Catherine (2011), Playstation 3 review.
By looking at the cover a lot of people I’m sure have pasted Catherine off as being juvenile and purely shock-value. From the box-art the game looks like it is a Japanese porn game. And while the game does have some fairly minor sexual themes, the core of the game is much more.
Catherine is “a strange tale.” During the course of the game players will take control of thirty-two year old slacker, Vincent Brooks. For the past five years Vincent has been dating an old high-school friend by the name of Katherine (unlike the titular character, this one starts with a K). In many ways Katherine is the polar opposite of Vincent. Where Vincent is lazy and going nowhere, Katherine is headstrong and committed.
One day over tea Katherine brings up the idea of marriage. Baffled, Vincent tries to wave it away as nothing. But later that day, drinking with his pals at the bar you can see that it really has troubled him.
Eventually when the bar is devoid of patrons other then Vincent. As he is deep in his cups the stunning blonde beauty, Catherine (with a C), drops into his life.
The next morning Vincent wakes up in his one bedroom apartment. Sleeping next to him, is Catherine.
Night after night this continues to happen. And each morning Vincent remembers nothing of the previous nights events after he had left the bar. But every day he wakes up next to the beautiful Catherine.
Another thing that has been happening ever since Vincent has met Catherine, is he has been have terrible nightmares. But it isn’t just him, as the game progresses nearly half of the male population starts to have these recurring nightmares.
During these nightmares Vincent is turned into a sheep (although to him he is just in boxers), and forced to solve block puzzles. This is where the majority of your playtime will be spent.
The blocks exist in a 3D environment. During each level your objective is to push and pull the blocks so that you can create a path upwards to your goal.
Using the two simple commands of push and pull the player will have a number of different ways to tackle each challenge. Such as pulling out blocks to create the most basic of staircases. Doing this will work, but only as long as you pull out as many blocks at the bottom equal to the amount of spaces you want climb up. But if space has become a premium then there are plenty of other techniques to learn. Some of these you will have to learn on your own, and some them can be thought to you by fellow sheep.
The puzzles start out using only the basic white blocks. These have no special properties; you can push and pull them all day long and they’ll stay the same. But as you move up in the world you will encounter other blocks such solid blocks (cannot be moved), ice blocks (these will slide, if pushed, until they meet the edge or somethings stops them), bomb blocks (if stepped on it will start a countdown until they blowup, destroying surrounding blocks), and many more. By the end of the game puzzles could feature at least dozen or so different block types.
About every three or four levels you will encounter a boss. This usually consists of the embodiment of one of Vincent’s daytime troubles coming to haunt his dreams. Bosses have several different attacks that you will have to dodge while at the same time climb upwards. Attacks such as: throwing explosive hearts at you, or stabbing you with a stiletto (the shoe).
When the game was original released (in Japan) it was criticized for being too hard. And I would have to say that at times, this is so. But thanks to generous power-ups , and the inclusion of an easier easy mode, the game is very much playable no matter your skill level. Although there will be some puzzles that could take you several tries. And to anyone playing the game for the first time I would say that you should suck up your pride and play on easy.
The time that you spend not pushing blocks around will be spent hanging out in the bar, the Stray Sheep, with Vincent’s friends. Here you can order drinks which increase Vincent’s speed during the nightmares, talk to other people at the bar, play an arcade cabinet, or send and receive texts.
While the nighttime sequences are fun, the bar is where the majority of the plot will be uncovered. By talking with other patrons your nightmares will slowly start making sense. And by responding to texts you can change your relationships with both of the C/Katherines.
Catherine (the game) tackles a lot of issues that almost all other games would shy away from. Most of the game is focused on commitment issues. We are both viewers and participators in Vincent’s constant struggle with commitment , parenthood, and marriage. Decisions the player makes will affect what the outcome of the story is, and who Vincent chooses.
But the coolest thing that the game does storywise is the questions that it has you answer. At the end of nearly all of the levels you will be presented with a question that need answering in order to progress. These question vary from: “what is your idea of happiness,” to “would you ever cheat on you partner.” Now it isn’t the questions themselves that are cool, but when you answer them you can see what the other players answered when they first played. So make sure you play online.
I greatly enjoyed the story of Catherine but near the end it fell apart. It almost felt like what I had previously done in the story was near meaningless. And the ultimate ending felt kind of tacked.
It also would have been nice to see a little more connection between the daytime and the nighttime, because it almost felt like the two could have existed independently.
The game’s cutscenes switch between anime drawings and CG. At first I thought that I didn’t like the CG, but as the game progressed it grew on me. And now I can say that they are about equal in my mind. But be warned, these aren’t the greatest looking CG cutscenes out there, and they aren’t even the based anime inspired ones either.
Catherine does a lot of neat things. Nearly all of which are fun when they stand on their own, but it felt like a lot of the game failed to connect to the rest of the experience. And because it failed to do so, it kind of seems like the game itself failed.
But luckily the individual parts of the game are fun. And even though it had problems this is a game I will probably replay at least once more.
So while Catherine is a disappointment, it isn’t a total failure.
The story and menus are really slick, but some elements could have used better explanation.
When you look at Catherine (the game) you won’t be blown away. But it does look nice and the anime cutscenes are very well done.
Catherine has a good soundtrack and fine voice acting, but nothing too special.
The game can be hard, but after a while you will become a pro and puzzles will start to be a lot of fun.
Lasting Appeal: 8.5/10
My playthrough on Easy lasted me about eight hours, but I have a feeling if I had played on Hard or Normal it would have taken much longer. The game also has a few bonus modes, including multiplayer.
8.5 out of 10
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