For the past couple of weeks, Eli and I have been playing Tasty Planet. He likes the animation and finds it fun to gobble up everything. He makes me sing the songs. Since they don’t have words, I end up singing “Tasty, tasty planet, hey, it’s tasty planet, yeah!” Tasty Planet is a 2D version of Katamari Damacy. It’s not an unfair comparison to make: Dingo Games makes it themselves on the Tasty Planet web page. Unfortunately, comparing the two shows some of Tasty Planet’s flaws.
You know, instead of reviewing the game, I’m going to look at what Katamari Damacy does right and what Tasty Planet does wrong because, hey, occasionally I like taking a hammer to creative works and looking at the springs and gears that come sproinging out.
First, here is Katamari Damacy:
The guy you see at the bottom right hand corner of the screen is the little robotic prince, son of the King of All Cosmos. You can also see the prince near the bottom center of the screen. His back is to you because he’s busy rolling his giant katamari, which is not nearly as dirty as it sounds. See, the King smashed up the heavens, and you have to rebuild them by rolling around a sticky ball called a katamari. It’s like you’re this weird dung beetle. Anyway, anything that’s roughly half the size of the ball will adhere to it, making it larger. As it grows, you get to pick up larger and larger things. Then you give the katamari to the King, and he uses it to replace the planets and stars he destroyed. This sounds crazy, and the bizarre proclamations of the King don’t help make sense of it all, but the game’s incredibly fun and has an indescribable charm. It’s satisfying to roll your katamari ever larger, progressing from thumbtacks to pencils to balls to that cat that was chasing you earlier.
Now, Tasty Planet:
In it, you’re a bit of grey goo, a collection of tiny nanomachines that was designed to suck up dust, dirt, and bacteria and use it to make more nanomachines. You can see him in the middle of the picture above. You start out eating bacteria and progress from there, gobbling up rocks and mice and dogs and people and cars and trains and space capsules. It’s rather more disturbing than Katamari Damacy. At least when people are rolled up in a katamari I can still see them wriggling there, trapped but otherwise unharmed. When the grey goo eats people, they shriek as they’re killed and converted into more grey goo.
In both games you’re (mostly) competing against a time limit. In Katamari Damacy you have to reach a certain size before time runs out, with the goal of getting much larger than the minimum size, or you have to reach a certain size as fast as you can. In Tasty Planet you have to reach a certain size before time runs out, with bonus points for finishing faster. In both games you start small and get bigger, and larger objects can hurt you. In Katamari Damacy, large objects that are moving, like people or cars, can push you around, knocking stuff off of you. In Tasty Planet, large objects can push you around or even destroy you, making you have to re-start the level.
While Tasty Planet’s graphics are more primitive and the soundtrack far more limited than Katamari Damacy’s, that’s not the real problem. The problem is with the gameplay and design choices that Dingo Games made regarding Tasty Planet.
Let’s talk about progression. It’s the changes in your avatar’s scale that makes you want to keep playing both games. You get bigger so you can eat bigger things, especially those bigger things that were blocking your path or trying to destroy you earlier. Katamari Damacy takes this further by changing camera scale as you play. In Tasty Planet, everything around you is the same size as when you started. Only you get bigger. In many levels of Katamari Damacy, when you get big enough, the camera pulls back, making everything around you look smaller and allowing you to keep on getting bigger. In Katamari Damacy you can go from a katamari that’s the size of a tack to one the size of a city in a single level, and that’s just plain fun.
Ideally, games should maximize fun. That’s a fuzzy metric, but for these two games the fun clearly comes from gathering stuff up and getting bigger. Katamari Damacy fills its levels with plenty to roll up at many different scales. You don’t waste much time moving around without rolling things up. Sometimes there’s so much stuff to roll up that it’s overwhelming. As you get bigger, tiny items that don’t help you much go away, maximizing the joy of embiggening. The same isn’t true of Tasty Planet. At the beginning of many levels, you wander around aimlessly waiting for items to show up that are small enough to eat. At the end of levels, there aren’t enough large items for you to eat, and the small items don’t do you much good, relatively speaking. Katamari Damacy levels provide a near-steady rate of growth throughout; Tasty Planet levels start slow, speed up in the middle, and slow down again at the end.
Now that I think about it, there are two underlying differences between the games that is the cause of most of my discontent. One, Katamari Damacy has an environment, a real sense of place that Tasty Planet only occasionally has. Two, Katamari Damacy is mostly deterministic, while Tasty Planet is random.
Katamari Damacy’s environment involves exploration because some areas aren’t available until you’re big enough to get past a barrier. That adds to the fun, since there’s new stuff to discover and roll up. The environment and the changes in scale also mean you can go back to areas you had cleared of small items and grab the remaining large items. It’s great to see how different a room looks first from a mouse’s vantage point and later from a tall person’s, and to go from pickup up pencils under a table to picking up the table itself.
Tasty Planet doesn’t really have an environment. On a few levels there are dice and dominoes, or houses and trees, but mostly you get bigger by eating things that randomly wander into the area. On one level you might eat mice and rats as they run past. On another you eat small meteors, then larger ones, then astronauts, then satellites as they drift from right to left. You’re waiting for food to come to you, so you don’t have the fun of exploring and you lose player agency.
Tasty Planet’s randomness makes it hard to improve your performance. In Katamari Damacy, you can replay levels and, by getting a feel for the environment and for where stuff is, make a larger katamari in the time allotted or reach your target size faster. In Tasty Planet, a lot of your performance is determined by what items the random number generator sends your way.
Since I’ve spent all of this time griping about what Tasty Planet did wrong, let me end by saying that it’s an okay game. The graphics are fun, the sound effects are neat, and some of the levels are quite creative. It’s not going to knock your socks off, but it’s not a bad way to waste some time. Of course, the $20 you spend on Tasty Planet could be spent on Katamari Damacy instead.
I’m just sayin’.
[tags]tasty planet, katamari damacy, shareware games, reviews, videogames, weird-ass japanese games, grey goo will eat everything[/tags]