Game Rant’s William Case reviews Catherine
There’s no better way to say it other than just being blunt: Catherine is potentially one of the most original and entertaining games to date. It’s hard to imagine how Atlus’ Persona Team came to the notion of blending puzzle-platformer with the real-life implications of adultery and relationships – but it works.
In fact, not only does Catherine work, it works so well that it makes the player put down the controller and think. An accomplishment that’s rarely realized in the style of games we see in the industry today.
Catherine is something wholly original in terms of story for most Americans and, even with ‘taboo’ etched all over the framework, Persona Team delves into the narrative with gusto. Players find themselves in the boxer shorts of Vincent, who like most 30-somethings, spends his day at work in the IT-department only to join his friends for beers at the local bar.
Vincent has a loving girlfriend too (Katherine) that has recently been pushing him towards the big ‘M’ word. While she is sweet and loving, her nudging initiate a chain of events that set Vincent down a path of misdirection and debauchery. Vincent doesn’t know what he wants and decides that the best way to cope is to get drunk. During his bender he meets Catherine – one thing leads to another and he ends up waking-up next to her in his bed the following morning.
In Catherine, the ever-present question of “What do I truly want?” is rarely shown or talked about in the real world, let alone a videogame, which is why it works so well. The fear of commitment and unease over what he did leads Vincent to the bar — The Stray Sheep — every night, where the majority of the week-long storyline will progress, and a taste of Vincent’s subconscious kicks-in.
The Stray Sheep is full of lively and amiable characters – each with stories and information that are entertaining to check-out. Here Vincent can sit down and get backstory on his two lady friends, a string of strange murders (which of course have no connection), and experiment with morality – through sets of Q&A. There’s also a playable arcade game – which will look surprisingly familiar once you call it a night.
Where Catherine’s story pulls players in, it’s midnight puzzles are what may make-or-break their experience. Once the night of drinking is done, Vincent heads home and succumbs to his inner thoughts and fears, which manifest into strange puzzles. Tackling them like a game of Q-bert on steroids, Vincent has to climb, push, pull, and hop his way from the bottom of a tower of bricks to the top – staying clear of increasingly aggressive nightmare manifestations that nip at his heels – if he wants to wake up and make it to the next morning.
Each puzzle is mostly the same – only adding layers of difficulty and intensity as players progress: exploding bricks, ice bricks, and timed bricks that fall as you put weight on them… the list goes on. Each puzzle is timed, which adds an increasing layer of intensity – and will very likely take players several tries in later stages of the game. Thankfully, if players need a little extra practice (especially early on – getting used to the mechanics), the pub game is available to help Vincent dominate his inner demons (it was important in the end!). As the storyline unfolds, the more able-bodied Vincent will become in his dreams (as a result of his increasing intoxication).
As fast-paced and challenging as the nightmares become, it’s possible that some players will find themselves just as interested in the day-time scenes – to know what happens next and dig deeper into the game’s bizarre characters. The interactions with the patrons in The Stray Sheep are a great way for players to catch thier breath – and help slow the pacing down a bit.
Players who blow through the campaign and exhaust all the optional dialogue trees will be glad to know that Catherine offers a local multiplayer mode – a multiplayer mode that will get absolutely insane in the harder difficulties. Two players face-off to get to the top of the puzzle towers first and sabotage is encouraged. After one player sabotages another, it’s even possible for the unfortunate climber to fall twenty blocks down and suddenly be trapped.
In addition, there is a medal collection system that unlocks other, more difficult puzzles – if completed in a specific time. Plus, if the music has a certain “collectible” quality to it, there’s a jukebox challenge where players can unlock the soundtrack for the game.
Catherine, successfully balances enjoyable puzzles with real-world themes rarely addressed in the industry. The combination of meaningful character drama, challenging gameplay, as well as an sharp and well-written storyline, are worth anyone’s time – well, only those with the maturity and patience to appreciate the non-traditional title. Plus, with its ever-changing morality system, the titles has plenty of replay value. Who will you choose: Catherine or Katherine?