Katamary Damacy, Noby Noby Boy, and Consumption

More, more, more. Both Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy are games in which consumption is the name of the game. You must get more to get bigger (or longer), which leads to getting even more and getting even bigger. While two thematically similar games directed by Keita Takahashi, they diverge quite differently on mechanics, which informs and contextualizes the ideas in slightly different ways.

In Katamari Damacy, the idea is quite straightforward and enhanced at almost every point with mechanics. You are tasked with rolling objects into the titular Katamari. The more you items you collect, the bigger your get, which allows you to consume bigger things and get bigger things. That’s the core mechanic which sustains the entire game. The idea of consumption is so blatant in the design, that there’s not much to be left to say about it on that front.

Meanwhile, Noby Noby Boy is a bit more obtuse. You play Boy, a wormlike creature that eats things so he can grow longer and stretch longer. You stretch longer to make Girl grow bigger, which serves as an overall communal gauge that all players contribute to. As Girl grows bigger, she reaches other planets that unlock for all owners of the game. It’s a strange concept and it lacks the direct connections to themes and overall aesthetic that make Katamari Damacy a more direct game.

The mechanics of controlling offer another difference into the contrasting systems of the game. In Katamari Damacy, you use both sticks to roll the Katamai around. It’s a bit of an awkward scheme, added in part by the fact that the ball is not particularly agile and becomes more unwieldy as it grows bigger. This leads to getting stuck in lots of corners and generally getting a sense that you’re not in control, which can be frustrating on some of the more challenging levels. While this awkwardness helps reinforce some of the ideas of Katamari Damacy, it makes the game a more frustrating experience.

In contrast, Noby Noby Boy makes each stick control a different end of the Boy. This can lead to a lot of goofiness in the first couple of minutes, but, with some patience, it becomes quite easy to move about and control the Boy and do what you actually intend to do. It’s only as you grown bigger and become this crazy string of a being that the unwieldy nature becomes a problem, resulting in an obstacle not of control, but simply of having part of one’s own body obstruct meaningful progress.

However, the biggest difference that sets these two games apart is its approach towards goals. Katamari Damacy has a traditional level progression structure, asking the player to reach a specific size on most levels. Many of these levels also have a time limit and this leads to a sense of pressure that can result in frustration as the player has to restart the entire level if he or she fails.

In contrast, Noby Noby Boy structures itself more like a sandbox. The player can jump to any of the levels at any point, there’s never any time limit and no specific endstate. The player simply needs to find ways to continue stretching and eating. It’s a far less stressful experience in contrast with Katamari Damacy.

While both of these games use mechanics to highlight the problems of consumerism in different ways, it’s ultimately Noby Noby Boy that proves for the more enjoyable experience. Katamari Damacy is a more holistic critique of rampant consumerism, but the unwieldy controls and the unnecessary time limits lead to frustration. In contrast, Noby Noby Boy is able to make a lot of the same critiques but through a type of play that is fun and absurd instead of frustrating and awkward.

© 2015 James Blake Ewing