This past generation has been particularly tough on Japanese developers. The HD era has created tremendous obstacles for them, leaving gamers with mediocre games at best. Thankfully, a few handfuls of games have appeared in the last couple years showing that there’s still plenty of innovation left in the east. Catherine, from Atlus (PS3/X360), shows that an interesting story and inventive gameplay can be just as enticing as HD games.
Vincent Brooks (Troy Baker) is somewhat lazy, content with life and girlfriend of five years, Katherine (brunette). One day he begins to have nightmares where he’s scaling a tower by moving blocks. He continues to have these nightmares while during the day he’s dealing with a new girl that appeared in his life, Catherine (blond). This new Catherine is the girl of his dreams, but his conscious haunts him as he tries to conceal his affair from Katherine. Along with making several other choice throughout the game, it comes down to either picking Katherine, or Catherine.
Catherine have essentially two game types blended together. First is the innovative block moving tower climb. Each nightmare has a few levels of these puzzles for players to navigate. The blocks have their own rules and physics system, allowing for a variety of techniques for climbing. Breaks between the stages offers players the chance to talk to other characters and learn new, helpful techniques to climb. I really enjoyed this aspect of the game. A button press could undo the previous move, allowing for mistakes to not be a detriment.
I’ve never played a puzzle game like this before. I played levels multiple times to earn gold because I enjoyed it so much. Once I was able to wrap my head around the rules and techniques for climbing, I found the entire experience incredibly enjoyable. My only complaint was during the last two levels, both of which were boss fights (basically a demon would attack and torment you as you climbed). Occasionally I would need to undo a previous move. The undo would put me in an unavoidable death situation; on a block that was already falling, on spikes that hadn’t be triggered, or right in the path of an attack. This would happen as I neared the top. As I had a perfect combo up to that point, I would need to restart the level. Very annoying. Until then, I didn’t have this much difficulty with the game. These cheap deaths caused me to put the game down several times.
Outside the puzzles it was more like a choice simulator. Vincent could make several decisions as he spoke to other characters. These choices would help others survive who were also experiencing the same nightmares, as well as pick between the girls, and affect which one of eight endings players unlocked. Knowing there were multiple endings in the game, I went in with a very specific choice in mind, Catherine. Considering I didn’t receive her ending, I was a little disappointed. I didn’t make haphazard choices, I had a goal in mind. I think this speaks poorly of the choice mechanic, considering I wasn’t punished/rewarded with my target. Fun, but a little disappointing.
Catherine is a great game that I recommend to anyone who loves puzzlers. I had a few friends play and enjoy the game based on that recommendation though they supposedly dislike Japanese games.
“It is the killer. Do not die.”