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Critical Reception: Namco Bandai's Beautiful Katamari

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Beautiful Katamari, an Xbox 360 exclusive entry in the Katamari Damacy series that critics describe as "predictable and generally unaltered," yet still "quite a bit of fun
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Beautiful Katamari, an Xbox 360-exclusive entry in the Katamari Damacy series that critics describe as "predictable and generally unaltered," yet still "quite a bit of fun." Katamari Damacy's 2004 release for the PlayStation 2 took critics by surprise, and it soon became a hit among gamers in search of an original concept coupled with simple yet engaging gameplay. 2005's We Love Katamari was just as well received, thanks to its self-aware sense of humor and variety in gameplay that kept the concept fresh throughout. The series faltered with the release of Me and My Katamari for the PlayStation Portable, however, with critics citing awkward controls as being further detrimental to a largely rehashed experience. The latest entry in the series, Beautiful Katamari, appears to suffer similarly, with critics averaging a score of 75 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. Game Informer's Andrew Reiner rates Beautiful Katamari at 7.25 out of 10. "The King of All Cosmos has once again found a way to destroy the universe," he begins. "This time, he does it during a friendly game of tennis. With his competitive spirit getting the best of him, he lets loose a mighty power serve that tears a hole in the fabric of the universe." "As amusing as this premise is," Reiner continues, "it pains me to say that this series’ wild originality and surreal charm have also been sucked into this black hole." Reiner explains that Katamari Damacy's trademark growth-based gameplay progression falters here, thanks to level design that doesn't support what can quickly become a repetitive concept. "Its environments are ordinary and lifeless, and don’t showcase the colorful variety exhibited in games past," he critiques. "I did enjoy being challenged to only roll up items that generate heat (cold ones lower you overall temperature), but most of the objectives center around aimless rolling." Additionally: "This installment is also void of the wacky human-based story, and the King of All Cosmos seems to be bored and doesn’t have the witty one-liners you know him for." Reiner finds high points in Beautiful Katamari's multiplayer modes, but warns that anyone expecting a traditionally strong single-player experience should lower their expectations. "The game’s title screams of beauty, but in truth, with the single player experience not being up to spec, this is the ugly duckling of the Katamari series," he notes in conclusion. "It just doesn’t have that wow factor going for it like the previous entries did. It’s a decent game, but fans have seen far better." Alex Navarro at GameSpot also notes Beautiful Katamari's lack of wow factor in his review, scored at 7.5 out of 10. "Something about Beautiful Katamari feels a little bit...off. Not in a 'this game is bad' kind of way, but more of a 'haven't we done all this before?' kind of way," he says. "Still, there's plenty of good-natured silliness and clump-making fun to be had in Beautiful Katamari, even if it is all too familiar." Navarro admits that Beautiful Katamari has its own unique moments to boast over previous entries, but explains that the gameplay mechanic wears thin quickly. "Beautiful Katamari really is just an exercise in the same formula that the series has been relying on since its inception," he emphasizes. "You get a few gimmicky stages, like the one where you have to roll up nothing but hot things to get the katamari's temperature to 10,000 degrees, and the peculiar final stage certainly offers something of an interesting twist; but otherwise, it's the exact same formula as the previous games." "Still," he continues, "as predictable and generally unaltered as Beautiful Katamari is, it's quite a bit of fun. Rolling up katamaris is as inexplicably addictive and amusing as it ever was, and though you go into the game knowing the King of All Cosmos is going to deliver a bunch of peculiar one-liners, you'll still chuckle at some of his delivered absurdities." Navarro argues that the Katamari Damacy formula still has its charm, if only by virtue of it being like nothing else on the market. "Some players will undoubtedly be disappointed by Beautiful Katamari's lack of forward progress," he warns. "But even for all its sidestepping, Beautiful Katamari is undeniably charming and remains entertaining. It's familiar yet still feels fresh and fun, primarily because there just isn't much else out there like this game." 1UP.com's Greg Ford acknowledges that Beautiful Katamari faces tougher criticism and higher expectations than its predecessors. "Beautiful Katamari seemed to be rolling uphill ever since its first showing," he writes in his 7-out-of-10 review. "It's the latest in a series that at one time could do no wrong, but now has become something of a gaming-industry whipping boy, both for failing to innovate [...] and a poor choice of direction." Ford cites many of the same problems noted in other reviews, but feels that Beautiful Katamari pushes forward in a few key areas, such as multiplayer. "The big addition to this Xbox 360-exclusive title is online versus play," he notes. "Here you jump in a match with three others and compete to nab the most of a certain item in the given time. The big change-up from single-player action is the addition of a lock-on button that allows you to target opponents before dashing into them, knocking items off for the taking." However: "This mode offers nothing more than forgettable fun," Ford says, "at best delivering a temporary distraction from the game proper." Ford also notices that Beautiful Katamari is much more difficult than its predecessors -- a choice that could be a turnoff for series fans. "Some stages may take upward of a dozen tries to conquer, and seemingly for no good reason if you were nabbing objects at a solid pace throughout," he writes. "It's an odd design choice, and one that puts the series' easy accessibility in jeopardy." "All that said, Beautiful Katamari is still a fun game that offers an experience you won't find anywhere else," Ford concludes, adding advice for its developers: "Going forward, the Katamari series needs to see more of a WarioWare development trend (each game adding a significant gameplay element, be it motion control or touch-screen implementation) to keep the things fresh, lest it fall into a more Dynasty Warriors-esque route of simply rehashing the same enjoyable but stale experience." Despite an overall air of disappointment, critics seem hesitant to pan Beautiful Katamari outright. The title apparently contains few flaws that didn't already exist in previous entries in the series, and anyone who hasn't tired of the Katamari formula yet will likely extract a decent amount of fun from Beautiful Katamari. Anyone expecting large amounts of innovation or more imaginative level design, however, should exercise caution in making a purchase.

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