Review: Catherine

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I’ve played the game, I’ve sat down to write about it…and I’m still not sure what to think. Welcome to Catherine, my friends, the unique horror puzzle-platform/social interaction game that’s got me a bit perplexed. Care to help me sort out my thoughts?

Developed by Atlus, most famous for the Trauma Centre series of games, you know right off the bat that this title will be different. It definitely is. You play as Vincent, a 30 year old IT professional (yikes, a bit close to home there, eh?), who has been dating his girlfriend Katherine for many years (okay, there go the similarities). Katherine’s pressuring Vincent to propose, and he’s handling it like many would – by trying to run away from the issue. Along with his three best friends, Vincent is pretty much a nightly drinker (oops, the similarities ARE coming back). After his buds leave one night, Vincent hooks up with Catherine – that’s Catherine with a “C”, not “K”, so keep up – and the story really begins.

It’s said that any man who cheats on his girlfriend gets cursed – each man goes to sleep and finds himself in a nightmare in which he sees all the other cursed men of the world as sheep; they see Vincent as a sheep as well, which is why he’s got horns in the nightmare world. The sheep are forced to climb towers of blocks in order to survive – the blocks crash to the ground, one level at a time. If you climb to the summit of the block tower, you survive and get to continue climbing the next night (there are nine in total); if you fail, you fall to your death, in the dream and in real life.

The story wraps you in pretty quickly, doesn’t it – even from that little synopsis, eh? It’s impossible to deny the game is unique, and presents not only adult themes, but interesting, compelling ones at that. Game trailers may have you believe that the game is overly sexual, but it’s really not. For all the trailer up-skirt and boob shots, you actually find yourself starting at a boxer-clad Vincent for most of the game. I watch some TV shows and movies and start feeling a bit uncomfortable with the sex, but that didn’t happen once during Catherine.

I’ve called the game a “horror puzzle-platform/social interaction” title because of the big sequences that take place during the day; at night, you platform, simple enough. During the day, you watch long cut-scenes that give you quite a bit of exposition, and then you take control of Vincent at the bar and engage in discussions with not only your close friends, but random customers of the Stray Sheep, Vincent’s late-night hangout. You can choose to talk with everyone, or no one. Whilst chatting, you can drink a beer, sake, a cocktail, or whisky – and each time you finish a glass, you get some trivia about the beverage itself. There are a lot of extra layers to the game that you can engage in if you so choose…and if not, the game’s cool with that too. It’s refreshing.

The puzzle-platforming takes a while to get used to. Atlus had to make an easy setting for the West as Japan and Co. was having too much trouble with it. Not a good first sign. I’ll admit that I had to go to YouTube after the fourth of nine nights to actually complete the puzzles. Even then, I was ready to throw my controller at the wall. I had the most enjoyable experience during the day, finding out what was next in the story…and the platforming was just an annoying exercise I had to undertake to get there. Thinking about that though, that’s really what Vincent is facing in-game, so I can almost forgive it. Almost.

The other problem I have with the game is that the exposition-y cut-scenes are perhaps a bit too long. AND very Japanese. The dialogue is a bit hokey, and you could rewrite half the content to carry more weight and be more time-efficient. Maybe this was a problem with the game’s localisation, or maybe the translators kept it intentionally like that to match the Japanese version. Either way, I found myself making the “speed it up” motion at the end cut-scenes, even whilst being invested in the story.

Catherine is a tricky one; you’ll love it and hate it almost in the same thought. That’s a GREAT thing though; how many other games can you say that about? It’s an extremely unique experience that you owe it to yourself to at least try. Don’t be ashamed about knocking down the difficulty to easy just so you can slog through…and maybe have a laptop with YouTube in easy reach too.