Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Price: $59.99 – Buy Now!
When Catherine was first announced in Japan, many people wondered exactly what type of game it was. Considering the risqué nature that some of the first images of the game showed, people had no idea what to expect as this new game from Japan eventually was confirmed for a Western release. Most likely up until the final few weeks before release, many people were struggling with just how to classify Catherine. That my friends, is the perfect way to market a game that is an odd mixture of puzzle platforming and morality bending situations, so with a concept and gameplay like nothing ever seen before in North America, how does Catherine stand?
The story for Catherine focuses on a 32 year old computer programmer named Vincent. Vincent has been in a long term relationship with his girlfriend Katherine but hasn’t made any move to try and create a family with her or move beyond being simply boyfriend and girlfriend. That is until one strange night when Vincent has a strange and sudden nightmare where he has to climb a tower with the bottom falling out from under him.
The next day Katherine tells him that she wants have a serious relationship with Vincent and wants commitment from him. Katherine is keeping a secret from Vincent though and she soon reveals that she believes she may be pregnant with his child. That night Vincent goes to the Stray Sheep Bar with his friends and begins to drink his troubles away as he usually does every night, until a young and attractive blond woman named Catherine shows up.
As he goes to sleep again and experiences the same nightmares from the night before he wakes up having absolutely no recollection of what happened in his dream nor of the night before. That is of course, until he looks over and sees Catherine sleeping right next to him in his bed claiming that they both had a wonderful time the night before.
Thus begins the twisted tail of love, cheating, responsibility and freedom that is Catherine. Vincent must choose to either try to stay true to Katherine or fall into the chaos and fall into Catherine’s embrace. The game itself has multiple endings, eight of them in fact, which are all tied into the Law and Chaos meter that is displayed every time Vincent performs a certain choice or talks with one of the two girls. The Law and Chaos meter will determine what girl that Vincent begins to have feelings for and just how the story will end up ending. This creates a massive amount of replay value as there are at least three distinct endings among the eight which will require three separate playthroughs at the very least to enjoy.
Something that feels like an odd choice on the developers part, is the fact that the whole story of Catherine is introduced like it is a TV show being hosted on the Golden Playhouse which then has the logo in the top corner through about 80% of the game. The story is strong enough to hold up on its own without the extra Golden Playhouse bit thrown in, but doesn’t take much away from the story itself, though it could confuse some.
Another interesting thing is that although you spend the majority of your time in Catherine climbing mounds of blocks, you will also meet plenty of other sheep along the way. These sheep are other people who are trapped in the nightmares just as you are and your decisions in either talking to them or ignoring them, as well as your answers to certain questions can either cause them to be encouraged to climb more or simply lie down and die. Your fellow bar patrons all have something a little similar to these sheep in your dreams and talking to these bar goers can not only reveal more about their history, but even the secret behind the dreams themselves. All of the additional side characters, especially Vincent’s friends, Catherine and Katherine really stand out and develop over time. Extra points if you can figure out Erica’s secret.
There are two different presentations to Catherine. First off many of the cutscenes are fully animated by Studio 4C which provides extremely well drawn animation which is top notch and a highlight whenever they are displayed instead of the regular cutscenes. Vincent’s reactions can be a bit over-extended however if you are not familiar with anime reactions, such as his jaw dropping extremely low or eyes becoming pinpricks.
Outside of these anime scenes the game uses cel-shaded graphics and each of the characters has a little something to set them apart. In fact most of the side characters that show up in the dream are identified by their singular most noticeable characteristic. The Stray Sheep Bar is well designed and looks just as you would imagine a bar of that type to appear as. The climbing portions themselves can be a bit repetitive as they are usually not varied graphically but the bosses at the end of every stage are amazingly well designed.
The bosses that Vincent will face will usually always resemble what Vincent fears the most at the time, whether it be a girl in a wedding dress, a purple-heart shooting butt or even a chainsaw wielding baby. These boss encounters are the highlight of the Nightmare stages as they not only present a challenge, but also the most graphically impressive 3D characters in the game.
Catherine does something very interesting with their background music. The music that you will be hearing as you climb up the towers changes quite often and usually fits each stage’s theme perfectly. Plus whenever you manage to finish a stage there is the final piece of music which will put a smile on your face for more than simply finishing the level. The sound effects are suitable and the anime style dramatic sounds return, including gong sounding noises when something bad happens.
The voice acting is simply the best that you could ask for in the game. Troy Baker who played the role of Kanji from Persona 4 handles the voice work for Vincent while Laura Bailey who was Rise from Persona 4 acts as Catherine. Finally we have Michelle Ruff, Yukari from Persona 3, playing the more levelheaded and current girlfriend Katherine. The performances these three perform are simply amazing, but as you are listening in you will hear many familiar voices throughout the game, including those that any anime watcher will instantly recognize.
The gameplay in Catherine can be broken down simply into two parts. There is the section of the game that you spend at the Stray Sheep bar with your friends and bargoers and the nightmare stages. While you are at the bar you can spend time talking with your friends and fellow bargoers and in some cases, nightmare sufferers. You can also play a game inside of a game known as Rapunzel which is a nice little extension for those who simply can’t get enough of the nightmare stages.
At the bar you can also drink as much as you want of four different drinks and learn trivia facts about each type. There is another use for alcohol however, and that is the fact that the drunker you are, the faster you can climb up the towers in nightmare mode. You will also receive texts from your girlfriend Katherine and cheating partner Catherine where you can respond to the texts through various dialogue choices which will swing your Law and Chaos meter around depending on your selections.
Outside of the bar you have the meat and anger that makes Catherine one of the toughest games you can play if you choose to accept the challenge. The nightmare stages are rather simple at their core level. You must climb a tower that is made entirely out of blocks that can be pushed and pulled into place and climbed one at a time. While this may sound simple at first, it is anything but.
You must climb as fast as you can and as smart as you can because you can easily block yourself into a corner and not have anywhere to go, forcing you to either use a lot of undos to get back into a continualable position. Or of course, you can retry or fall to your death. Which is something that will happen quite often as the bottom of the tower falls out from underneath of you if you are not quick enough in your ascent.
Besides the normal blocks you will also come across blocks that will not always be simple to navigate. These include trap blocks which can kill you, ice blocks which will send you sliding off the edge and more to name only a few. Plus other sheep are trying to avoid death just as much as you are, meaning that they will try to hit you and knock you down the tower as well as mess up blocks you are trying to work with.
In between stages you will reach a platform that allows you to converse with other sheep and answer a question in a confessional booth that will sway your Chaos and Law meter significantly in one way or another depending on your choices. These choices then end up being uploaded to the internet where your answer will be put into a database and shown in a pie-chart among other players who answered that same question. The questions in the confessional change between each playthrough so you never know what you will be asked.
As I mentioned earlier, at the end of every stage you will encounter a boss battle. These boss battles are extremely challenging and each one throws a unique attack your way. Some of these attacks are projectile based and can knock you down the tower, while others can kill you outright. Plus if you do not climb fast enough with a boss on your tail, they can easily kill you. Of course there are items you can find occasionally to help with your climb, such as a free create a block or eliminating enemies.
To put it simply, Catherine is not a very easy game. Playing through Normal mode is extremely challenging and the amount of retries that you will end up going through can end up being ridiculous on some stages. Though I was able to complete the game a number of times, others may find the difficulty level to daunting, even on an easy difficulty setting.
As you climb and finish stages, you will be rewarded either a gold, silver or bronze trophy and if you manage to unlock a gold trophy on a stage you can actually end up skipping that entire stage the next time you play through on that difficulty level. This helps with speeding up the replay for those who don’t want to deal with the same puzzles, but still lets those who want the puzzle experience enjoy them
Catherine is a game that is unique in this day and age. If you wanted to find another game similar to it then you would be extremely hard pressed because chances are, there are none. The story is extremely well written and the number of endings that you can experience are not only enjoyable on their own, but provide continuous replayability. On one playthrough on Normal you can rake in around 12 hours of playtime alone, with subsequent playthroughs depending on your difficulty level or stages skipped due to Gold trophies.
There is an amazing experience to be had with Catherine, and though the difficulty may turn some players away, it provides perhaps the most rewarding experience you can ask for in a game. Never does the difficulty feel cheap and the characters are likable enough that you will want to keep going no matter how many times you’ve died on a stage.
I give Catherine