Ah, Katamari, our dearest chickadee, we love you. There can’t be many games that have created their own genre, and done it so definitively and eccentrically that nobody else has dared to produce a copycat. There’d be a riot if they did. People would probably picket their offices while wearing King of the Cosmos cosplay.
Unfortunately, Bandai Namco haven’t brought out a new Katamari, either. You have to go back to the PS Vita and Touch My Katamari to find the last true, non-mobile iteration. Instead, we’re reduced to remakes in the form of Katamari Damacy REROLL and now the lengthily titled We Love Katamari REROLL + Royal Reverie. It’s the classic 2005 PS2 game, buffed to a 2023 graphical sheen, and with some bespoke challenges sprinkled on top.
If you haven’t played a Katamari game before, you really, really should. Not necessarily because they are the best games on this planet – although some might argue that they are – but because they are unique across so many different axes. Let’s list them out: you won’t find anything like its music, its charm, and its gameplay. It’s the Wes Anderson of gaming: you could parody its style, but you couldn’t capture it.
Very simply, you push around a ball – the Katamari of the title – and things stick to it. Those things have to be smaller than the Katamari to adhere, so you’re avoiding the big things in the level and sticking to the small. After a while, the Katamari gets bigger, and those things you were avoiding are now fair game. You’re picking up shoes and cats, then leveling up to pick up people, before leveling up again and again to the point that you’re covered in the Taj Mahal, countries and planets.
All of this is done to a time limit and a level-specific set of rules. Perhaps you have to reach a certain size – or avoid reaching a certain size. Maybe you need to avoid picking up ballerinas, only pick up paper cranes, or try to achieve a certain heat so that you can burn an enemy. And there are collectibles to collect, layering on the replay. Presents and other sons and daughters of the Cosmos can be picked up, as they jiggle hilariously on your giant ball.
Rolling the katamari was like riding a bike. We were straight back into it, remembering all the quirks. Waggle the sticks for a speed-up charge; push in the sticks for a 180 reverse, Fox McCloud-style. Handing the pad over to our kids, however, brought back all the memories of trying to learn these moves. Because, just as it was then, We Love Katamari REROLL + Royal Reverie is unwieldy and idiosyncratic in its controls.
We Love Katamari REROLL + Royal Reverie uses tank controls – both sticks to move – which doesn’t feel immediately natural. The world bashes you about, as big items refuse to stick (yet don’t give fantastic feedback about whether they might stick), and enemies like cats and sumo wrestlers shove you around, which can feel claustrophobic and frustrating. And the camera is the worst of them all, as it can’t keep up. It cuddles the Katamari in tight spaces, when you want it to zoom out and be more expansive.
If we were being brutally honest, We Love Katamari REROLL + Royal Reverie, like other Katamari games, is a desperately awkward game to control. It plays like a PS1 era Resident Evil karting game. We couldn’t get our kids to stick to it, ironically. But persist and it delivers some of the most uniquely brilliant feelings in games.
There’s the moment where you suddenly outgrow a space that was hemming you in before. Sucking up buildings that were basically the out-of-bounds area never gets old. There’s the moment when you find a stack of small items, and you hang around at the base as they collapse onto you. There’s the final moments of the game, when you’re hoovering up planets, or hunting for brothers and sisters in every corner of each world. Ah, it’s just dandy.
The charm pushes you through all the control wonkiness anyway. We’ve got a hot take that the Katamari games talk slightly too much: even though there’s a ‘skip dialogue’ button, it still feels like the King of the Cosmos wants to smother you in dialogue rather than tiny bits of sushi or loo rolls. But there’s something about the waggling arms as you roll over a child; the boo-be-doo-be-doo music that we can recall in a heartbeat; and the multitude of brothers and sisters, all with their single defining characteristics, that make the world of Katamari so original.
Established players of We Love Katamari know this all already. Those players likely want to know what’s changed, and whether it’s for the better. Graphically, it’s exactly what we wanted: none of the shapes or characters have been changed, and it’s all about making things crisp as a bag of Walkers. There’s a fair amount of pop-in, especially on the larger-scope levels, as you are suddenly rolling onto something that wasn’t there before. But generally, this looks and sounds exactly as you remember, but without the trademark PS2 grain.
There are new challenges but we didn’t think they were up to snuff. They mostly reuse old arenas, and the rules are either throwaway or annoying. One had us avoiding ghosts to complete a level, and we could do with never playing it again. The ‘don’t do something’ levels have never been our faves. The only shining light among them is the ballerina level, which takes place in a new zoo arena, and has you avoiding ballerinas for as long as possible. It does just about enough to justify the Royal Reverie addendum.
If you’re a subset who want to play their first Katamari game, or want to play their first on the Xbox, then it’s the awkward decision between this and Katamari Damacy REROLL. We would nudge you to the first game on balance, but it’s a tough call. We Love Katamari REROLL + Royal Reverie feels bigger, not only because of the extra challenges, but because some levels double-up and offer new challenges themselves. But there’s a purity to Katamari Damacy REROLL that puts it a nose ahead. That and We Love Katamari REROLL + Royal Reverie can’t help but constantly reference Katamari Damacy, so you may as well play the thing they’re referencing.
If there was such a thing as a gaming syllabus, a list of games that you should play in the subject, then Katamari would be on it. It’s an experience like no other, cornering a genre and rolling up to become so big that no one dares challenge it.
We Love Katamari REROLL + Royal Reverie doesn’t add much more that Katamari Damacy REROLL hadn’t already added, making it the second best of the experiences on the Xbox. We didn’t care much for the new challenge levels either, so established players shouldn’t worry about missing out. But you really shouldn’t sidestep it either, as more of the same is ‘super-dooper’, as the King of the Cosmos would say, since the same is so instantly charming.