After spending lots of time with the sordid tale of Catherine
and putting down my controller to reflect on the experience, I felt
refreshed. For all of the old, tired ideas that plague our industry, it
was really nice to play something authentically different. And I mean really
different, because Catherine is in no way, shape or form like anything
you've ever played. But what's even more exciting about Catherine is
that it's one hell of a game, too, and is wildly successful in most of
what it attempts to do.
Catherine, from the minds at Atlus'
Persona Team, tells the story of a man in his early 30s named Vincent
Brooks. Vincent spends his days toiling in the tech industry and his
evenings getting blasted with his friends at a local bar. He also has a
girlfriend of several years, a nagging-but-caring woman named Katherine.
Yes, that's Katherine with a "K." Katherine has been pushing Vincent as
of late to take their relationship to the next level, prodding him to
solidify their bond. But Vincent's unsure of what he wants to do.
His decision is initially made easier when another girl unexpectedly
enters his life. This girl's name is Catherine -- that's Catherine with a
"C" -- and after a drunken night of debauchery, Vincent wakes up in his
bed to find this buxom blond bombshell naked next to him. Immediately
filled with regret, Vincent's quest is to get out of the sticky
situation he's found himself in, even if he's doubtful about his future
with Katherine and mildly curious about what a girl like Catherine would
possibly want with him. And worse yet, the situation has plagued him
with chronic sheep-filled nightmares that threaten to kill him in real
life (these nightmares make up the core puzzle gameplay of Catherine,
but more on that shortly).
Does this plot sound unusual for a video game? It no doubt is, and it's
Catherine's strongest point. Sure, the game looks really nice and has an
awesome accompanying soundtrack, but it's the fact that the game deals
with two issues in particular that gaming pretty much never broaches -- a
fear of commitment and cheating on your loved one -- that lends to its
uniqueness. But when you get into the nitty-gritty of how the game plays
and how you explore the story, you'll realize that there's a lot more
to this game than just plot. There's difficult puzzle gameplay, plenty
of conversation to partake in, choices to make, and even a morality
system to keep an eye on that gives the game inherent replay value.
In Catherine, nightmares equate to difficult block puzzles.
is separated into over a week's worth of days and nights, and Vincent
will have to get through each of them in essentially the same way. After
a series of cutscenes introduces you to the day in question, you'll
find Vincent with his pals at a bar called the Stray Sheep, ready to
down some drinks. The Stray Sheep is the game's hub of activity, where
you'll be able to pick various people's brains, and figure out just
what's going on in the real world that's contributing to Vincent's
Once you're done drinking and conversing for the evening, it's time to
bring Vincent home. When he's tucked into bed, his nightmares persist,
and Catherine's hardcore puzzle gameplay begins in earnest. Each of the
puzzles plays fairly identically to the next in premise, though the
difficulty of them increases exponentially the further you manage to get
through the game.
By rearranging a sequence of blocks, Vincent is expected to work his way
to the top of each tower he encounters. When the game starts to throw
in heavier blocks, blocks that break underneath you, blocks made of ice,
blocks that explode, and more, you'll quickly find out that Catherine
will challenge your very mettle as a gamer. Plus, each puzzle is timed,
as blocks fall from underneath the tower, forcing you ever-upward.
There are even boss battles to occasionally contend with.
Once you get through any given night's
puzzles, you'll be back in the real world, able to explore the story
once more. I felt a real eagerness as I played through the puzzles
simply because I wanted to learn more about the plot, and while I think
that the puzzles are difficult to the degree that they'll turn some
gamers off, I suspect that most players will feel a real rewarding sense
of accomplishment by getting deeper into the tale. If anything, the
game's compelling subject matter and amazing cast of characters will
have you keep trying on those pesky puzzles just to see another day.
Playing between day and night in Catherine gives the game much-needed
structure and lets you know what to expect next. While the puzzle
sequences are tense and require rapidity and thought, you can leisurely
spend your time at the Stray Sheep drinking some booze, speaking with
the patrons and your friends, and even getting your kicks with the
jukebox (that plays unlocked tracks from Catherine's amazing soundtrack)
and an arcade title called Rapunzel (which is a meta-game using the
same rules as the nightmare puzzles). Think of your time at the bar as
much needed respite from the dangers of Vincent's nightly events. Plus,
the drunker you get at the bar, the spryer Vincent will be in his
Vincent finds resisting Catherine's charms extremely difficult.
has more to offer than just its core, cyclical gameplay. Scoring gold
medals by completing puzzles quickly will unlock new, more difficult
stages to play through, and local multiplayer will be unleashed once you
beat the game in its entirety. But these are all asides to what is a
main game that itself is well worth the price of admission. Those are
simply little extras that serve as unnecessary -- but welcome -- icing
on the cake of one hell of a story-driven experience.
if it wasn’t already obvious, I loved my time with Catherine. In many
ways, I was completely blown-away by it. While I’m sure some gamers will
be turned-off by its anime-style presentation and difficult gameplay, I
implore those of you who are looking for something authentically
different and outright fun to give Catherine a go. This isn’t a game
just for puzzle fans or just for those who love anime. This is a game
that melds so much together and is so different than anything else on
the market that it’s for just about anyone who really loves games.