Video Games are in a sad state in 2023. This has little to do with the games themselves, as it looks to be a phenomenal year if The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and We Love Katamari Royal Reroll+ Royal Reverie are any indication of what awaits gamers. The problem is that critical coverage of games continues to face several obstacles. Mass layoffs in game journalism and the shortsightedness among video game websites that profess, “With so many games… releasing every week, it makes sense to focus on the biggest and the best known” leaves little room for covering games not published by big developers. As a result, many writers whose work has been a boon for the medium now find themselves in precarious situations as freelancers.
There is another casualty: providing context—the raison d’être of the critic. Coverage and context are hastily being discarded and replaced by anti-critical writing for the sake of “efficiency”. Blogs and small, independently run websites like Uppercut!, No Escape, and Kritiqal have become go-to places for readers wanting crucial perspectives on what is increasingly the gaming world’s dominant entertainment industry.
Sadly, the quest towards “efficiency” is taking us beyond the dull mid-2000s when video games were afflicted by a drab malady. During this time, video game developers in the US preferred and dressed their games’ visual presentations in gray and brown tones to match what they considered to be “mature” content, a proxy for adolescent fantasies and pretensions. Let’s call it growing pains. Coverage at the time exalted this turn and relished the so-called decline of the Japanese-developed video game with its colorful graphics, unrealistic characters and world designs, long tutorials, and perceived frivolity. As if playfulness was a thing to deride a game for. This drabness would slowly be toppled in the early 2010s with the wider acceptance of indie games and the revival of Japanese developers in the eyes of the press, ironically ushered by the drabbest of all games, Dark Souls.
As a game critic, I wanted nothing to do with this trend toward “maturity” and almost stopped playing video games altogether. Luckily there were still some games being published that bucked the trend. Katamari Damacy published in 2004 by Namco (now Bandai-Namco), sang a different tune and looked the part. Its setting and conceit were foreign yet alluring without a hint of Orientalism. Those who spent time in its world were charmed; their expectations altered to what a video game could look and sound like. Its sequel, released a year later, We Love Katamari, continued and improved on what its predecessor brought to the gaming world.
One of the great surprises of 2023 is Bandai Namco’s release of We Love Katamari Reroll + Royal Reverie on modern platforms. This updated version of the original game is as accessible as it is attractive. Its bright art style, jubilant music, and quirky arcade gameplay remain endearing 18 years later. This beloved title stands apart. There is little out there in the gaming medium as deliriously uplifting.
Let’s Get “Rolling”
The premise of We Love Katamari, like its predecessor Katamari Damacy, is silly, ridiculous, and a bit tongue-in-cheek. Players take the role of benevolent beings: The Prince (the adorable main protagonist) or his quirky cousins. They are tasked with creating Katamaris (clumps of objects) by the hilarious and horrible The King of All Cosmos (The Prince’s father). Weird right?
We Love Katamari Reroll + Royal Reverie has great variety compared to its predecessor. Some standouts include rolling the clouds in the sky or feeding a sumo wrestler so that he is the right size to beat the competition. Its arcade-like gameplay is a mix between Namco’s other darling Pac-Man and Sega’s Super Monkey Ball. Rolling a katamari is simple. Players use the two control sticks to move, roll, and maneuver The Prince (or cousins) and the katamari to collect various things. Completing a stage is easier said than done, though, as there is often a set time limit and other restrictions.
Besides the enhanced graphics, We Love Katamari Reroll + Royal Reverie includes extra stages where The King of All Cosmos relives his traumatic childhood haunted by his demanding father. To add to this experience, the game can be played as a solo experience or with another player cooperatively or competitively.
We Love Katamari Reroll + Royal Reverie also features some awesome music. However, it isn’t as consistent and doesn’t reach the heights of the selection found in Katamari Damacy, whose soundtrack is a masterstroke. The music is eclectic and includes tracks from Japanese artists Kahimi Karie and Maki Nomiya, among others. Most tracks are catchy; after a few minutes, players will hum along as they roll. Fortunately, this release of the game provides an audio player and includes an option for selecting which tracks to listen to while playing.
Some stages are so joyous and fun that I played them several times to immerse myself in the wackiness. For example, early in the game, The King of All Cosmos orders The Prince to gather sweets for Hansel and Gretel. The setting for the stage is a small wooded area that surrounds a house constructed out of a wide assortment of confections. Its owner, a witch, flies around on her broomstick, chasing the player to stop them from collecting every part of her home. Eventually, if one collects enough sweets, she too can be absorbed into the katamari. It’s the roll of life, so to speak.
Despite the game’s bright colors, there is a deep sense of melancholia at its core. A disturbing paradox in the narrative quickly emerges: collect and roll a cornucopia of things found into a katamari and send what is collected to outer space to become one with the universe. Katamari Damacy’s and We Love Katamari’s creator and director Takahashi Keita described in 2019 that the games’ premise was inspired by our collective wastefulness. “We throw away everything without any consideration for the environment. I wanted to make a video game to show people that ordinary stuff is important to us”. We Love Katamari players get a sense of detachment from materialism and the importance of “ordinary stuff” and living things.
Who Will Save Us From the Drab?
We Love Katamari Reroll + Royal Reverie and its predecessor, Katamari Damacy, exemplify the best of interactive design. We Love Katamari is a cultural artifact encapsulating wonderful things about humanity and what we hold dear. Material objects, fauna, flora, our imagination, and even ourselves can be stars that light up the game’s universe. Yes, this is cheesy; however, We Love Katamari depicts this in earnest. It’s sincere, jubilant, and optimistic in a world that feels starved of hope.
As I played We Love Katamari Reroll + Royal Reverie , the sky outside my New York City home was red and foreboded an impending doom due to ecological catastrophe: wildfires burning in the nearby Canadian wilderness. It was difficult to breathe outside, and the fires’ miasma obstructed vision. The game became an escape and a reminder that a better world outside my window is possible.
Takahashi’s creation remains mesmerizing and appealing almost 20 years later. Now it is surprising to consider that Namco was unsure about releasing the original Katamari Damacy outside of Japan in 2004. Fortunately, a small but dedicated number of writers championed the game’s wackiness and therefore, helped, in their reviews, to promote the game. With increasing layoffs throughout the game’s press and the closure of prominent sites like Washington Post’s Launcher and Vice’s Waypoint earlier this year, games, like We Love Katamari Reroll + Royal Reverie, will probably not receive much coverage. Other games will face a similar fate.
As The King of All Cosmos declares, “The Great Cosmos… A world of mystery both tantalizing and terrifying… Not a very well publicized world, you understand, but a glamorous and influential world nevertheless”. Who will be there to write about this world?
“‘Another 7, IGN?’ Why So Many Games Score 7 and Above”. YouTube. 30 January 2023.
Minor, Jordan. “Game Journalism Layoffs: Everyone Suffers Without Expert Criticism”. PC Mag. 12 April 2023.
Webster, Andrew. “Katamari creator Keita Takahashi on why his games are both silly and serious”. The Verge. 17 December 2019.
Yin-Pool, Wesley. “Fez creator Phil Fish declares: modern Japanese games “just suck”. Eurogamer. 7 March 2012.