Catherine: review

  • Format: PS3 (version reviewed), Xbox 360
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Deep Silver, Atlus
  • Developer: Atlus
  • Players: 1 – 2 (offline)
  • Site: http://www.catherinethegame.com

Originally released last year in Japan and the states, Atlus’ mad block-puzzle ‘em up has finally come to our shores. Catherine is a bit of an odd one to say the least. It’s an RPG-puzzle-platform hybrid that separates gameplay styles between night and day. Combine this with its graphical mixture of pre-rendered anime cut-scenes and cartoon-like gameplay graphics and it definitely comes across as one of the more unique releases of the year.

Players take control of Vincent, a hopeless commitment-phobe who is struggling to cope with his long-term partner Katherine, who starts talking about marriage and babies. Feeling the pressure Vincent goes to a bar and proceeds to get very drunk. He wakes up the next morning next to Catherine – a very different girl to Katherine – who then tells Vincent how much of an Adonis he was in bed. Stuck between a committed rock and a sexy hard place, Vincent confides in his friends and then starts a guilt riddled fight through everyday life.

"That's never happened before, honest!"

During waking hours, players control Vincent as he walks around the Stray Sheep, a local bar frequented by his friends. Here you can talk to your pals and other patrons, drink ‘til you’re tipsy, play an arcade machine and use your phone. Fiddling with Vincent’s mobile is one of the more interesting and original ideas in the otherwise formulaic ‘talk to people’ RPG routine. Occasionally you will get text messages from both girls to which you can reply. You string together a few brief sentences from a pool of phrases which fall either side of the moral fence before you send the composed message. A dancing morality metre then appears in the corner and adjusts itself based on your response.

It’s when Vincent leaves the bar, goes home and nods off when the core game rears its head. Every night he experiences a recurring nightmare where he appears in his pants clutching a pillow and has a pair of ram’s horns jutting from his crazy head. Players must guide Vincent through his nightmares up a shifting staircase made from blocks that slowly collapse into the void beneath. He can only climb one block at a time which means you need to push and pull them into a position to form ascending steps. It all starts off ever so simple, but things get fist chewingly hard after the first few stages.

You’ll suddenly encounter walls of blocks that seem impossible to climb, or think you’re pursuing the correct solution before you realise you were fatally wrong. It doesn’t help that the game gives you a limited stock of lives and will send you back to the title screen should you run out. This seems like a slightly backwards decision, especially when the best way to conquer levels yourself is through trial and error. Thankfully there is an easy mode for those who struggle. This showers you with a more than ample supply of lives and makes the block conundrums slightly easier. Well, easier until you get further into the game, at which stage it gets harder again. Easy and normal modes also let you rewind your last move, just in case you build yourself into a corner.

It's comforting to know that nightmare worlds can still have furnished red carpets.

Between each stage is a landing filled with anthropomorphic sheep people who are also going through the nightmare ordeal. RPG elements return in these areas which let you save and talk to the sheep-men. Most of these characters are slowly breaking down over the nightly torment, but some offer climbing and block assembly techniques that help you out. You can perform all techniques from the start of the game, but some of them are so obscure yet essential you need to be instructed how to do them. You can only shift blocks and hang off ledges during the nightmare stages, but this can lead to a surprising number of complicated manoeuvres once you grasp the basics.

Each landing also features a confessional booth that acts as a lift between stages. Upon sitting down in the booth you are taunted by a mysterious voice and posed a question with two answers that judge your morals. These are typically centred on relationships and go along the lines of “Is marriage the beginning or the end?” The morality metre keeps track of your score and the game goes online to compare your answer to how other players responded.

The final area of each nightmare has you chased up the tower by a large boss creature that represents an issue playing on Vincent’s mind, such as a giant baby screaming “Daaaaddyyyyy”. You will get smooshed should you take your time in these stages, which really isn’t helped by the relentless difficulty of the block puzzles.

Dream physics keep blocks suspended if they touch the edges of another block.

It all makes for an incredibly mad, yet utterly gripping story that is different from the usual doom and gloom narrative fodder found in other games. It might be a story focussed on a love and lust triangle, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is the chick flick equivalent of a game; it’s the survival horror aspects of the nightmare stages that shine through and they complement the plot. There are eight different endings that are influenced by your moral choices, and whilst you might not have the drive to see them all, it’s easy to replay the game with a different perspective to get a very different outcome. Local multiplayer is also unlocked after you complete the game, extending its life.

Catherine is a great puzzle platformer with RPG story telling that is equally as compelling. The plot will suck you in and make you cringe over the awkward situations that arise, but in a good way. The difficulty might be off-putting to some, but the easy mode goes a long way to address this – even if it still makes the game seem harder than cutting steel with a wedge of brie at times. It’s a refreshing experience that perfectly melds lust, sheep and block puzzles into an enjoyable and challenging game.

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Written by Anthony H

Anthony has been playing games for far too much of his life, starting with the MS-DOS classic Mario is Missing. Since then his tastes have evolved to include just about anything, but his soft spot lies with shooters and the odd strategy game. Anthony will inspire you with his prose, uplift you with his wit and lie to you in his biography.

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