Catherine (PS3)

After a long, weird journey filled with illness, confusion, and fun – I’ve finally finished Catherine, but how to describe it? Take one part sadistic puzzles, one part Japanese psychological thriller, and one part life/dating sim and mix it all together with a healthy helping of crazy anime-style graphics and tadaa – Catherine!

Where to start… where to start?

Well let’s get started by giving a brief intro to where Catherine starts. You play as Vincent, who is currently in a long-time relationship with a woman named Katherine. He doesn’t want his life to change, and is very indecisive about moving his life or relationship forward – and to make it worse, he’s just started having this nightmare that terrifies him but he just can’t quite remember. On the news that day, he hears about people being found dead in emaciated states in their beds with no known cause of death. Then this beautiful young woman shows up one night while he’s drunk, and the next morning he wakes up with her in his bed, unable to remember anything but with her assuring him that he was fantastic. And that’s where it all begins…

Night and day, day and night…..mare!

The game has two different alternating phases: Day and Night, naturally.

During the day you get brief story snippets but then the bulk of it takes place in this bar called the ‘Stray Sheep’ where you get to interact with Vincent’s friends, talk to other patrons, watch the news and even send/receive text messages – mostly from the two ‘love interests’ of the game. The text messages are partially customizable, with each line having various options you can pick and depending upon the options you pick will change the responses you get as well as the outcome of the story.

When you talk to the other patrons, they’ll tell you about their lives and problems – and you have the option to interact with them. The conversations do effect their lives, and over time they may stop showing up at the bar, they may start to open up to you, or they may even show up on the news – and it’s all up to you to decide that, although you never really know just how what you say will effect them.

During the night, however, you get to go through Vincent’s nightmares. Alongside with a bunch of sheep, vincent has to climb various towers, moving different types of blocks around to form a path for him to get to the top. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Except for one thing, there are a lot of little rules and tricks that make it quite complex. Add to that that the ground is falling beneath you, ensuring you can’t take too much time to solve it; and you get a nice sense of urgency that makes the puzzles quite fun. Further add to that that every few levels you get a ‘boss’ level where something related to what is making Vincent nervous is chasing him(one level it’s a demonic version of Katherine in a wedding dress) and you really get a nice bit of suspense that makes finishing each level truly rewarding. To make it even one step more complex, there’re all sorts of different blocks including trap blocks that will kill you if you stay on them, ones that you slide right off if you move on them, and ones that crumble under your feet. The final gameplay twist comes in the form of various items you can find that allow you to do various things, such as creating new blocks, climbing up 2 blocks at a time, give you extra retries or making all blocks normal.

In between levels during the Nightmare, you’ll get to spend some time on a landing, talking to the sheep about their problems, and learning new strategies to use for climbing the tower. I strongly recommend this, they taught me a few things I would’ve never thought up otherwise. Also, talking to them at certain stages can impact the story as well. You also, before starting each new stage, get asked a moral question and you get to see how everyone else who has played the game answered on their first playthrough on a pie chart which is kind of interesting to see.

The game is both very difficult and very forgiving – a very nice mix, which all adds up to making the game a truly enjoyable experience for any fan of puzzles. As the towers become more and more complex, you’ll find yourself getting more and more excited and frustrated at the same time trying to complete them.

As a bit of a negative – there is one level where you have to escort someone during one of the nightmares – so you have to make the puzzle work for two players in stead of one which sounds like a neat challenge, except that the AI character just isn’t smart enough and often gets in your way slowing you down enough that you lose. That was probably the most frustrating part of the entire game – luckily it’s only for one level, but it was still terrible.

My, but she’s pretty…

And no, I’m not talking just talking about Catherine herself! The characters all have very typical anime looks, but the day-pieces look just like you’re watching an anime on dvd or blu-ray. None of that awkward animation or weird cell-shading you often see in anime-inspired games, it does really look just like you’re watching it. The nightmare backgrounds are all very interesting and suitable, and the overall nightmare animations are all really impressive. From the sheep to the different looks of the blocks – especially the void blocks, to Vincent himself to the various things chasing you – they all look really cool and they definitely show off the distinct style of the game… and if you’ve ever wondered what the scariest thing in the world is, this game does answer that question too – but I won’t tell you what it is because we don’t want to spoil that, now do we?

The voice acting is all very well done, sporting such talents as Laura Baily, Troy Baker, Erin Fitzgerald and others. None of the voices really get annoying over time, and the conversations feel quite natural.

The music and sound effects are also quite well done. Most of the music during the nightmares fit very well and help to build the suspense and excitement while most of the sound effects are very suitable – and the sound of you getting smushed is particularly fitting. And trust me… that’s a sound you’ll probably become quite familiar with.

Final Thoughts

While the ‘build your own text message’ system is rather neat, it’s often hard to find just the right way to say what you want which can leave you frustrated. Also trying to figure out what the little morality gauge is actually trying to compare is a bit tricky – I only figured it out a short time before the game overtly told me during the finale. Just when you think the game is going to be over, it throws a huge twist at you and leaves you with another nice sized chunk of gameplay. The game features some nice multiplayer action after you finish the game allowing you to compete to solze puzzles – with the emphasis on compete. It lets you take advantage of each other’s creations, or even sabotage them to prevent them from going further. The multiplayer adds a nice edge of life to the game even beyond the replayability of just wanting to experience the story multiple times to see the distinctions between the various conversation and game options.

Overall

Catherine is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played all year. I had a ton of fun with the puzzles, and I found the story incredibly interesting with enough twists to really keep me guessing. I strongly encourage anyone with an interest in puzzle games and a tolerance for both anime style craziness and a somewhat scary plot to give this game a try – you might find yourself unable to resist Catherine’s charms.

 

Pros:

  1. Unique graphical style.
  2. High quality anime-style graphics
  3. Good voice acting
  4. Very interesting branching story with multiple endings
  5. Unique ‘build your own’ dialog system for text messages
  6. Forgiving, yet challenging puzzle gameplay.
  7. Multiple ways to solve each level ensuring you can bring your own style to bear.
  8. Interesting competetive game mode.
  9. Dialog seems very natural and conversations feel right.
  10. Very unique ‘boss’ stages which keep the pressure on and force you to think on your feet.
  11. Interesting moral conflict.
  12. Very interesting ending.

Cons:

  1. Moral conflict isn’t made clear enough throughout the game.
  2. Anime style graphics may turn some off.
  3. It can be hard to find the right combination of phrases to say what you want in the text message.
  4. Story is very Japanese-feeling and may not appeal to some Western audiences.
  5. Level of challenge in puzzles may deter some people – even on normal difficulty
  6. AI character is really not very smart and does really stupid things making the level you have to escort them very frustrating.

 

Review written by: Sean

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