by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & Beautiful Katamari & r & Rated Everyone; XBox 360 & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & Siamese cat with a cream-colored body and chocolaty stick-legs walks around the street like an automated toy on a track. He is surrounded by bottles of soda pop, fire extinguishers, star-shaped cookies and a row of people doing sit-ups with fast-food bags atop their bellies.
Such is the stuff of Beautiful Katamari. And it is my job to roll all of this stuff into a ball, along with anything else I find. Like making a snowball, learning a language or paying off debt, the action in the Katamari games starts small: picking up coins, dice and knickknacks with a sticky ball known as the Katamari. But as the ball of goodies grows, so does its gravity. Before long, I'm rolling over the soda pop bottles and the fire extinguishers, watching them jut out of my ball until they too are eclipsed by the sitter-uppers and the Siamese's twiddling legs.
The Katamari is controlled by two joysticks working in tandem. Coordinating them is the most challenging part of Beautiful Katamari. As the Katamari grows bigger and more distended in size, rolling it around feels like being in charge of a lopsided ball in a game of horizontal pachinko. Eventually the randomness is offset by the growing gravity of the Katamari. When it has reached critical mass, smaller objects simply disappear from the game world, and I'm left to glom on to the giant stuff: dinosaurs, theme parks, crowds and cruise ships. With my Katamari lumbering over cities and tearing up turf, Beautiful Katamari becomes the ultimate in materialist psychedelia, turning a world full of stuff into a churning globe of my own relentless acquisition.
THE GOOD: The premise of the Katamari games is utterly simple: roll up everything in the world into a ball. The way that Beautiful Katamari varies this idea is what makes it playable for hours on end. In many of the game's levels, I must create a Katamari of a certain size within a given time limit, making speed and accuracy a part of the game. Some worlds require me to roll up objects of a specific type -- Japanese things, or aquatic objects -- which takes a bit of discernment on my part. Other levels demand that I only pick up "hot" objects: I win when a certain temperature is reached -- and lose if I roll the Katamari into the cooling sea.
THE BAD: Despite its arrival on the Xbox 360, Beautiful Katamari isn't yet a fully current-generation videogame. It's not possible for me to design my own level full of sunbathing penguins and roast turkeys, save it to the 360's hard drive and force my friends to roll through it. I can't save videos of my masterful and speedy Katamariing. There are dozens of avatars -- various-colored pill-shaped people who push the Katamaris -- but they don't differ from each other in strength or speed. And despite Beautiful Katamari's boasting of 1080p-resolution graphics, the blocky objects in the game don't really require or utilize that level of detail.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Beautiful Katamari's gameplay grows from a minute concept, rolls along a multitude of predictable paths, and achieves gargantuan proportions while staying as simple as a sphere.