolling over smaller objects. The Katamari becomes able to roll up bigger and bigger objects as it increases in size. The gameplay’s most surprising mechanical wrinkle is the control input, which is distinct from any other contemporary release. Both thumb sticks must be tilted in a direction to move the Katamari that way, as tilting just one stick rotates the Katamari in place. This idiosyncratic control setup is intended to emulate use of the Prince’s hands as he walks behind the ever-growing sphere.

The King of All Cosmos’ remarks at the end of each stage are invariably less enthusiastic than one might expect. Source: LongplayArchive

Katamari Damacy‘s soundtrack is one of its most recognizable features, and involved a significant amount of behind-the-scenes effort by music director Yuu Miyake. The project’s original goal – increasing the music’s complexity as the Katamari increases in size and decrease complexity if that size is diminished through the Prince running into obstacles – was abandoned due to concerns about audio clutter and playtesters confirming that losing any substantial amount of acquired objects was abrasive to the otherwise joyful experience. Instead of the original plan, Miyake turned to influences from early  games as filtered through the world’s first commercially produced video game soundtrack, Haruomi Hosono’s Video Game Music (1984).

Cutscenes between stages ostensibly tell a story about the human Hoshino family but are no less surreal than the surrounding content. Source: LongplayArchive

Miyake assembled a team and soon decided that the soundtrack should feature vocal compositions; his decision, surprisingly, was simply based on this type of song being uncommon in contemporary games. The sound design team then sought out popular and niche Japanese musicians who had been out of the spotlight for a while. These musicians, in collaboration with Miyake’s sound team, were offered a handful of keywords by Takahashi but otherwise left to their own devices. According to Miyake in a 2009 Original Sound Version interview (as relayed via Boss Fight Books #17: Katamari Damacy):

An interesting note is that [Takahashi] didn’t give us any detailed directions regarding sound design. We were able to create the music freely as we saw fit. In fact, we worked closely with the director, graphics team, and movie team to stimulate each other creatively during the production of the game.

Though not the primary focus, Katamari Damacy does feature a handful of additional modes. In competitive multiplayer, up to two players play as the Prince or one of his similarly-sized Cousins – acquired while exploring single player stages – as they roll around a small arena attempting to build the biggest Katamari in three minutes. Humorously, it is possible to roll up an opponent’s Katamari if the size disparity grows wide enough. An additional bonus mode, Eternal, allows players to roll around stages without a time limit once the Story Mode has been completed.

Oh the joy of rolling up whole cities! Source: LongplayArchive

Katamari Damacy would prove to be a commercial and critical hit. Though its initial sales in Japan fell short of Namco’s expectations, its low production cost ensured that it still made a profit for the studio. Sales in North America were the greater surprise, as the game sold 300,000 units in its first year on store shelves. Critics hailed Katamari Damacy as one of the greatest games of 2004; in spite of its apparent niche appeal, even American news periodical Time Magazine named it one of the best games of the year in a year-end retrospective. It would still be celebrated nearly fifteen years after its initial release when a remastered edition, Katamari Damacy: Reroll, was published in 2018 on modern consoles.


We Love Katamari (2005)


Following the success of Katamari Damacy, Namco wanted to create a sequel. Keita Takahashi initially rebuffed this plan, preferring to move on to other creative projects, but was pulled back in when Namco offered their vision of what the sequel would be without him. A Christmas-themed Katamari game was not what the thoughtful game designer wanted his creation to become, so he joined the development team as its director.

We Love Katamari’s file select screen features 30% more whimsy than its predecessor. Source: LongplayArchive

The resulting PlayStation 2 title is an evolution on its predecessor rather than the revolution that Katamari Damacy represented. Streamlined controls, and a more consistent physics engine, result in a more user-friendly experience than that of the sometimes-baffling Katamari Damacy. At the same time, new level objectives prevent the central mechanics from growing stale.

Ever-growing numbers of requestors beset the Prince and the King of All Cosmos between stages, serving as a meta-narrative playfully depicting the conditions in which the game was made. Source: LongplayArchive

The plot focuses on two stories: (1) that of the King of All Cosmos and the Prince responding to fan requests from Earth; and (2) a flashback exploring the troubled relationship between the King of All Cosmos and his stern father, the Emperor of All Cosmos. The former frames each stage as the requests inform the player’s objective. The latter, on the other hand, is simply a series of lightly animated story cutscenes between each stage.

You might say that the present/past story bifurcation makes We Love Katamari the Godfather II of video games. I’m not saying it, but you could. Source: LongplayArchive

Where the Prince typically focused on increasing the size of his Katamari in the series’ debut entry, We Love Katamari sees the Prince participating in any number of odd alternative goals. In one stage, he must roll a sumo wrestler around to increase the wrestler’s weight by eating food strewn around the environment. In another, he must accumulate commercially valuable objects to reach a specified monetary amount. The basic gameplay of rolling a Katamari remains unchanged, but it is put to myriad new uses barely hinted at in Katamari Damacy‘s 22 stages.

Though Katamari Damacy had itself included a handful of stages with unique objectives, We Love Katamari doubles down on them (for better and worse). This one involves rolling up flowers. Source: LongplayArchive

A new cooperative multiplayer mode has also been added to the franchise’s second entry. This highly experimental mode features two players coordinating their controller inputs to move a single Katamari. While competitive multiplayer still exists, it is set in stages from the single-player campaign rather than in distinct stages only accessible in multiplayer. Unfortunately, the multiplayer modes came under fire from critics as We Love Katamari‘s only serious misstep.

The scale of We Love Katamari grows downright cosmic by the game’s conclusion. Source: LongplayArchive

Aside from the multiplayer modes, We Love Katamari was broadly considered to be an improvement on an already strong foundation. Systems which had been interesting if shaky were polished into a more accessible state. Given Takahashi’s interest in producing a game that could be enjoyed by players who had otherwise found modern titles hopelessly complex, this surely qualifies as a sequel worthy of its name.


Me and My Katamari (2005/2006)


Though Keita Takahashi had been talked into directing We Love Katamari, he definitively walked away from its sequel. The studio would push forward with a portable entry, Me and My Katamari, and afterwards dissolve the team responsible for the franchise; a planned release for the Nintendo DS was likewise cancelled. Though the PlayStation Portable (PSP) entry which resulted is an interesting riff on the series’ formula, it lacks the spark of inspiration which had propelled Takahashi into the international spotlight several years earlier.

Though much of the whimsy is absent, the opening cutscene remains delightful. Source: Anthony [TRP]
If nothing else, Katamari‘s distinctive visual style translates surprisingly well to the PSP’s small screen. The franchise had been created with a low-polygon style due to processing limitations on the PlayStation 2, so it was a natural fit for a less powerful platform. The series’ classic sound design also makes the leap from home console to portable console with little modification, consisting of returning compositions with a handful of new songs.

Katamari underwent very little alteration between the PlayStation 2 and PSP. Source: Anthony [TRP]
Me and My Katamari‘s most jarring shift from earlier series entries is a heavily revised control scheme. The PSP lacks dual analog sticks, instead making due with a single analog nub. In lieu of the series’ traditional controls, then, the player must utilize four directional inputs with their left thumb and four other directional inputs (the platform’s X, Square, Triangle, and Circle buttons) with their right thumb. This inherently reduces the accuracy of 3D navigation and makes achieving each stage’s goals more challenging than in earlier Katamari releases. Though the original Japanese version featured no ability to modify these buttons, the North American localization adds the ability to make use of the analog nub rather than the left set of directional inputs.

The tutorial and controls of Me and My Katamari echo its home console predecessors, but the absence of analog sticks is immediately felt. Source: Anthony [TRP]
The scale of level design, unsurprisingly, is reduced from We Love Katamari. Me and My Katamari is set on the Sunflower Continent, a tropical paradise visited by the King of All Cosmos, the Queen of All Cosmos, and the Prince during a vacation following their earlier adventures. Only five distinct stages are present, though they vary in presentation throughout the Prince’s journey based on time of day and season. The Prince is tasked with repairing the region after the King of All Cosmos devastates it with a tsunami upon arrival.

Each completed Katamari results in a new addition to the Sunflower Continent. Source: Anthony [TRP]
A multiplayer mode in which players compete with one another in challenges across the Sunflower Continent through an ad-hoc network, along with the return of Eternal Mode following its omission in We Love Katamari, do little to mitigate the sense that this is a lesser Katamari game. Takahashi’s departure was felt in Me and My Katamari‘s derivative quality, while concessions to the PSP’s unique input mechanisms prevent it from playing as elegantly as its predecessors. Sadly, this would be a harbinger of things to come.


Beautiful Katamari (2007/2008)


Katamari managed to carry on in spite of Takahashi’s departure and Namco’s aforementioned dissolution of its original creative team. The next series entry would go through some travails in the development process, though, and the result would be Katamari‘s first appearance on a non-Sony console. Me and My Katamari co-director Jun Moriwaki spearheaded the project.

A new camera function reflects the emphasis on crisp, high-definition visuals. Source: iPlay Retro

Beautiful Katamari was originally planned for a cross-platform release on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but low PlayStation 3 sales and issues developing for the notoriously idiosyncratic hardware caused Namco to quietly cancel that version in 2007. The game’s next planned port was a Wii version, but issues surrounding that console’s unique motion-based controller were likely responsible for the port’s eventual abandonment. In the end, Beautiful Katamari would launch in 2007/2008 as an Xbox 360 exclusive.

Stages, like this one featuring a bevy of tasty treats, are more densely packed than ever. Source: iPlay Retro

Happily, given the similarity in design between the Sony’s Dualshock 2 controller and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 controller, Beautiful Katamari had a control scheme that was functionally identical to that of We Love Katamari. Returning to the home console landscape would help Jun Moriwaki’s team avoid the pitfalls of their leader’s last Katamari game. Beautiful Katamari‘s graphics would also see a marked enhancement from its PlayStation 2 and PSP predecessors as the franchise made its first leap into high definition. This change was not as significant as it may have been for contemporary franchises, due to Katamari‘s enduringly abstract, low-polygon art style, but it was a welcome upgrade nonetheless.

Even businessmen waiting on the train are now susceptible to the predation by the Prince. Source: iPlay Retro

Presentation and gameplay, aside from the noted resolution boost, were unchanged from the series’ PlayStation 2 titles. Stages feature varied objectives, in a manner reminiscent of We Love Katamari, and include goals like heating up the Katamari based on the temperature of rolled objects. The inciting incident is an overzealous tennis performance by the King of All Cosmos in which a dangerous hole is ripped through space and time, sucking away all of space aside from Earth; the Prince must recreate the heavens and then create a Katamari large enough to plug the hole.

The King of All Cosmos has a mean slice. Source: iPlay Retro

An online multiplayer mode makes its first appearance in the series, though its implementation is little different than the local multiplayer of earlier entries. An online service which aggregates player data, on the other hand, offers an interesting interpretation of the series’ ongoing thematic emphasis on collaboration and interconnectedness. Players’ performance was even tallied up via Xbox Live and informed the size of an ever-enlarging cow in a mode called “Everyone’s Katamari” while servers remained active.

The expanding cow in Everyone’s Katamari mode is one of my favorite features of this game, and coincidentally points toward the collaborative nature of Keita Takahashi’s Noby Noby Boy only two years later. Source: Siliconera

Unfortunately, Beautiful Katamari‘s release was marred by controversy. For the first time in the series’ history – as was typical for the era – downloadable content (DLC) was available for purchase. DLC consisted of additional stages without which the game featured less level variety than We Love Katamari. Additionally, acquisition of at least one DLC stage was necessary for players who sought to complete all Achievements (bonus in-game goals which could be displayed in player online profiles for Xbox 360 software).

The extremely rad Astronomic Katamari achievement – which involves a player rolling up continents, then planets, then even larger space features – was impossible to access without purchasing all DLC packages. Source: iPlay Retro

Beautiful Katamari‘s implementation of DLC, however, seems to have had little impact on the game’s middling critical reception. Criticism was instead directed primarily towards an overall lack of the originality and witty writing which had characterized the series’ first two entries. Despite consistently strong visuals and a new soundtrack directed by Tetsuya Uchida, it seems that Beautiful Katamari represented another instance of Namco’s quirky series struggling to move beyond the departure of its creator.


I Love Katamari (2008)

Soundtrack (Fragment)

With Sony’s informal monopoly on the Katamari series broken following the publication of Beautiful Katamari, Namco opted to bring the Prince and King of All Cosmos to the world’s largest gaming market through a surprise launch in 2008. An experimental series entry was released for Apple iOS devices and then respectively ported to Windows and Android mobile platforms in 2010 and 2012. I Love Katamari, unfortunately, would quickly become the series’ most maligned title.

Note the u-turn button at the bottom of the screen, used to turn the Katamari around when it inevitably ends up in some tight spot due to the game’s quirky gyroscopic controls. Source: sloobro 

The game features a brief opening sequence in which players are introduced to the ever-amusing King of All Cosmos, who has lost his memories. To cure the king’s amnesia, players take on the role of the Prince as he – what else – rolls around obstacle courses seeking to acquire specified items. To roll up these specified items, the Prince must first grow the Katamari to a sufficient size by rolling over nearby objects and living things. In addition, a new mode called Exact Size Challenge is a tricky twist on the series’ typical objective of expanding the Katamari’s size; the player must resist the temptation to expand endlessly and instead grow or shrink their Katamari to a precise measurement.

In Exact Size Challenges, the player is told a measurement that the Katamari must achieve before the stage starts – he or she then has to eyeball the sphere’s size rather than rely on an on-screen counter. The player must manually end the stage when he or she believes that the desired size has been reached. Source: sloobro

Gameplay veers wildly away from the franchise’s traditional control scheme by introducing a gyroscopic input method. Players must tilt their device to move the Katamari in an in-game direction, producing even less precise movements than had been possible in the PSP’s Me and My Katamari. This imprecision, along with uncharacteristically poor performance, would cause the game to be critically panned upon its release. A patch resolved the technical issues several months after the game’s initial release, but was unable to undo the damage done to the game’s reputation. It would eventually be delisted from all platforms and is no longer accessible outside of emulation at the time of writing in May 2019.


Katamari Forever (2009)


PlayStation 3 owners disappointed by their platform’s loss of Beautiful Katamari would receive a new series entry exclusive to their preferred console a few short years later. Katamari Forever, developed by Genki and published by Namco, was released on the PlayStation 3 in Japan as Katamari Damacy Tribute on July 23, 2009 before being renamed for its September 2009 North American publication. This was the first time that a Katamari title had been developed outside of Namco.

The Hoshino family is back, so you know it’s a tribute. Source: goodcowgames

Genki, a Japanese studio founded in 1990 and focused largely on the racing genre, managed to stick the landing by introducing a few new riffs on Keita Takahashi’s now-classic formula without compromising the identity of the source material. The resulting game serves as an effective tribute to early franchise entries. All but three stages, in fact, are directly reproduced from preceding Katamari titles.

The RoboKing looks menacing, but he is actually more conscientious than the monarch upon which he’s based. Source: goodcowgames

Katamari Forever‘s most surprising twist comes in its story structure and presentation. The King of All Cosmos receives amnesia from a head injury and the Prince is tasked with restoring his memory in a manner reminiscent of I Love Katamari. Rather than simply serving as a framing device, though, recovering the King’s memory takes the form of restoring color to black and white versions of classic stages from prior titles. Reminiscences of the past also give the King a chance to spout the nonsensical dialogue for which he was known in the first couple of series entries rather than the comparatively bland writing which had become standard since Me and My Katamari.

Black and white stages fill in with color as the Prince rolls through them. This one features a rather bland gingerbread house before you tasty-fy it. Source: goodcowgames

Interspersed with Katamari Forever‘s black and white memory stages are new courses set in the present. These concern an attempt to recover the universe’s celestial bodies from an assault by the RoboKing, a mechanical King of All Cosmos doppelganger created by the Prince’s Cousins. One new stage, in which the Katamari is used to spread water around a desert and transform it into a forest, points the way forward to a meaningful evolution on the franchise’s past successes.

The game’s four filters on display. Clockwise from top left – wood grain, colored pencil, classic, and cel-shaded. Source: Engadget

Optional visual filters like wood grain and colored-pencil allow the player to modify how he or she views the world of Katamari Forever, while a handful of minor new mechanics like the ability to perform a hop are introduced for the first time. These did little to mitigate the sense among contemporary critics that the series’ newest entry represented a broader attempt by Namco to live in the past. Even the soundtrack, once again being directed by Yuu Miyake, leans heavily on remixed versions of songs from earlier Katamari titles. None of these are problems with the fundamental nature of the game – it was intended as a tribute, after all – but they had the misfortune to follow what had felt like half a decade of stagnation for the once-inventive franchise.


Katamari Amore (2011)


Katamari‘s next appearance on the iOS platform seems to have been intended as a course-correction from the messy I Love Katamari. It offers multiple control schemes and less busy stage designs, but these do not fully resolve problems with the game’s underlying structure. Katamari Amore plays into some of the platform’s worst tendencies by embracing a freemium pricing model that keeps players from experiencing most of what it has to offer.

The game’s improved performance at launch may be at least partially down to sparser environments. Source: HomeOfTheHopper

While nominally free, the basic Katamari Amore app only contains a brief time trial version of a single stage. After treating this as a demo, players have the option to purchase additional stages in packages. These stages, sadly, are often uncharacteristically sparse and render even the series’ traditionally charming Eternal Mode a bit hollow. With regard to new mechanics, players can now use gyroscope controls or a simulated touch-based version of its console cousins’ dual-stick input method. Both are superior to the shaky implementation of tilt controls in the pre-patched I Love Katamari

Cool, surprising stages like this Galaga tribute are still available as part of the game’s downloadable content. Source: sloobro

Katamari Amore would not be the series last appearance on a mobile platform, but it was among the least successful. Reviews were largely negative and reflected the critical community’s growing disappointment with the Katamari brand. After four years of availability on Apple’s App Store, Katamari Amore was delisted in 2015.


Touch My Katamari (2012)


In what was perhaps an effort to reinvigorate the franchise for a new generation of players, Bandai Namco developed and published Touch My Katamari on the PlayStation Vita as a 2012 launch title for the platform. The series’ latest core entry (as of writing) features new mechanics, a new control scheme, and new characters. Katamari had languished without any significant changes since the departure of Keita Takahashi in 2005, but the series’ debut on the Vita seems to have offered a unique opportunity for meaningful evolution.

The opening sequence, full of startling propaganda-esque imagery, sets a tone of experimentation for the first time in a long time for the Katamari franchise. Source: Handheld Players

The plot obliquely references the series’ metanarrative, as its inciting incident is a conversation by a Japanese family about whether the King of All Cosmos or their child’s principle is more awesome. The family concludes that both are equally awesome, sending the King of All Cosmos into a depressive episode. This overarching framing device intersects with humorous between-stage sequences depicting an otaku named Goro the Slacker trying to dig himself out of an unsatisfying lifestyle.

Goro the Slacker is an interesting fellow, for sure. Source: 1UP

Gameplay, meanwhile, features a handful of noteworthy changes. The Katamari is now controlled entirely through the use of a single analog stick; the Vita has a second analog stick but, ironically, it is only used to control the player’s perspective. For better or worse, this mechanical update brings the Katamari series into conformity with the broader dual-stick standard of video game input methods established during the 2000s.

That’s one flatamari. Source: Handheld Players

The Vita’s unique touch panel inputs also introduce an innovative wrinkle to the Prince’s toolset. With a swipe on the front touch screen, the player can send his or her Katamari to the right or left. By sliding his or her finger on an x or y axis using the rear touch panel, the player can respectively stretch the Katamari vertically or horizontally. A single tap then returns the sphere to its original dimensions. Manipulation of the Katarmi’s height and width allows the Prince to move it into tight spaces which would have repelled it in previous releases.

Stages can be viewed from the a first-person point of view too! Source: Handheld Players

Level design, unfortunately, does not share the game’s otherwise experimental philosophy. Stages and objectives are largely drawn from earlier series entries, though these offer briefer time constraints than in their prior appearances. The game’s visuals and soundtrack maintain the quality of its predecessors without meaningfully iterating upon them.

The art style and mechanics may have finally received a new coat of paint, but the King never stops being disappointed. Source: Handheld Players

Though Touch My Katamari‘s blemishes ensured that some long-time series fans felt that it fell short of its predecessors, reception seems to have been generally positive. The AV Club‘s John Teti even described it as something of a return to form for the series in a 2012 survey of Vita launch titles. The series would yet produce a few spinoffs, but Touch My Katamari stands out as a compelling final entry in the core series if Bandai Namco has definitively closed the book on Keita Takahashi’s cult classic.



Rigidly defining the Katamari series using a consistent visual language and mechanics means that any deviation could reasonably be called a spinoff. Bandai and Bandai Namco produced several of these experiments throughout the series’ lifetime across a variety of portable platforms. For one reason or another, none were published on home consoles.

Katamari Damacy Mobile is a shockingly faithful port, particularly when one remembers it predates modern smartphones. Source: NeXtGroup

The earliest Katamari spinoff was a piece of proprietary software released exclusively on Japanese Mitsubishi P904i cell phones. Katamari Damacy Mobile (2007) was a stripped-down version of the source material, though it is noteworthy for introducing the tilt controls which would become a default control scheme in later Katamari core series entries developed for mobile devices. Interesting, these tilt controls were actually dependent on the phone’s GestureTek EyeMobile camera rather than gyroscopic sensors. The EyeMobile’s idiosyncratic implementation of camera-based motion control led to poor precision in low-light play conditions.

Rolling With Katamari was perhaps less visually ambitious than Katamari Damacy Mobile, but was also more successful. Source: sloobro

The next spinoff, Rolling With Katamari (2008), was released for cell phones worldwide and was reasonably well-received. The game is played from an isometric perspective and sees the player navigating his or her Katamari using the phone’s number buttons to change directions and accelerate. Neither Katamari Damacy Mobile nor Rolling With Katamari are accessible at the time of writing without the use of hardware emulation.

In spite of its relatively straightforward column-puzzler gameplay, Korogashi Puzzle Katamari Damacy bore the clear aesthetic stamp of its source material. Source: Destructoid

Korogashi Puzzle Katamari Damacy was released exclusively for Japanese users of the Nintendo DSiWare digital download service in 2009. This puzzle game is based on the engine of Namco’s Pac-Attack (1993), which was itself effectively a re-skinned version of Japanese arcade game Cosmo Gang the Puzzle (1992). Gameplay is reminiscent of other column-oriented puzzle titles like Tetris (1984) and Dr. Mario (1990).

Tap My Katamari is just a simple clicker game. Source: Hardcore Gamer

Perhaps sensing that variations on the Katamari palette were becoming less inspired, Bandai Namco avoided releasing another series spinoff until Tap My Katamari in 2016. When the studio finally broke that seven year streak, and indeed a four year gap following the release of Touch My Katamari, fans were disappointed to discover that the franchise’s newest mobile spinoff was a clicker game. The player must click repeatedly on a screen to move his or her Katamari along a 2D plane, with this flow only broken by the implementation of microtransactions designed to speed up the player’s already tedious experience. This predatory game is about as far from Keita Takahashi’s original vision as it could be.

Amazing Katamari Damacy looks nice, but the issues quickly pile up. Source: Pocket Gamer

Unfortunately, the final spinoff in the Katamari franchise is similarly disheartening. Amazing Katamari Damacy, released on iOS and Android devices in 2017, is an endless runner game beset by microtransactions. The series’ basic concept maps well to this genre, as the Prince pushes a Katamari down a lushly animated endless corridor stretching into the distance while attempting to pick up items and avoid obstacles. The effective if slight central premise is sadly compromised through the inclusion of unskippable in-game advertisements and the ability to pay real-world currency to obviate a sluggish progression system. Amazing Katamari Damacy is a singularly poignant image of the mindless consumerism that Takahashi had satirized in the series’ earliest entries.


In spite of this seemingly dim outlook for the Katamari franchise’s health, there are signs of potential improvement. The latest core entry, Touch My Katamari, was the series’ most innovative title since 2005. Meanwhile, the remastered Katamari Damacy: Reroll made headlines when it debuted on the Nintendo Switch and PC in December 2018. Keita Takahashi has long since moved on to other experimental projects (including 2009’s much-lauded communal game Noby Noby Boy), but perhaps a re-release of the series’ bold debut will reconnect Bandai Namco with the sense of experimentation which fuelled Katamari’s ascent into its status as one of the medium’s most enduring cult classics.

What do you think about Katamari? Have you been a fan since the early 2000s or did you just discover it recently on the Switch? Are you a fan of Keita Takahashi’s unique approach to game design or do you think him misguided? How many things have you rolled up? Let’s discuss below.

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