More than a decade after its release, Katamari Damacy remains one of the most delightful games we’ve ever played. The PlayStation 2 game and its sequel, We Love Katamari, play host to a cavalcade of bright colors, weird characters, magical settings and some killer music. In its most reductive state, Katamari is about cute characters rolling around a big, expanding ball to collect items. What’s not to love?
But to Keita Takahashi, the creator of the franchise and the upcoming Wattam, out later this year, Katamari Damacy is a far darker tale than it appears.
“[Katamari] is about mass consumption,” Takahashi told us last week in Los Angeles, on the opening night of his new art exhibit, Never Ever Quest, a faux-RPG that’s as cheerful as it is creepy. (It’s the story of an unheroic hero who passes by several cannibalistic enemies-turned-pals on his merry way.) “Right? Because [there’s] so many stuff you have. I wanted that idea to come from that.
“So many things we have — do we need that? Do you need that?”
This might have taken us aback, since our lifelong impression of the franchise was that it was a sweet, simple, bizarre story about a prince who is ... cleaning up after tons of messy humans and constantly belittled by his father. Hm.
OK, so maybe Katamari isn’t all candy and sunshine (and trash). Takahashi said that despite this clear subtext to the story, though, he didn’t intend for players to be aware of it. That’s why the games are so funny, he said — and they are deliriously funny, thanks to some very sharp writing.
“Some are asking me, why do my games always have humor? And I thought, ‘Oh, maybe what I really wanted to say is kind of super deep and extreme, so I need a sugar coating.’”
The same is true of Wattam, his first PlayStation 4 project, which is best described as a puzzle game where making friends is the goal. That premise sounds as curious and lovely on its face as Katamari’s, but Takahashi said he was inspired by something more global.
“I was living in Japan, and after, I moved to Vancouver to join other game projects,” he said. [The main project, Breach, was ultimately canceled.] “So for me, living in Vancouver is very interesting. There are so many different people, like Chinese, Indian, African, European and of course American, too — and Canadian. They use different languages from their mother country, but they can work together using English, too.”
This fascinated him, that such diverse people could still find commonalities. Because differences — whether political, ethnic or linguistic — also seem to account for a lot of the world’s ills, Takahashi said.
“I think that differences are super great,” Takahashi continued. “That makes our life be super rich and deep. It gives us many more varieties of perspective. But also, it was a bad thing.
“So I was wondering, how can I solve this issue by making a video game?”
The answer is Wattam, the title of which is inspired by both the Japanese and Tamil words for “circle.” (One of the first people to work on the game was a native Tamil speaker.) Centering the game on building and maintaining myriad friendships is Takahashi’s way of asserting that a more diverse world is a better one.
“I don’t want to push my extreme thoughts to a player, so I’m fine even if the player doesn’t even get any sense of my thought from Wattam,” he said. “But hopefully a few people get a sense of my thought. That would be great.”
Wattam will be out sometime later this year.