There's funny-funny, there's funny-weird and then there's Katamari Damacy, a psychedelic swirl of the two. Lots of games can make me chuckle for a moment; but with Katamari I laugh and laugh until I have to put down the controller to wipe my eyes. There's something about it that stays with you. I can't look at a cup of ramen noodles the same way again. And to this day, I can't hum a few bars of the main theme without smiling.
It's not that I think Katamari is the funniest game ever - that way lies madness. Humor is a gut thing, and largely indefinable. But Katamari Damacy could be the most complete attempt at humor in the history of gaming. After all, there are a lot of ways a game can be funny: Some draw their laughs from a terrific script or pitch-perfect comic delivery, while others rely on a few well-placed sight gags to get the job done. But in Katamari Damacy, the crux of the comedy lies someplace deeper - the joke is the game itself.
It begins with an unusual premise: The King of All Cosmos tasks his son, the Prince, with providing new materials to replenish a damaged cosmos - one damaged by the King himself during a royal bender. To collect those materials, the Prince must roll up anything - preferably, everything - into a giant "katamari" (or "clump") which is then vaulted heavenward. This epic task, astronomical in scale and subject, sets the tenor for the entire enterprise. As the Prince, you sally forth, armed with the purpose of Prometheus and the momentum of the Big Bang, and promptly begin rolling up ... thumbtacks.
Yes, the universe may be big, but the Prince is little. Though he thinks cosmically, he acts locally. It's through this comedy of scale that the joke plays out. Rather than treat the premise as so much fluff, Katamari is actually quite committed to taking this concept to its logical end. But since the very nature of the game is ridiculous, the act of playing becomes the execution of an elaborate and bizarre gag.
Those thumbtacks become spools of thread. Later you might snag a cat. Soon you are careening down the streets, hoarding up boxes, bicycles and schoolgirls. After scarfing down the local flora and fauna, you turn to the city itself; soon buildings and trees are ripped from the ground, airplanes snagged from the sky and ships from the sea. Eventually the whole world becomes fodder for your katamari, completing the transformation from wad of dirt to force of nature.
All this could be played up to be cataclysmic - think The Day After Tomorrow meets The Blob. But the game remains exuberant, warbling away merrily while you wreak your havoc. In Katamari Damacy, the end of the world isn't a big deal, so long as everyone's having a good time. In fact, you're told that the very sensation of being rolled up in a katamari is one of pure oneness with the universe - despite, of course, all that screaming and flailing. Maybe it takes some getting used to.