Catherine Review

Atlus is bold. This will probably be the first thought when you simply look at the cover art for Catherine. The team known for their work on the Persona series has moved onto the HD realm, and it’s a bigger deal then you might think. Does Atlus’ console vision shine like an everlasting love, or should you avoid it like a crazed ex? One thing is for sure…you’ve NEVER seen anything like this before.

Gameplay or not, this is one lovely picture.

As you may know, some of Catherine’s visual splendor is it’s gorgeous HD cinematics. They are of very high quality, like any A+ anime you may watch. That said, the majority of Catherine is in what we would deem a “typical” video game graphic style, and it is also very pretty to look at. The character models look great, some despite some wonky animation and a few rough textures (like the hair). For a game about climbing a tower of blocks, there is more visual variety then you would think thanks to each background containing thematic differences each level. The framerate is rock solid, but to be honest, there isn’t a ton going on to really make that a concern. There isn’t really a whole lot to say…Catherine is a pretty game, but it’s not the stuff of legends. Let just say it is beautifully basic.

This is Katherine, the long-time girlfirend. Not Catherine, the blonde-bombshell. Have fun with the names.

First things first:

This game has 8 different endings, and in-game monologue’s can change depending on the choices you make, so a bit of the story will vary for each individual player. However, most of the story is set in stone. You play as Vincent, a 32 year-old guy who hasn’t really decided on what to do with his life. He has a boring job along with a girlfriend of 5 years named Katherine. A situation appears, and Vincent starts to realize he can’t stay how he is forever. During his troubled thoughts, a sexy girl named Catherine appears as if out of no where, and they have a little spark. That night, he starts to have terrible nightmares (which serve as the gameplay), which have him and dozens of sheep climbing various block-towers. When he wakes up, he has a very naked Catherine lying right next to him. What entails from there is a very mature, very thoughtful narrative about a guy and the dangers of everyday life. I am not hesitant in saying that this may be the most mature game ever made…and it doesn’t have much violence, blood or guns! If not for a complete slap to the face towards the end of the game regarding the nightmare situation, I would give the story a maximum score. But I won’t spoil it. It’s really…left-field.

Despite what you may think, you actually control your character through the majority of the game. It isn’t just cut-scenes to puzzles every day. The most important aspect of this game is the morality system. Depending on what you do, what you say, and how you answer questions, Vincent’s meter may move towards an angel, or towards a devil (blue/red). This meter is effected in two places. The first one is a bar that Vincent frequents with his friends, and from the bar you can do a number of activities. The biggest is talking to people. By getting up and moving around the bar, you may sit and talk to other troubled patrons. It is up to you to help them. If you ignore them, even for a day, expect the worst to happen. Other activities include reading/sending texts (which can increase or decrease the morality system, depending on who you reply to), drinking a variety of alcoholic beverages (which makes you faster in the nightmare stages, as well as resulting in trivia…don’t ask), and playing an arcade game called Rapunzel, which has the same concept as the nightmare stages. There isn’t a ton to do, but the bar can be a very impactful place, if you choose it to be.

Hanging out has more relevance than you might think.

The other major part of the game are the “Nightmare” stages. These serve as the meat of the gameplay, as well as creative, addictive brilliance (and extreme frustration). In these “Nightmare” stages, Vincent must climb very tall walls of blocks. Seems simple, right? It’s not. At all. To accomplish climbing, Vincent can push or pull blocks to make a path, as well as hang on them to shimmy around if he can’t climb a block to get to the other side. He can only climb one block, two stacked together is to high for him. At first, this is all you have. It’s deceptively simple. You keep moving the blocks until you have a path to keep climbing, all the while the tower slowly falls out from underneath you. You can’t wait around to long. However, each night brings a new block. Some blocks are made of ice and you’ll slip to your death. Some blocks are bombs if you step on them they will explode, harming other blocks in the area. Some blocks can’t be moved. There is a wide variety of blocks, and with it, a wide variety of challenges and ways to think a way past them. You can pick up items that help, like creating an extra block or destroying enemies, but you are on your own for the most part. It’s really challenging, but a lot of fun. There are far to many techniques to name here, but know that there are a lot and you’ll never be short of clever ways to climb.

Keep an eye out for the spring-block…it’s really helpful.

In fact, after every level you will come to a safe-zone. Here, you can talk to other sheep to encourage (or scare) them, as well as trade different techniques that are explained via in-game video. You can also purchase items for a high amount of coins (found on random blocks). They can be helpful, but they make it difficult to achieve a gold trophy. To advance to the next stage, you must enter a confessional booth and answer some very serious, hard questions. These questions made me pause more then once, and a few even tugged on my emotions. Atlus, in my opinion, is at the forefront of player choice now. These questions are extremely heartfelt, and only those with a “mature mind” will get the most out of it. Considering these questions are what most effect your individual ending, they are difficult to choose.

Speak to these sheep every time you see them. They often have useful techniques, as well as disturbing backstories.

Speaking of difficulty, Catherine is HARD. Not always the good kind of hard, either. Most puzzle games strive for that difficulty level where you feel accomplishment after you complete a puzzle. To Catherine’s credit, many of the puzzles can feel this way. For many of the levels, it’s a fight between you and your brain. If you screw up, you can make the current climb impossible, forcing a restart at the nearest checkpoint. By thinking ahead at what blocks to put where, forcing a collapse here or stairs there, can be extremely rewarding. For the normal levels, usually frustration can be kept to a minimum. It’s still really hard, but at least you have a fair chance. The boss fights are what can make the game beyond irritating. At the end of each “Nightmare” section, you will face a boss. Your objective is still to climb to the top of the tower, but now on top of the collapsing tower and your own wit, you must contend with a vicious boss that wants nothing more then for you to fail. They have multiple powers, and each boss becomes more challenging. They can change your footing right out from underneath you, they can rain projectiles from above, all manner of things. Coming together with the already difficult gameplay, boss fights are an exercise in frustration, and rarely will you feel accomplishment after beating one…you’ll just stop raging and be glad you’re done.

This boss is not fun.

As heavy on narration as Catherine can be, I am pleased to say that the voice acting is not only solid, but actually good. You will often feel the urgency of certain situations thanks to Vincent’s voice, or the sultry, yet sinister words of Catherine. Add in a good supporting cast that includes friends and strangers alike, and you’ve got a game that will carry on with you after the credits roll. The music is also great. Instead of japanese pop, which some may have expected, it’s actually some beautiful orchestrated music. Even during the urgency of the levels, I often found myself listening to it. It may seem out of place at first, but after a few, you’ll welcome it and even find it fits the game very well.

Will you keep climbing even after you beat the game? We’ll see…

With multiple difficulty settings, a challenge mode, 8 different endings, an award system and local multiplayer (which is really fun, as it’s a climb-off between you and your friend/enemy), you might think Catherine has a fair amount of replay value. The game will take you about 10-14 hours, depending on your level of skill and if you interact with people. It’s a long game, and it is welcomed. However, to unlock many of the features the game has to offer, you must achieve a gold award on the “Nightmare” stages on normal or higher difficulty. This is extremely unfortunate, as I fear the vast majority of players will never be able to accomplish it. If you have the guts and the glory, Catherine will keep you occupied for awhile, whether it be the challenges or different endings. But again, I warn you. If you are NOT prepared to face the extreme difficulty, Catherine will be a one hit wonder.

Catherine is a work of genius. By combining addictive puzzle gameplay and a deep, involving story with the best player choice a game has ever had, Atlus has delivered something completely unique to the gaming industry. In the ever-growing popularity of player-choice, Atlus was able to take what all other games have had to offer, slap them in the face and create mature, meaningful situations about love and everyday life, not only with the player themselves, but even the side-characters, each with their own dark, depressing backgrounds that ring more true then we want them to. Despite the (sometimes) frustrating difficulty, and in it’s wake, the challenges that can only be unlocked by suffering through the difficulty, Catherine is a game that no gamer should miss. Even if you hate puzzle games, I urge you to give this game a shot. It’s unlike anything else out there, and because of this, it will become a media-defining game.

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