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Katamari Damacy Reroll on Switch feels like the original, for better and worse

Equal parts fresh and frustrating

Chris Plante co-founded Polygon in 2012 and is now editor-in-chief. He co-hosts The Besties, is a board member of the Frida Cinema, and created NYU’s first games journalism course.

The good news is Katamari Damacy Reroll plays like the original Katamari Damacy on PlayStation 2. That’s also sort of the bad news.

Ahead of Tokyo Game Show 2018, we had a chance to try a short demo of the remaster of the 14-year-old cult classic. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Katamari Damacy games focus collecting junk into a giant glob. In the shoes of an itty-bitty prince, you hurriedly roll a sticky ball that absorbs objects smaller than it, gradually growing the sticky trash globe in the process.

Across the game, you might collect paper clips, then candies, then lipstick tubes, then glasses, then telephones, and so on and so on, until you find yourself pilfering entire buildings and office complexes as you roll through a downtown neighborhood.

Our demo didn’t go this far into the game. Instead, it focused on what can be accumulated in a modest suburban kitchen and living space in a short amount of time. Would I have liked to roll a dozen cows into a death ball? Sure. Was I fine cleaning a dirty room with my sanitation orb? Most definitely.

After all these years, creator Keita Takahashi’s art style feels timeless. The creators of Reroll have wisely opted not to overly polish the visuals for the remaster, leaving the game’s gaudy colors and low-poly objects. Instead, Reroll finds ways to present the original design in the best light, updating the resolution and the game’s general technical performance. This is the best Katamari has looked in years, if ever.

The creators also opted not to change the controls. That’s a shame, because the unwieldy movement has not aged as gracefully as the visual design.

With Reroll controlled by a fussy twirling of the two joysticks, it sometimes feels as if you’re fighting the game to do what you want. When the original Katamari Damacy was released in 2004, irritating controls in 3D games were still relatively common. Along with the game’s timer, which forces players to complete tasks in a given number of minutes, Katamari Damacy now feels surprisingly stressful, particularly for a franchise that displays a certain relaxed, have-a-good-time attitude.

The Switch version will allow for motion controls. How much motion controls can improve the experience (if at all) will be something for us to revisit closer to the game’s release.

You could argue the tricky controls and tension-inducing stage timer aren’t merely leftovers from a previous school of game design, that they’re actually forcing you to both accept our inability to control everything so tightly, that it’s okay for us to have silly fun, even when we’re on a deadline.

That would be a very generous reading, but if any game invites that level of generosity, it’s Katamari Damacy. The franchise still lacks contemporaries. So many years later, Katamari is still a genre unto itself. During the short demo, I never quite recovered my decade-old muscle memory to master its controls. That’s fine. Eventually I’ll get the hang of the awkward movement.

In 2004, Katamari Damacy was the perfect game for endless college hang sessions. In 2018, on Switch, it’s the sort of game that will benefit from the hybrid console’s ability to let me stop and go, gradually rolling up the entire world, taking breaks whenever I get frustrated along the way.