Pie in the Face

Pie in the Face
Katamari Absurdity

Brendan Main | 22 Sep 2009 13:02
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The strangeness of the gameplay is a fitting metaphor of the game itself. In serving up this bizarre fare with a straight face, Katamari Damacy works as perfect absurdist humor. Just as your katamaris swell with the detritus of a scavenged world, every aspect of the game overflows with itself, brimming with meaning until it comes to mean nothing at all: the strange, mash-up sensibility of its music, which sounds like a Graceland recording session gone horribly right; the otherworldliness of the setting - two parts Saint-Exupéry, one part Godzilla, shake and serve; the frenzied pace of play as you scramble to big-up yourself in the last few precious moments. Any of these elements could be appreciated in isolation. But crammed together, they take on all the elegance and grace of a pie-eating contest.

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And then there are the rhetorical flourishes of the mustachioed King of All Cosmos, which lend a certain seediness to the whole affair. His Royal Majesty oozes with Rat Pack panache, looking like he just finished headlining a lounge act on Neptune. It makes perfect sense that the King is fluent in Esperanto - if French is the language of lovers, then Esperanto is the language of clueless blowhards.

These ramshackle elements, cobbled together from pop culture's dustbin, are put forward with remarkable sincerity. In the eyes of Katamari Damacy, these odds and sods aren't just trash, but the very crust of our material world. There is no greater order and no bigger picture: Just stuff, and more stuff. The only useful classification is between things to roll up now and things to roll up later. It's easy to get cocky when the universe hangs in your hands. The meaning of life? You're it, baby!

Of course, the whole "rebuilding the cosmos" song and dance isn't just for show. You are expected to make good on your promise. And so the katamari you construct slowly come to comprise a makeshift solar system, one that's in perfect working order but for a little roughness around the edges. The game presents an alternate, if literal cosmology - one in which Ursa Major is just a big old bear and Pisces might actually be made of fish. It's all plausible enough, certainly no weirder than the moon being made of green cheese.

This reinvented universe functions as an extended work of prop comedy, with each object's cosmic worth measured in terms of pure humor. Why is a pencil more satisfying to roll up than an eraser? When you knock down an old lady, why does she still cling to her walker? And what is with those cops who stand their ground and fire useless bullets at you like something from a monster movie? One assumes the King of All Cosmos knows for certain, but he ain't telling.

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