Recently I had the pleasure of playing Catherine. Although I was a little bit late to play the game due to the Xbox 360 EU release being months after the Japanese and American release. It is safe to say that I too have fallen in love with Catherine. When you look at the essentials Catherine is a puzzle game, but it is the way the designers have evolved it far beyond a simple puzzle game that makes it interesting.
The basic story of Catherine is based on Vincent, the protagonist and all round “hero” of the story, and his relationship with Katherine (not to be confused with Catherine) as well as a mystery revolving around the death of many locals in their sleep.
The game starts with Vincent being dropped in to a long line of nightmares in which he attempts to outrun his fears during his sleep. After each puzzle he arrives at a landing where others have stopped between puzzles to brace themselves for the horror that lies ahead. It is here that we can see a far more intimate version of each character in a sheep form. All these characters at first have no idea who the others are as they only have slight quirks and differences to distinguish each other. Because of this feeling of the unknown they band together and share both horror stories and techniques of survival.
At the end of each tower Vincent is confronted by a manifestation of his fears in the form of a boss that chases him up that last tower of that nights trials. Vincent awakes the next day to try to continue with his life, which from what I understand consists mainly of drinking at “The Stray Sheep”.
In the second day of the game while Vincent is drinking at “The Stray Sheep” he is confronted by the girl of his dreams, Catherine. Catherine is smart, funny, quirky and outgoing but most of all she is not Katherine. From here the game takes off based on your decisions and the way you tackle the game. Each piece of story has many different outcomes and each with their own quirky twist that really require multiple play throughs to appreciate.
The game is from the legendary games developer and publisher Atlus who are renowned for their simulation games such as the “Shin Megami Tensei” collection of games and more recently the “Persona” games. Altus are well known for their anime styled games and Catherine is a stellar example of how well it can be done. The cut scenes and game play blend so well that you rarely notice a large difference in characters or their portrayal. Each character also feels significantly different from one another with no two even having much in common.
The level design is well done and really conveys the feeling of being lost in a nightmare with dark tones and very dark atmosphere generated by the background alone. The game even goes as far to show you other sheep failing at climbing the tower which builds pressure on the player to succeed as they can see what their fate is potentially.
The cut scenes themselves are fantastic. The animation is great and there is a lot of it. Each animation integrates the morale system of the game and has a good hour or two of animation through each play-through. They flow well in to the gameplay and merge the different aspects of the story in a good fashion and a great feel. The only issue I do have with the scenes are that sometimes they can be a bit lengthy. I swear I was at the end of the game around 11 o’clock at night and after I completed the last few levels and watched the animations it was pushing 3 o’clock the next day.
The most interesting part of the dating simulator is the moral choices you make. Each little choice you make can influence your relationship with Katherine and Catherine as well as the survival of the other sheep in the nightmare realm. The choices are made through conversational choices that either have a “law” option or a “chaos” option or by sending different texts to each of your lovers to try to avoid or entice them. These choices greatly impact the ending of the game and the interactions between characters in very discrete ways. These choices also culminate in a plethora of endings (Ed: SPOILERS AHOY!!!! Skip to next parargraph if this bothers you)ranging from Vincent and Katherine’s marriage to some extremely odd endings in which Vincent ditches both the girls, takes out a loan and starts to bet on pro-wrestling.
The other key point of the game is the puzzle based mode. The majority of your play through will be spent pushing, pulling and climbing your way towards the light at the top of the nightmare tower. At first the puzzles are relatively easy to navigate and the techniques to scale the levels are pretty basic but like the tower itself these techniques start to pile on and become a dauntingly difficult.
There are mounds of different types of blocks you face throughout the game each with its own attributes and uses. The first of which is your standard block which you can push pull and climb as your heart desires. Next up is the crumbling block which is pretty self explanatory then comes the spring block, ice blocks and exploding blocks etc. Each level has at least one way to get round it but in some cases you will find yourself hard pressed to do it in one perfect run unless you’re a puzzle God genius with a mechanical brain that churns out more strategies than Micheal Bay does explosions.
Each of these levels build upon the events of whatever happened that day in the game. In most cases this seems to be relatively appropriate aside from one boss level in which you outrun a giant ass faced mess of limbs, facial features and exposed flesh that I am still trying to interpret. The boss levels are very similar to the standard tower levels in which you need to climb to the top of the tower, although each boss has his/her/its own special attack that they will use to destroy blocks, shoot you and generally try to prevent you from escaping.
Catherine does boast a variety of games modes but variety of these modes is lacking. Of course you have your standard story mode and the ability to have a new game+ style of play in which you can skip levels you have perfected. You also unlock a challenge type mode with co-op levels that are also unlocked by successful gold completions of levels. These challenge levels are just the basic tower climbing levels but with a greater high to climb and a leader board to show just how awesome you are at scaling these monstrosities (I’m even in the top 100 of the first level with my friend), although I feel that the difficulty of these levels is one of the hardest in the game as you are timed and the complexity of the level can stack ramp up very quickly.
One final notable game mode is that of the Rapunzel arcade game that can be played in the story. This mode (although buried deep within the story) is not directly linked to that save, with your progression being carried across multiple playthroughs. The gameplay of this mode is again another puzzle game but with no timer. You would assume that this would be easier than the main game but I without a doubt struggled almost every step in this mode. Each puzzle has one specific solution to them and you also have a limit on how many times you can move blocks.
I had a great time with Catherine, the games flows brilliantly and looks amazing. The only downfall if that it’s tougher than mutton. If you are a gamer with a short fuse and can be lead astray then it might not be the game for you.
8 lambs to the slaughter out of 10