Review: Catherine


The wait is finally over and Catherine has arrived in North America by the hand of Atlus. Like most games published by Atlus (Demons Souls, Shin Megami Tensei), Catherine is a niche title that features a truly outside-the-box design… interested in knowing more? Read on and learn more about one of my favorite titles this year.

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First off I’ll say this: “If you want a game that focuses on its plot but also features extremely awesome gameplay, Catherine is a title you should own.”

The plot focuses on a young man named Vincent. He’s in a relationship with Katherine, but after a common late night out at the Stray Sheep bar he wakes up beside a mysterious and unbelievably sexy blonde named Catherine. Simultaneously, media outlets are talking of strange incidents with young males dying in Vincent’s town, possibly at the hands of a witch. As you follow Vincent’s story, you’ll learn more about his life and the people he interacts with and you might even learn some new things about yourself.

Catherine features eight plot endings that can be changed through a variety of ways including what you say to people through in-game text messaging conversation system. Also affecting the end outcome is your answers to some serious life-related questions you’ll encounter in the nightmare worlds. There are three central plots of course – good, bad, and neutral… but there’s a different level to each of those central points as well. If you save at the right time you could actually access all game endings in as little as three runs through but it’s a game worth spending the time to play.

Once Vincent goes to sleep after his nights at the bar he’ll find himself in a nightmarish world where he is surrounded by …sheep? You quickly learn that every sheep is actually a human male, but you can only see yourself as human and everyone else is merely a sheep. Talking to these sheep can teach you new techniques to use in the puzzles and they’ll clue you into small pieces of the story. Keep note of appearances and talk to these people at the Stray Sheep bar during the early evening too – you’ll learn even more details that way.

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Onto the actual game which features very intricate block tower puzzles. Some may dismiss it as a simple Q-Bert clone, but that’s not the case whatsoever. Block puzzles begin semi-easy but the difficulty ramps up quite quickly. Besides the increasing difficulty in the towers the environments really change up and keep the originality flowing and you’ll encounter new features that can both help and hurt you. You can push and pull on blocks to move them and you can move one of a whole row of blocks in a single move. As long as edges are touching, they’ll stay in place. You don’t have all the time in the world though because the tower is slowly falling apart beginning at the bottom. As you progress in the game you’ll see more of your fellow sheep in the puzzle, but they’re trying to survive too so they can and will push you off if they get the chance. You can try to push them off first, or just block them from getting in your way. If you ever make a mistake you can undo your move, but this is a limited feature that changes on difficulty level.

You can collect items during the puzzles or using a mini-arcade unit called ‘Rapunzel’ which is basically a practice version for the main puzzles. You can only have one item at a time and just like the old school Castlevania titles, picking up a new item replaces the currently equipped item.  Each level has a pillowcase that gives you a retry, but luckily it’s a freebie and doesn’t count as your equipped item. Various items can be found in each tower and some are more helpful than others depending on your situation. Some can help to create new blocks while others can help to jump up multiple blocks in a single bound. It’s up to you to decide what’s best. Keep in mind that you also get a choice of two items in the section between levels as there’s a shopkeeper sort of sheep.

There are eight nights of puzzles but you’ll encounter various puzzles per night so you’ll find over twenty puzzles to play through. In addition to that you’ll encounter boss levels where giant twisted creatures that you couldn’t even dream up will be chasing you. Each boss has a unique power to make your life harder and admittedly there are a few bosses that can begin to frustrate you. However, a few of the bosses in Catherine are seriously awesome and they’re simply cool to experience.

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Once you complete the game you can access co-op and competitive multiplayer modes as well. While it doesn’t feel tacked on, it does come in as sort of an afterthought because you might need a break after the minimum 12 hour campaign. Still it’s great to have the options and the multiplayer works surprisingly well in the game considering it had a heavy single player focus in development.

Back in the Stray Sheep bar you’re limited to talking and drinking alcohol – but you can drink to earn up to 3X multiplier that makes you move faster in the nightmares. That’s right – Catherine encourages you to drink! Yay! You can send text messages at any time on your cell, and as long as you’re moving around and talking to bar patrons and your friends time will pass and you’ll receive new messages. You can change the texts using a limited amount of options and as mentioned early this can affect the story. The Rapunzel arcade machine is located here as well – remember to check that out for more block-climbing goodness.

Presentation is a huge reason I loved Catherine so much as well. It is very risqué and seductive in both its themes and general design. The game’s anime was created by STUDIO4°C who’s worked on previous games such as Ace Combat 4: Shattered Skies.  Everything looks nothing short of fantastic and the game is jaw-dropping gorgeous in every aspect. At times the art makes it seem like a fun-filled time, but at other times it because a dark and creepy survival horror type game that keep you on edge.

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While the artwork is great, it does have a co-conspirator that makes the game even better – its soundtrack. Gamers who pre-ordered Catherine were lucky enough to receive an 11-track CD and art book – TREASURE IT, PEOPLE! Catherine has a wonderful soundtrack with so many memorable pieces of music. Each style of level has its own theme and some are truly fantastic. My personal favorite is the track playing in the ice block puzzles as I just couldn’t get it out of my head. Tunes in the bar and during every other sequence in the game fit the theme very well and it really does add to the experience.

Catherine isn’t the perfect title and the excessive [at times] difficulty could seriously damper some peoples’ enjoyment unless they view it as a fun challenge. By the end of the game you’re rather anxious to learn how things will wrap up, but it’s quite fun for the most part. Its artwork and soundtrack make an unbeatable combo that reinforces a game that’s already filled with high-quality content. If you enjoy puzzle games or simply plot-heavy titles then Catherine is definitely a title you should add to your collection.

Tons of puzzles with so many differences to keep it fresh Fun bosses but slightly frustrating at times. So many options for intriguing conversations at the bar and over your cell - hours upon hours of content to explore.
Studio 4°C has outdone themselves and every aspect of Catherine is jaw-dropping. High quality anime in various styles to fit a multitude of themes.
Dynamic soundtracks work well when the music fits the game - and it exceeds with Catherines' soundtrack. Memorable, creepy, sad, happy - there's music for everything in this experience.
9.5Final Score


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