“Where all is but dream, reasoning and arguments are of no use, truth and knowledge nothing.”–John Locke
The best way to describe Atlus’s latest puzzle game, Catherine, is to say it is not your typical game. It’s certainly different than the standard game players will find on store shelves, but it’s different in a good way. On the outside, this game may seem simple, but brave through the nightmare and you will find an interesting and unique experience awaiting you in Catherine.
What Dreams May Come
In Catherine, we follow the story of Vincent, a regular guy who’s happy with the status quo of his life and would love nothing else to leave it that way. However, his long time girlfriend, Katherine upsets that quo by beginning to pressure Vincent into marriage. Vincent grapples over the notion of marriage, commitment, and eternal bondage later that night by himself over a drink at his favorite bar. Then along comes Catherine. No, you’re not crazy and that’s not a spelling mistake. The game has two “Catherine”s. One spelled with a “K” and the other with a “C”. Despite a close association by name, similarities stop there. Where his girlfriend Katherine with a “K” is grounded, disciplined and focused on the future, Catherine with a “C” is care-free, spirited and vicarious. With Catherine’s good looks, youthful charm, and a little bit of forward flirting, it’s barely a fair fight for slightly drunk Vincent. The next morning, Vincent awakes to find Catherine still with him in his bed thus starting a long nightmare of a love triangle that carries over into Vincent’s dreams.
It is in these dreams you tackle the majority of game play that makes up Catherine. Vincent finds himself in a nightmare world similar to Dante’s inferno where he must climb blocks to get to the top. To climb, you must pull and push blocks to create steps up to the next level and must do so quickly since the floor is rapidly falling beneath you. This adds a great level of suspense and gives a well balanced tension to the game causing you to climb as high and fast as possible. The towers become progressively more challenging and cause you to find a solution from a “top-down” perspective. While at first it may be difficult to think of different strategies, the game does a good job of presenting new techniques and ideas on how to climb throughout the game. There are quite a few techniques demonstrated for you, but you don’t need to worry about memorizing all of them. Majority of the puzzles can be figured out using the basic block techniques figured out early on in the game.
While the controls feel smooth for the most part, there are a few problems that can be frustrating. The controls are a bit “twitchy” at times and it is all too easy to push a block away when instead you wanted to pull it. Luckily, it’s a forgiving game which allows you to undo a move on the lower difficulty settings. The game’s camera angle can also be troublesome and limiting. This is especially made apparent when you go behind a set of blocks and there is no way to see yourself or no where you are making moving around difficult. It’s a minor complaint though and won’t greatly interfere with your game play.
This puzzle climbing makes up the majority of the game play and while it seems like this would become repetitious and boring, the game finds ways of making each level interesting by increasing the complexity and the variety of blocks. New blocks are constantly added to levels which cause you to change strategies and rethink the rules on climbing which adds refreshing and changing game play. For instance, you have blocks that will crumble and fall apart after stepping on them so many times, or blocks that are made of ice causing you to slide until hitting a non-ice block. Boss levels also add a change of pace and variety. Still, there were times where I did feel the climbing segments did become monotonous and repetitious but these moments were usually short lived and broken up by the games cinematic presentations and interactive intermissions.
Little Lost Sheep
The second half of the game consists of these interactive intermissions with Vincent at the bar which serves as a nice break from the puzzle climbing. The best way to describe this part of the game is it’s an interactive RPG-ish socializer. You get text messages from your two Catherines and can choose to reply to these messages in a variety of ways. You also can chat with your friends as well as fellow bar members giving more character depth to both Vincent and those around him. Not only do these interactions provide more story, but how you choose to respond to people will affect the outcome of the game. There are also quite a few treasures one can find while spending time at the bar for those willing to get up and explore the quaint little pub.
And once you beat the game there are still plenty of reasons to come back to Catherine. Not only are there 8 potential endings to the game but there is a multiplayer feature that is unlocked during your initial play through of the single player. The multiplayer is local based only but gives you two modes: co-op and competitive. Also unlocked as you go through the game are additional puzzle challenges with online leader boards showing best times and highest scores.
The presentation style is unique and gives an interesting and different atmosphere to the game. Much of the game’s story is presented through a blend of 2D anime sequences as well as 3D cell shading. If you’re a fan of anime then this style of story telling will feel like a natural fit. One possible downside is the length of these sequences in between game play. They can range anywhere between 2 minutes to almost 10. While they can get long, I definitely recommend sticking through them. The voice acting is fantastic and the scenes are well written and provide plenty comical and suspenseful moments.
Overall atmosphere is spectacular as well. The use of neon lights and shadows creates a bright but edgy atmosphere in the bar. Nightmare levels are filled with torturous machines, cries of fellow trapped souls falling to their doom, and moody and creepy music creating a dark and twisted atmosphere definitely leaving the feel of living in a night terror.
Something More Than Just Sex
Despite it’s strong sexual theme, the game isn’t about sex! Make no mistake, this is a mature level game that you do not want to play in front of your kids! However, while the game is very sexually themed and there are some scenes which demonstrate this, nothing graphic is ever shown (with maybe the exception of some of the bosses) and nothing seems out of line or overly done as some games tend to do. The story goes deeper than that and becomes more about relationships, maturity, and self discovery. Combined with it’s unique presentation and game play, Catherine offers an enjoyable and different experience than most games being released.
For me Catherine is one of those games that you’ll either love it or hate it. It is a game that will take you by surprise if you let her. Surprisingly deep at times with fun and challenging puzzles with interesting atypical characters. The fact that the game is not centered around saving the world or rescuing damsel’s in another tower, but rather about an average guy with personal relationship issues trying to fight his own nightmares makes for a refreshing change as is the puzzle mechanic of the game. As mentioned before, it is a game that breaks away from standard norm and takes a risk…take a chance with Catherine and you might find plenty of reward waiting for you.
[starreview tpl=46 size=’30’]