Catherine, from Atlus, has been out for a while now in the US and Japan, but has only recently launched in Europe. Bearing in mind this site skipped over the release in the pre-holiday rush, (probably the reason it was delayed in Europe) we thought now might be a good time for a good Catherine review to see whether it might be worth a second look in the quieter Spring months.
Available on both PS3 and 360, Catherine is a very difficult game to describe. If you haven’t played the game yourself (there is a demo available but it doesn’t really do the game justice) you may well have seen it mentioned online, or heard friends talking about what seems to be a completely way-out concept which might have put you off. Rest assured that at its heart, Catherine is a very good puzzle game. If that was all there is to the title then it would still be worth a look. That isn’t the extent of its ambitions though, not by a long shot.
You play the part of Vincent, an average 32-year-old guy who lives alone in his apartment. Vincent goes to the bar with his buddies, meets his girlfriend for lunch most days and is worried about commitment. The hero of this game isn’t a muscle-bound space marine or a globe-trotting free running treasure hunter, something that makes it all the more interesting in my opinion. Video games as a medium have been around for a long time now, and its great to see a title that is actually about something real and makes us think and genuinely put ourselves in the role of the protagonist. Heavy Rain may did wonders for storytelling in games, but Catherine does all that with giant babies and sheep.
Oh yes, the sheep. Vincent’s otherwise normal world takes a turn for the downright bizarre one day when he is tempted into a, shall we say ‘minor temptation’ in a bar. His head is turned by a sexy carefree blonde and before we know it he is waist-high in balancing two girlfriends, called Catherine and Katherine (makes life easier I guess!) and wondering what happened to his life. That might be weird enough, but whenever Vincent falls asleep he is plagued by dreams in which he is trying to climb a tower by maneuvering blocks and avoiding other sheep trying to do the same thing. In a bizarre twist, the sheep Vincent comes into contact with are all the people that he meets in his day-to-day life, and they also see themselves as human and everyone else as sheep. Yes, this game is very Japanese at times and all the better for it, but if you prefer your “Call Of Duty” experiences to be more literal this may not be the game for you.
For those of us willing to try something new however, Catherine is a very rewarding experience. The game is essentially split into three sections with very high quality movies playing at the beginning of each section that tell Vincent’s story. These are genuinely interesting and provide a real drive to get through each section to discover what happens next in Vincent’s crazy world. A playable RPG type section plays out next, which is set each evening in Vincent’s local drinking hole, The Stray Sheep Bar. (see what they did there?) Whilst here, you can talk to your friends, send and receive text messages, learn snippets of information from other patrons and even play an arcade type version of the main puzzle game. Although fairly brief, these adventure areas provide some needed depth to the puzzle game that follows.
The main focus of the game, the eight puzzle towers are what will really put your skills to the test. As you progress you learn new techniques that will aid you in the tactical placement of blocks that you need to climb each area, whilst blocks are falling away underneath you. Climbing wearing a fetching pair of boxers, carrying a pillow and sporting horns (it’s a dream remember), each tower is generally split into two separate sections and a kind of boss level, where you need to move quickly to avoid a giant monster chasing you which represents your insecurities and sins, for example a giant girls butt highlighting your feelings of lust, or your girlfriend as a jilted bride.
Although the first four or five levels are fairly easy, by the time you reach the sixth tower progress has slowed down to the point that frustration can set in. Although perseverance certainly helps during these points, as does a desire to finish the story, at times the fairly hit and miss control system can be a barrier to enjoying your time in the dream world, as can a need to repeat sections if you die near a checkpoint. My tip for you would be to find a fairly easy section that provides plenty of extra lives and repeat a few times to build a store of retries which should reduce frustration, as without them you are forced to start from your last save.
Between levels you find yourself on a ‘landing’ where you can speak to the other sheep and answer moral questions in a confessional. Your answers, along with the texts that you send in the bar areas, contribute to a sliding moral scale, which will determine the ending you see if and when you eventually climb your way to the top of the towers.
As I said earlier, Catherine is an unusual one, but a breath of fresh air in the general glut of shooters and sports games. If you are prepared to try something new, and can deal with the frustration the game sometimes throws your way, then I would certainly recommend giving it a go. Is it worth $55/£40 though? That’s more difficult to answer as you may just as easily end up hating the game. As a budget title I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, but rest assured the production values certainly aren’t budget quality, with the movies made by a professional anime team and very good cartoony graphics and voice acting throughout. Perhaps a rental of the game would be a suggestion to try out the first couple of towers to see if it is for you, or if you do see it at a good sale price I would make sure to snap it up. 8/10 overall then, for a game that certainly wont have you counting sheep.