Wattam

A scene from "Wattam."

Keita Takahashi's games are preoccupied with objects. They are also very silly.

In 2004, his game " Katamari Damacy " — about a little prince charged with rolling up the earth's objects into increasingly larger balls — became a cult classic. His new game, "Wattam," is about the relationships between a large group of objects. At first I found it insufferable and infantilizing, but after tweaking an audio setting and getting further into it, my opinion mellowed and I saw it more as agreeably strange than wholly off-putting.

"Wattam" has a relatively subdued beginning: "Long, long ago, everything existed in this world. But then ... Everything was lost. And no one remembers what happened back then." These words appear on the bottom of the screen (in a small font) as pictures move from a childish image of a giant rainbow spanning a green field, to the rainbow in pieces, then a bright white, light and, ultimately, darkness.

As the darkness softens and a night sky grows visible, we see a mustachioed green block, with a tiny hat on his head, sitting on the edge of an almost-barren green surface. Positioned beneath a spotlight, the green block cries from loneliness. With the spotlight following him, he ambles over to a stone and sits on it. He's then surprised to see a smaller rock in the distance. Picking it up, the green block — who we soon learn is called the Mayor — is surprised to see the little rock come to life. The rock drops to the ground and tells the Mayor to chase it. Catching up with the rock introduces the game's hand holding mechanic — yes, the rock has a little hand, because why not?

The little rock then says it's time for the Mayor to be chased and the tables are reversed as you use the right thumbstick to select the rock and take control of its movements. When the little rock draws near to the stone on which the mayor sat, the stone, too, comes to life. Upon recovering from his astonishment, the Mayor doffs his hat to greet the stone, which causes a magical bomb to fall off his head and explode, sending him into the air trailed by green smoke. Apparently, the Mayor never knew that he had a magic bomb beneath his hat — which can be activated with the press of a button — until that moment.

Aching to get in on the action, the rocks ask the Mayor to go kaboom for them. To satisfy their wishes the Mayor must grab their hands and use his newfound ability to send everyone shooting giddily through the air. Soon after they come to rest, a smiley-face sun rises in the sky and the spotlight that shone on Mayor weeps as it says its goodbye.

The departure of the spotlight causes the Mayor and the rocks to weep. From their fallen tears arises a flower on the ground that can't wait to go kaboom. Doing so causes a small stalk to appear and so begins the bizarre chain of events that leads to the introduction of new objects and seasons: A nose turns up that wants to smell a spring scent; a tee appears that wants to eat things which will lead it to produce fruit; produce enough fruit and a giant table will appear from the sky bearing a fork, a spoon and a mouth. If you use the mouth to eat things it will produce poop, which can be flushed once the toilet shows up.

Figuring out what each object needs to feel happy and complete, thus causing a new object to appear is, on a gameplay level, what "Wattam" is about. I had little patience for it when I began because working through the relations between a tree and the kinds of fruit it can produce seemed to me like an activity better suited for young children. Although "Katamari Damacy" is silly enough, — it requires players to roll up balls of objects within a given time frame — there is a racing element to it that's more kinesthetically engaging than "Wattam's" laid-back mechanics.

"Wattam's" nursery-room atmosphere is furthered by a chorus of babyish voices that babble in the background and annoyingly exclaim whenever the Mayor uses his magic bomb. Thankfully, the voices can be turned off by adjusting a setting in the menus, a move I heartily recommend since the voices distract from the game's dynamic soundtrack. Selecting between different objects changes the types of grace notes one hears. It's interesting to observe how the soundtrack adapts itself to each object so that, for example, selecting the notebook adds a robotic melody whereas clicking on the tree adds a twangy sound. Of course, clicking on poop produces sounds of flatulence.

My early dislike of "Wattam" mellowed as the game went on, mainly because of how it leans into its weirdness. I couldn't help but be a little disarmed by the absurdity of, say, chasing around fish eggs to return them to a piece of sushi that's worried about its kids. Even so, I can't say that "Wattam" makes for anything other than a clever diversion, best for parents and young children or those besotted with cuteness. The game teeters over the line between childlike and childish.

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