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Catherine Review

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On 01/07/2012 at 03:39 PM by Chessa DiMola

Difficult block puzzles may now be my worst nightmare as well.

For those who enjoy challenging puzzle games or unique game premises.

It’s not often that the gaming world is delivered a title with such depth, difficulty, and intrigue as Catherine.  Its dual gameplay elements blend aspects of the Persona series with extremely challenging puzzles alongside subject matter that has never truly been explored by a game before. While it suffers from its fair share of problems and squanders some of its own potential, the difficult gameplay will leave players with a sense of considerable satisfaction and the twisted story will keep them guessing.

Catherine takes players through a tale that centers on the journey one must take when they come to a crossroad in life. In this case, the protagonist, Vincent, is fighting an internal battle as he struggles with the proposition of marrying his long-time girlfriend Katherine – a levelheaded career-oriented woman – who informs him that she may be pregnant. That night, as Vincent tries to digest the shocking information he meets a young woman at his favorite bar, The Stray Sheep. However, he does not remember this meeting until the next morning when he wakes up next to the perky carefree (half-naked) blonde, Catherine.

Each night after Vincent’s initial apparent act of infidelity, he begins to be haunted by horrible nightmarish dreams, which he is unable to remember upon waking. In addition to the terrible dreams, during the day time Vincent must handle the pressure from Katherine to settle down, the confused mornings in which Catherine appears in his bed (he cannot remember their supposed intimate nightly affairs), and the strange string of deaths plaguing men in the area.

The main overlying theme of Catherine that is present in every aspect of the title is choice. Every choice players make, whether in the real world or dream world, will directly impact their outcome; and with eight potential endings to acquire, that’s a fair amount of possibility.

These choices come from questions posed to Vincent throughout his tale, responses to text messages received from Catherine and Katherine, as well as his willingness to answer phone calls from either woman. Each response or selection is worth points that affect an on-screen meter that is split into two sections: one side is for his mistress Catherine and the other for Katherine, his long term girlfriend. Depending on the choices a player makes, the arrow will shift as will portions of the story.

Of the eight possible endings, I earned the second best good ending, and my journey was disappointingly dull. The story itself progresses far too slowly, leaving players to endure several hours worth of ambiguous cutscenes and repetitive situations before truly getting clued in to what is really going on. To make matters worse, Vincent is a horribly uninteresting main character, and his whiny demeanor becomes a bit intolerable after several hours. Had his character evolved a bit more appropriately depending on which path the player led him down, the story would have been far more intriguing. However, as it stands, despite my personal in-game choices, Vincent remained quite one dimensional.

What does lend much credibility to Catherine's story is its unconventional subject matter. Games rarely cover topics that tie strongly to real world struggles, but Catherine is loaded with such content. Vincent is struggling with infidelity, a potential accidental pregnancy, and the weight of settling down with a long term partner. Combine all three together and our protagonist has an unbelievable burden to bear. Unfortunately, Vincent's tale mostly idles as the game progresses, moving at an incredibly slow pace. Once things do start to pick up, it takes a bizarre twist that destroys all of the credibility it built along the way.

What's more frustrating is that Atlus squandered the potential of the social segments by limiting players to the Stray Sheep Bar. This was a key opportunity to evolve some of the other characters in the game and gain a deeper understanding of Vincent's dynamic with Katherine. As it stands, very little is explored and the story is pushed along only by cutscenes littered throughout the game, providing for a somewhat shallow experience.

Whether it was the story taking far too long to get to the point, the bland protagonist, or my path through the game, I found the story not nearly rewarding enough for the frequently frustrating gameplay I had to endure.

For the most part, when I first play a video game I select the normal difficulty setting, which most games – including Catherine - describe as a good challenge level for veteran gamers. Considering I’ve been playing video games for over twenty years at this point, I’d say that I qualify as a veteran. However, the very first level proved that Atlus and I apparently have a very different idea of what type of challenge normal difficulty should present.

First, let’s summarize the gameplay, which is really quite simple. During these dreams that Vincent is unable to remember upon waking, he is transformed into a sheep and is forced to climb a mountain of blocks in order to reach a door. In order to climb the mountain, Vincent has to push and pull blocks in such a way that he makes a pathway for himself. While this sounds easy enough in theory, it is anything but in execution.

Initially, the mountains are comprised of nothing more than standard blocks, some of which can be moved around and others that cannot. At first, I questioned why the task was so hard, as I moved blocks in and out to create a winding pathway to a higher ledge. Upon reaching said ledge, I realized that I had left myself with no landing platform to push/pull new blocks onto, leaving me with no option but to start over. The requirements of precision and perfection are what make the puzzles in Catherine so difficult and quite ruthless at times. Not only must a player constantly be aware of their progress upward, but they must also keep an eye on their backwards path. Thankfully, if players make a mistake they can undo several of their moves in order to try a different strategy… something I didn’t realize (and the game failed to reiterate) until I was well into the game.

To complicate matters further, as players progress farther, obstacles are gradually added that will force them to change up their strategy. These include other sheep that will knock Vincent backward (potentially messing up a player’s entire path), and blocks that can instantly kill, create an explosion, and crumble after several uses. Sometimes the key to success doesn’t even come in the form of creating a path, but pushing out key blocks to bring levels of the mountain crashing down.

While the complicated assortment of treacherous obstacles and forming complicated winding paths creates enough of a challenge all on its own, the time limit is what really ties all of these elements together.

So, as you’re scratching your head trying to figure out how to get past a particularly challenging section of a level, the ground is kindly falling one section at a time beneath Vincent. Although I must admit to muffling my screams and outraged profanity on a consistent basis due to this particular element, the intensity it added to the gameplay was quite fantastic. Had Catherine not been so kind to include checkpoints throughout a level, I might not be so fond of the time mechanic. While there were several instances where checkpoints were obnoxiously far apart, most often I was able to pick-up at a reasonable point on a mountain, making battling the timer a fun, panic inducing experience.

To make tackling the ever increasingly difficult mountains a bit easier for players, each of Vincent’s nightmares are split into a set of levels, which include a boss battle, and – most importantly – a resting section. On these resting platforms players have the option to save, purchase power-ups (kill all the sheep, create a block, etc), and socialize with other sheep. While many of these sheep will merely ramble on, many of them will offer block moving tactics to Vincent.

Unfortunately, there is one main problem with many of the techniques: they’re learned AFTER you have already needed to use them. So, either players will stare at the screen thinking, “Well that would have been helpful ten minutes ago,” or they’ll probably have already figured it out based on necessity. While this tends to be frustrating early on, getting through a level without knowing the technique isn’t so bad initially. However, as the levels progress and enemies and deathtraps get in the player’s way, knowing the right techniques at the proper time could save plenty of needless aggravation.

While I personally found the story to be less than spectacular and the puzzles to be rage inducing at times, I can still walk away from Catherine saying it’s a good game. Despite playing on a difficulty more suitable for a second playthrough and feeling helpless at times, it was an incredibly rewarding experience.

Catherine was most certainly not my favorite game, and I highly doubt I’ll ever go through the Coliseum (an area to solve block puzzles) or go back through to see all of the different endings; after all, that’s what YouTube is for. No, I can confidently say that one playthrough with Catherine was enough for me and honestly I don’t think the high blood pressure is good for me. However, for everyone who has not played Catherine, despite its shortcomings, it is a title worthy of nearly everyone’s time. Here are my personal suggestions: play it on easy, don’t forget there’s an Undo option, and definitely, definitely go with Catherine.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Matt McLennan Staff Alumnus

01/07/2012 at 08:50 PM

Great review Chessa, one of the best I've seen on the game.

Honestly, my favorite part of the game were the Golden Theater chick. It had a real 70s vibe to it, introducing the game like a movie.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/07/2012 at 09:16 PM

Catherine was one of my favorite games of 2011. I think the story went into some very deep and real places, even if it careens into serious anime territory at the zero hour. I'm curious--as a woman, what did you think about the issues that Vincent was dealing with? I feel like the story is a very male one. Not the normal hero fantasies seen in most every game, but specifically the way the new generation of 30-something males deal with growing up, monogamy, and responsibility.

For my part, there were elements of Vincent that I could really relate to. Not the infidelity, but his need to man up and take control of his life at last. It was a powerful game for me that has really stuck with me.

Chessa DiMola Assistant Director

01/08/2012 at 10:52 PM

Usually I don't think that I analyze or feel a certain way about a game based on my gender, however I'd be lying if I said I don't think being female impacted my perception and overall judgment of the story.

Since the topics at hand are familiar territory for my age group as well, it was intially intriguing to see the topics presented bluntly. Two things bothered me though: the women were never really explored, leaving them both to seem like two extreme female stereotypes, and Vincent's character only evolved at the very end...after some really odd events. 

Indecisivness is a trait that irks me in my personal life, as is being unable to grow up and enter the world of adulthood, so Vincent couldn't have been more unnappealing as an individual to me. Every problem or crossroad that he encountered was a catastrophic situation, and the dramatization of everything was ridiculous.

On top of Vincent sweating and going into cardiac arrest every time he merely saw one of the Catherines, the women were also completely one dimensional. Catherine was apparently nothing more than a brain dead blonde bimbo with great T and A, and Katherine was the uptight bitch who wanted to lead around a man by a spiked collar. 

To me, none of the characters were properly explored, and the issue itself was greatly exxagerated. Because of this, it felt like the game squandered any potential it could have had at seriously discussing and effectively illustrating a very delicate and common issue that many people struggle with.

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

01/07/2012 at 09:59 PM

One game I still really want to try, despite its difficulty (I tend to get frustrated somewhat easy). I really dig off beat titles like this. To echo what Matt said, one of the best reviews I read on this game.

Kathrine Theidy Staff Alumnus

01/08/2012 at 08:08 PM

The gameplay of this game seems unbefitting of its premise and story.

Chessa DiMola Assistant Director

01/08/2012 at 10:56 PM

They actually tie together pretty nicely; in a metaphorical sense anyway. As I interpreted it, climbing the block mountain is purely symbolic of the real world struggle to work out a solution to a problem. In Vincent's case, his situation became increasingly more complicated and in turn, so did the puzzles. 

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

01/09/2012 at 11:27 AM

Two things bothered me though: the women were never really explored, leaving them both to seem like two extreme female stereotypes, and Vincent's character only evolved at the very end...after some really odd events...

While I really love this game and played the crap out of it, I 100% agree with this as a serious problem.  I never felt Kathrine had any redeeming quality, and Cathrine while obviously the crazy hot one, had nothing else to her, just like you said.  One came off as manipulative to the point of seeming evil. the other was just a pile of sex with hair.  I'd rather have ended up with the waitress.  She at least seemed most like an actual person. Well, that and I like redheads.

Also I thought the crazy twist you referenced was actually pretty cool, at it didn't quite come from out of left field to me, but I'm a long time JRPG / Anime fanboy, so I may have come to expect stuff like that from japan.

Anyway, solid and honest review.  I agree with the score. 2 thumbs up.

Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

01/09/2012 at 11:56 AM

I feel that the women in the game balance different aspects of the psyche well. Catherine is the temptress, Katherine is the down to Earth, voice of reason, and the waitress (whose name I forget) is the mother-figure, protective and warding.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

01/09/2012 at 12:44 PM

the waitress (whose name I forget) is the mother-figure

You just made me feel dirty...

I found Katherine to be far too overbearing and manipulative to really consider her a voice of reason.  To be blunt, to me she came off as being quite a bitch.

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